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Simon Lewis

Simon Lewis PSM
Former Secretary
Department of Veterans’ Affairs

From the next edition of Vetaffairs, you’ll see my successor, Liz Cosson, in this space. I have recently retired after 42 years in the Public Service and five as Secretary at DVA.

I’m delighted about Liz’s appointment. She is the first woman Secretary of DVA, another milestone in a long list of firsts for her. Liz was the first female major-general in the Army, and the fact that she’s got a strong understanding of the culture inside the ADF will help a great deal in her new role.

Liz’s service has given her a personal understanding of the issues DVA is seeking to tackle through its transformation.

While it’s terrific that most of our veteran clients are very happy with the service DVA provides, our cohort mix is changing. As increasing numbers of younger veterans have sought DVA support, they’ve provided feedback that we are not set up to meet their needs.

Many of their criticisms point to issues we’re aware of and are already working to address, including that we have antiquated IT and legislation that makes it a lengthy thing to process claims and bring people onto our books as clients.

To better meet the needs of these veterans and their families, we’re adapting our operating model, changing the way we deliver services, and working out new ways to communicate about what we do.

This challenging work has been the highlight of my time at DVA.

I do feel privileged to have been Secretary during the Anzac Centenary. There were some marvellous opportunities to reflect on Australia’s military history, and on past service and sacrifice.

But getting the department on track for the future has been the most rewarding aspect of my tenure.

Among the ongoing challenges for DVA are the extremely complex issues of veteran homelessness, incarceration and suicide.

We’ve pursued a number of initiatives to address these matters in recent years, often in partnership with other jurisdictions. Setting up the Veterans’ Ministers’ Roundtable and other links with our state and territory counterparts so that we can work together has the potential to make a real difference.

We have had several inquiries in relation to veteran suicide and tackling some of the problems that lead to suicide is a continuing task for the department.

Connecting with veterans as early as we can is vital to this work. Having come from Defence to DVA five years ago, I was able to work productively with my former colleagues to facilitate a significant change on this front a couple of years into my term.

Previously, it was up to individuals to approach DVA. Only then could they become a client. Up to the point of their departure from the ADF, only one in five did.

Today, we now know about all people as they join the ADF, and as they leave it.

DVA has the unique opportunity to fulfil the nation’s promise to these men and women. They have put their lives on the line to protect us, and we are committed to honouring and looking after them in recognition of that service.

The department is the embodiment of that promise from the Australian Government, and really, that’s an honour.

DVA staff recognise this. They’re connected to the mission, to what we’re trying to achieve. Surveys tell us they are more committed to our stakeholders than those in other agencies, and I put that down to the privilege we have of serving our veterans.

The Australian Public Service plays a key role in supporting the government of the day, and strong governance and public institutions are key, in my view, to the health of our democracy.

It has been an honour as DVA Secretary to serve those who have made huge sacrifices to preserve that same democracy.

Veterans and their families should be proud of their efforts in defending Australia. You should be proud of your service. I thank you on behalf of the department, and I look forward to continuing my interaction with many of you into the future.

Simon Lewis retired from the Australian Public Service on 18 May 2018. Former Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer Liz Cosson was officially appointed Secretary of DVA on 19 May 2018. Read more about Ms Cosson in ‘Being the best we can be’

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