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From the Minister: Driving real change at DVA

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Minister for Veterans' Affairs Darren Chester and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sitting with two black dogs.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester with assistance dogs Tassie and Tash, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The Hon Darren Chester MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC

We had some four-legged visitors to Parliament on 30 May, and just between you and me, this pair of Labrador retrievers could probably teach some of my colleagues a thing or two about how to behave in the people’s house.

Tassie, five, and Tash, five months, came by to join me in announcing an assistance dog trial to help tackle veterans’ mental health issues (see Purpose-raised puppies key to assistance dogs trial ).

Tassie is a therapy dog who works with young people living with posttraumatic stress disorder. Tash is in training to do that same good work.

The dogs enjoyed exploring Parliament House, even wearing Go-Pro action cameras to give us a new perspective on Parliament (search for ‘Dog’s Eye View’ and ‘Malcolm Turnbull’ on Facebook and you’ll see what I mean).

The Prime Minister cleared time in his diary to meet the dogs and learn more about the trial. Malcolm is committed to veterans’ mental health and wellbeing and believes, as I do, that the assistance dog trial could make a real difference to the lives of veterans and their families.

The trial is just one of several game-changing initiatives rolling out during this busy period at DVA as we work hard to put veterans and their families first.

I’m pleased to be collaborating with DVA’s new Secretary, Liz Cosson AM CSC, to implement these critical programs.

Liz’s predecessor, Simon Lewis PSM, made an outstanding contribution to reforming the department. Liz is determined to build on that work. Her distinguished record of service in the Australian Army and her work more recently as DVA’s chief operating officer makes her the right person for the job.

Veterans and their families are already benefiting from some of the big changes underway.

The new Veteran Payment and additional services and support for families came online on 1 May.

The Veteran Payment provides interim income for ex-service men and woman facing mental health challenges. If their condition means they can’t work while they’re waiting for their claim to be processed, the payment will help fill the gap.

Many veterans have already taken advantage of the new payment, and I encourage you to let former colleagues and their families know about it if you think they could benefit.

On 8 May, the Turnbull Government announced $100 million in additional funding for veterans and their families in the 2018–19 Budget (on top of the ongoing funding of $11.2 billion).

Much of this extra spending is to ensure DVA’s transformation remains on track, so that veterans and their families can access the services and support they need more quickly and easily.

There’s $4 million to ensure the great work of the Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Program continues. There’s another $4.3 million to provide practical skills veterans may need to build new careers after transitioning out.

We’re spending $10.8 million to remove the reduction in incapacity payments when eligible veterans take up full-time study as part of their rehabilitation plan. We want to encourage these men and women to study, to support them to get back to work.

The Budget also makes our free mental health treatment program available to Reservists with domestic or international disaster relief or border protection service and those who have been involved in a serious service-related training accident.

We’ve extended eligibility for the Long Tan Bursary to the grandchildren of Vietnam veterans, too.

For young people like these, being able to interact with the department online makes sense. That’s why we’re working hard to improve our digital services.

For those who have accessed Centrelink, the Australian Tax Office or Medicare using myGov (my.gov.au), you’ll be glad to learn that you’ll soon be able to use the same login details to access DVA services, making myGov a one-stop shop for interacting with the Government online.

If you’re new to myGov, it’ll be easy to get set up, and once you’re logged on, you will have access to DVA’s MyService portal. MyService started as a pilot allowing certain veterans to submit claims to DVA online. It’s set to become the department’s main online channel and will soon be open to all veterans and their families (see Department’s online services soon to be available to veterans, families via myGov).

DVA is now automatically in contact with all new recruits to the Australian Defence Force, and with all those transitioning out. As they leave the ADF, all eligible personnel will receive a White Card, making it easier to access free mental health treatment. Both White Cards and Gold Cards are now available digitally, too (see Health Cards go digital).

If you have an injury but can’t wait for a claim to be approved before getting treatment, you’ll want to check out the Provisional Access to Medical Treatment trial. It may be that yours is one of 20 common conditions for which you can get pre-approved access to medical treatment (see Treatment for twenty conditions available while claim considered).

Looking after the veterans of today through programs like these is the best way we can honour those who have served in earlier conflicts.

This year, we have particularly reflected on the sacrifices made by those Australians who served on the Western Front.

Between March 1916 and November 1918, nearly 300,000 Australians served in the Australian Imperial Force on the Western Front. Of these, 46,000 lost their lives and more than 130,000 were wounded.

Almost everyone in Australia was related to or knew someone who had been killed or wounded.

We honoured these men and their families as we marked the centenaries of the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux on 25 April and the Battle of Hamel on 4 July.

But there’s an old saying that to truly understand another person’s life experience, you need to walk a mile in their shoes.

The Sir John Monash Centre, which opened in France on 24 April, gives us the chance to walk in the boots of those young men.

We can never fully understand the fear, trauma and heartache they experienced. But we can immerse ourselves in their stories and promise never to forget their service and sacrifice.

The Sir John Monash Centre is about keeping that promise, and it was an honour to be there during its opening on 24 April.

The four-year Centenary of Anzac period comes to an end on 11 November as we celebrate 100 years since the First World War Armistice.

In the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day, we will celebrate the unconquered spirit of today’s veterans during the Invictus Games and related events.

The games themselves will be held 20–27 October in Sydney. Tickets are now on sale, and I encourage you to book early to avoid missing out. Positions for volunteers were oversubscribed by 600 per cent, and excitement about the event is growing by the day.

Congratulations to all 72 members of the Australian team. We salute you, and the families who have supported you along the way. To all who strived for a place in the team, we salute your commitment, too.

Invictus Games Sydney 2018 will be a once in a lifetime experience for all involved.

The DVA-organised Invictus forums in the lead-up to and immediately after the Games have the potential to ensure the Invictus spirit lives on in this country long after the Closing Ceremony.

It’s Game On Down Under. I’ll be there. Will you?

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