Veteran mental health – backgrounder

Every day, DVA works with veterans and their families to improve services and support for those who have served in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and will continue to play a part in improving mental health and reducing the risk of suicide.

21 December 2019

The Australian Government provides more than $230 million a year towards veteran mental health, as part of more than $11 billion for veterans in this year’s federal Budget.

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

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

All veterans can access free mental health care for life through the DVA White Card (Non-Liability Health Care) and the Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling service. Open Arms, which provides expert support to veterans and their families, has been improved and expanded.

DVA is working with Defence to ensure that we can better identify those ADF members at higher risk of mental health problems and suicide and put in place extra support through the transition-out phase.

There are a range of new programs and services to support the mental health and wellbeing of veterans and their families:

  • 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 post-traumatic stress disorder (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 Returned and Services League of Australia (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 program designed to re-calibrate an individual’s attention and threat detection system. This will support ADF personnel who 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.

Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling can be contacted on 1800 011 046, free and confidential help is available 24/7.

DVA White Card

Since mid-2018, eligible members of the ADF automatically receive a DVA White Card when they transition to civilian life, without having to make an application. 

While these veterans may not need the support DVA can provide immediately, the White Card is a symbol that should they ever need DVA, they’re covered.

The White Card allows them to access treatment for any mental health condition, whenever they may need it throughout their life, without having to first approach DVA.

It also enables DVA to personally keep in touch with veterans and inform them of programs and services to assist them.


Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling, provides support for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families. Free and confidential help is available 24/7. Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 1800 011 046 or +61 8 8241 4546) or visit