Minister Chester's response to Daily Telegraph

Improving mental health outcomes for veterans and their families.

11 June 2019

The following statement is attributable to the Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester:

“I’m working with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Australian Defence Force leaders, ex-service organisations, medical professionals and the community to improve mental health outcomes for veterans and their families.

“The Productivity Commission is in the final stages of a review of DVA’s operations that will report to the government within weeks and we will take action as required.

“Australians can be assured that the Government is working with veterans and their families every day to improve services and support for those who have served in our Australian Defence Force and will continue to play its part in improving mental health and reducing the risk of suicide.

“The Prime Minister has made it clear our government will take concerted action to prevent suicide across the nation and we are providing more than $200 million a year towards veteran mental health, as part of more than $11 billion for veterans in this year’s budget.

“The Government has committed nearly $500 million to the ongoing transformation of DVA and the comprehensive reform of its service delivery system so that it is easier for Australian Defence Force personnel and veterans to access support and services, including the support needed to address mental health challenges.

“For example, the Government has ensured that all veterans can access free mental health care for life and expanded the Open Arms veterans counselling service, which provides expert support to veterans and their families. This support is needs-based, uncapped and available to any veteran who has served a single day in the ADF.

“We have also introduced a range of new programs and services to support the mental health and wellbeing of veterans and their families. These include:

  • Making immediate income support available for those with mental health claims through the Veteran Payment and intensive case management arrangements for those with extra needs.
  • Providing financial support for the purchase of psychiatric assistance dogs for veterans with PTSD, in addition to the trial underway with La Trobe University to build the evidence base.
  • Funding a new partnership between Open Arms and the RSL to deliver a national program of mental health first aid training to help volunteers recognise people at risk and offer intervention and support.
  • Introducing the Australian Defence Veterans’ Covenant, the Veteran Card and lapel pins to enhance recognition of the service and sacrifice of Australia’s veteran community – respect and recognition is a vital part of good mental health for veterans and their families.
  • Boosting veteran employment programs with an additional $16.2 million over four years to Soldier On, Team Rubicon and the RSL to help veterans find meaningful civilian employment and $4.3 million to assist veterans to translate their skills and experience to the civilian context. Employment is clearly critical to veteran self-confidence and mental wellbeing.
  • Providing funding for a network of Veteran Wellbeing Centres in six locations across the country to deliver a one-stop-shop for veterans’ support services, ensuring closer integration and coordination of government and non-government support, including connections with local health services, community organisations and advocacy and wellbeing support.
  • Funding the Stepping Out Attention Reset (SOAR) trial which will evaluate a computer-based attention control training designed to re-calibrate an individual’s attention and threat detection system. This will support ADF personnel that are due to transition to civilian life.
  • Providing more than $9.7 million to Kookaburra Kids to help them support children with a parent serving in the ADF or a veteran parent affected by mental illness.
  • Investing $2.1 million to deliver a national program of comprehensive health checks to identify service-related illness, disease and injury associated with anti-malarial medication.

“During the election campaign, I announced a mental health summit involving experts in the field of veterans’ mental health and wellbeing. That summit will occur in the coming weeks and further inform the Government’s forward plan and strategy in this area.

“The invited experts will be asked to consider the current range of services, programs and pilots offered by DVA and to give advice about the strengths of current settings and what more can be done.

“It is national tragedy that more than 3000 Australians take their own lives each year and there is no single solution to this sad and complex issue.

“Mental health is everyone’s business – families, friends, employers, community organisations, and ex-service organisations.

“Open Arms – Veterans and Family Counselling Service can be contacted on 1800 011 046.”