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Budget 2015-16: how will it affect you?

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Pie chart showing Income and cupport comepnsation with over 50%, Health with about 45% and Commemorations with less than 5%

The 2015–16 Federal Budget was handed down on Tuesday 12 May and in it was plenty of news for veterans. DVA’s total allocation in 2015–16 is $12.1 billion, $6.5 billion of which is allocated to income support and compensation, $5.5 billion for health care, and $88.7 million for commemorations.

This allocation will support approximately 316,000 clients. Several measures from the 2014–15 Budget that were to have an impact on DVA clients will not proceed. These include:

  • indexing pensions and pension equivalent payments by CPI only. They will continue to be indexed by the greatest of three benchmarks.
  • pausing indexation of income test eligibility thresholds for three years. The income test free area and the deeming rate thresholds will continue to be increased on 1 July each year in line with CPI.
  • resetting the income test deeming rate thresholds. Deeming thresholds will remain at $48,000 (single person) and $79,600 (couple) in financial assets and will continue to be indexed by CPI each September.

DVA measures

Increase in case coordinators. $10 million has been allocated to increase the number of case coordinators who are able to provide a one on one tailored package of support to veterans with complex needs, including mental health.

Enhancement of the Veterans’ Vocational Rehabilitation Scheme.

$700,000 will be spent on improving the Scheme’s operation, which will benefit participating veterans, particularly those in receipt of disability pension at the Intermediate and Special Rates. The measure will encourage workforce participation and provide better outcomes for veterans through a whole-of-person approach to their rehabilitation.

MRCA single appeal pathway.

$900,000 has been provided in 2015–16 to align the MRCA appeals process with the VEA process. This will affect claimants under the MRCA who have a primary decision made on or after 1 January 2016. The first level of appeal will be to the Veterans’ Review Board.

Restoration of BEST funding.

The reinstatement of $1 million a year for the Building Excellence in Support and Training programme will continue and provide support and resources to exservice organisations for pensions and welfare officers and advocates.

Continuation of the indexation pause for dental and allied health provider fees.

The indexation pause has been extended from 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2018. It aligns with the indexation arrangements for Medicare and DVA medical services. This does not affect how veterans access DVA funded health care, and there will be no additional charges to veterans by providers.

Extension of Trial for In-Home Telehealth for Veterans.

$3.7 million has been allocated to extend the current Trial until 31 December 2016. Further evaluation will help determine the value of technology to benefit the veteran community and general practice, and potentially the wider community.

New listings and price amendments to the Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

A generic medicine for osteoporosis has now been listed, and prices have been increased for wound dressings and products for the treatment of intractable rhinitis.

Expansion of RAP.

The Rehabilitation Appliances Program has been expanded to include several falls prevention items, including indoor and outdoor non-slip mats, improved illumination lighting such as the 3-in-1 night light, touch lamp and sensor lights, a retractable garden hose, and a clothes handy line.

Defence Service Homes Insurance Review outcome.

Following a review funded through the 2014–15 Budget, the Scheme will be maintained in its current form. There will be no impact on current or future policyholders.

Disposal of Greenslopes.

Funding has been provided through the 2015–16 Budget to remediate the site of the Greenslopes Hospital in Queensland prior to it being disposed of in an open market sale.

* We wish to assure readers that the Greenslopes Private Hospital in Brisbane, Queensland, owned by Ramsay Private Health, will continue to provide hospital services to veterans and other entitled persons. The article should have made clear that the Budget funding is to remediate blocks of land which were once part of the former Greenslopes Repatriation Hospital, but which the Commonwealth has leased to the Australian Red Cross from the 1940s until earlier this year. They have now returned to the Commonwealth’s vacant possession, and have been determined to be surplus to the Commonwealth’s requirements. The Department is currently working through the processes to dispose of this land.

Commemoration of the Anzac Centenary.

