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Mental Health Summit communiqué

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26 June 2019

The Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel, the Hon Darren Chester MP, convened a national summit of experts in veteran mental health and suicide prevention to reshape the 10-year Veteran Mental Health Strategy; and to focus on a National Action Plan to improve veterans’ mental health, wellbeing and to significantly reduce suicide. This is the first step in a series of consultations to ensure veterans and their families shape the government’s response to this important issue.

The Prime Minister has made mental health one of his highest priorities and will be driving new efforts to improve mental health for all Australians right across government.

Minister Chester has been charged with ensuring that the mental health needs and services for veterans and their families receive maximum effort in the new term of government.

Participants at the Summit acknowledged that there is good work being done to support the mental health and wellbeing of veterans and their families. Yet, a more collaborative approach is needed to move from an illness model to a wellness model.

The Australian Government as a whole, and Defence and DVA specifically, will need to work closely with veterans and their families, researchers, ex-service organisations (ESOs), business and service providers to lead national policy efforts to implement practical, local, community-led and evidence-based solutions.

The Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy will be renewed and the Summit participants agreed to work together to engage veterans and their families in the development of a National Action Plan, for endorsement by government, by the end of this year. This work starts now and will be designed and built through local engagement with veterans and families. Similarly the existing national network of experts, service providers, businesses and ESOs can support and enable veterans to transition well and live well.

We have identified four critical priority areas:

  1. Health Care — top quality, evidence-based, accessible and tailored to reflect the unique nature of military service and its impacts on veterans and their families. The government may need to address some market failures impacting accessibility, but also, veterans and families need to be empowered to drive their own care needs.
  2. Transition — supporting veterans and their families from military life to civilian life.
  3. Partnerships — across government, business, service providers, communities, researchers and ESOs. For service delivery partnerships, it is essential that each partner contribute to wellbeing and recovery-focused, models.
  4. Engagement, Communication and Education — engage better and more often in informing and educating veterans, their families and the wider community on the mental health success stories, identifying the positive support, help and services available. It is important that veterans are informed of progress being made on recommendations from previous inquiries, studies and reviews in parallel to this work.

The Summit identified some priority areas for the action plan, and we will identify more as we engage further with veterans and their families:

  • Ask veterans and their families what initiatives and services would help in maintaining their wellbeing or improve recovery
  • Promote the benefits of belonging to a community during and after military service
  • Enable the use of technology to engage younger veterans in online communities
  • Empower veterans and families to be responsible for their own wellbeing and health care needs
  • Promote stories of recovery in the popular press, and across social media platforms, including veterans and their families participating in activities that promote wellness
  • Improve the claims process by ensuring it is fast, seamless, supportive, positive and responsive to veterans’ needs
  • Improve access to mental health care by working across government to strengthen the capacity of the mental health workforce and enabling more equitable access to mental health professionals, peer and lived-experience workers
  • Improve the quality of care through training (especially on the unique nature of military service), quality assurance and networks of excellence
  • Implement improved models of care that provide holistic, wrap-around support, including community and volunteer services
  • Apply evidence-based suicide prevention programs based on the learning from successful trials, the Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan and new approaches that support veteran wellbeing
  • Provide opportunities for ESOs to strengthen collaboration and commitment to shared outcomes for veterans and their families
  • Apply our shared knowledge and research outcomes – use our national network of experts, researchers and providers to ensure the best available evidence informs our approach to improving mental health and wellbeing.

Summit participants agreed that to be truly effective, DVA’s future approach should be characterised by collaboration, communication and a focus on communities and families.

In the coming weeks and months, in the preparation of the National Action Plan and renewed Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy, there will be extensive national and local engagement to ensure that the strategy and all practical actions are co-designed by veterans and their families, for veterans and their families.

Minister Chester has announced the appointment of Repatriation Commissioner, Don Spinks, effective 1 July 2019. The Commissioner, as part of a planned intense national dialogue, will also engage with the veteran and defence communities to get their input into the National Action Plan.

Minister Chester also committed to establishing a bi-partisan Parliamentary Advisory Group of MPs and Senators with ADF service to progress veterans’ issues, including support for veterans’ mental health.

All present at the Summit want to send a message of assistance and support to veterans and their families. There is help available and anyone who is struggling with their mental health can have confidence to approach services for help. People who may have had less than ideal experiences with DVA in the past are encouraged to ‘give us another go’ as there have been many improvements to DVA and the services we offer. There is still much to do and we want to work with veterans and their families, listening to them as, together, we formulate the Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy and National Action Plan.

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