$35.5 million has been provided for continuing domestic and international commemoration of the Century of Service. Ten additional domestic services have been added to the programme, which will include commemorations of battles and events across all significant theatres of war over the past 100 years, including WW1, WW2, Vietnam and Korea. Internationally, commemorative services are scheduled at Lone Pine in August 2015, Fromelles and Pozieres in July 2016, Polygon Wood in September 2017, Beersheba in October 2017 and Le Hamel in July 2018. There will also be an expanded service at Villers-Bretonneux on 25 April 2018.

Sir John Monash Centre.

$99.5 million has been provided to establish the Sir John Monash Centre at Villers- Bretonneux, France. The Centre will tell the story of the 290,000 Australians who served on the Western Front during the First World War. It is scheduled to open before Anzac Day 2018.

For more information about DVA’s Budget measures.

Australian War Memorial measures

$8.7 million has been provided for an official history of Australia’s involvement in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the sixth official history.

The focus of the Official History of Iraq and Afghanistan series will be Australian military operations. It will also document the activities of other Government agencies, including the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, AusAID and the Australian Federal Police.

The Official History of Australian Peacekeeping Operations in East Timor will accurately and authoritatively document Australia’s peacekeeping operations in East Timor.

Other departments’ measures

There are a number of initiatives put forward by other departments that will have an impact on DVA clients. A brief summary of each is below.

Changes to the SRCA

  • Part XI of the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 will be moved into a standalone Act of compensation that is separate from civilian Commonwealth employees. This recognises the unique nature of military service. Work has commenced, but as the development of any new Act of legislation is complex, this is expected to occur in 2016.
  • A bill is currently [at the time of writing] before Parliament that will increase the amount payable for permanent
  • impairment from $243,329 to $350,000. Should the bill be passed, this will apply to new injuries sustained after the bill is passed.
  • Multiple conditions that arise from one event may now be combined and treated as a single injury to meet the threshold for permanent impairment lump sum compensation. This measure means more DVA clients will receive payments.

Department of Social Services

  • An increase in the assets test threshold means that you will be able to hold more assets before your payments are affected. Associated with this is an increase to the assets test taper rate, which is the proportion by which your pension is reduced for each $1000 of assets above the threshold. These changes affect income support payments, e.g. service pension, income support supplement, age pension.
  • A cap on the proportion of income from a defined benefit superannuation fund that can be excluded from the income test means if you receive the age pension, your income may be assessed as higher and this will have an impact on your pension. Military superannuation schemes (DFRB, DFRDB and MSBS) are excluded from this test, and DVA pensioners (service pension and income support supplement recipients) will not be affected.
  • An expansion of restorative care places will help older people to regain their independence and function after a setback, such as an illness or a fall, and assist them to remain living in their own home, rather than entering aged care.
  • If you enter residential aged care from 1 January 2016, rent for your former principal residence will now count towards the aged care means test. This does not affect existing residents. The current protections against excessive fees will remain.
  • From February 2017, funding for home care packages will be attached to an individual consumer, rather than the current arrangement of allocating places to aged care service providers. This does not have an impact on the Veterans’ Home Care package.

Department of Health

  • The pharmaceutical safety net will increase by two prescriptions per year from 1 January 2016 and the pharmaceutical co-payment will continue to be indexed annually. Veterans eligible under the Veterans’ Pharmaceutical Reimbursement Scheme will have the additional costs reimbursed.
  • The changes to rebates available on certain GP consultations that were announced in the 2014–15 Budget will not proceed.
  • The Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record will now be known as My Health Record. Trials of an ‘opt-out’ rather than the current ‘opt-in’ system will be undertaken in two regions in 2016.
  • A number of new Medicare Benefits Schedule and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) items have been added, or had their listings amended.
  • Funding responsibility has been transferred from DVA to Health for the training of junior medical officers in two former Repatriation Hospitals. This will not affect services to veterans. More information on the Federal Budget 2015-16.

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