News from the Department

Adapting to new ways of service delivery

Headshot of Liz Cosson AM CSC, Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Liz Cosson AM CSC
Department of Veterans’ Affairs

The year 2020 continues to present many challenges for Australians, from dealing with the aftermath of the bushfires and damaging weather in some parts of Australia to adapting to a global pandemic and finding different ways to counter the spread of COVID-19.

With some restrictions being lifted, it’s timely to remember that while we may still need to maintain some distance from each other physically, we can focus on our social connections and can reach out to others virtually.

Here at DVA, we are maintaining our services to veterans and their families but we have had to adapt and be innovative in the way we work with many DVA staff working remotely. In some cases telephone interactions have replaced face-to-face contact and we have introduced additional precautions and safeguards when services are delivered face-to-face. Throughout this time, I encourage everyone to continue to access their normal medical and allied support services, remembering they may be delivered differently. If you are uncomfortable or anxious, please contact Open Arms — Veterans & Families Counselling Service for free and confidential support which is available 24/7 by calling 1800 011 046.

During COVID-19, DVA has also maintained links with the organisations that represent veterans and families. An example of how COVID-19 has led to creative ways of connecting, we recently held virtual discussions with members of the Ex-Service Organisation Roundtable (ESORT). We learnt about the unanticipated challenges the organisations and their members face as a result of COVID-19. Despite the difficulties, these organisations are supporting their communities and DVA is assisting with targeted communications materials.

In addition, DVA has been involved in the Australian Government’s response to the pandemic in other ways. We answered the call from Services Australia to agencies across the Australian Public Service for assistance in delivering the JobSeeker program — designed to help Australians cope with the new economic circumstances created by COVID-19. Now, more than ever, it is important we work together to support all Australians and we were eager to help. Recognising our highest priority remains our veterans and their families, we selected a number of volunteers from coordination and administrative roles rather than frontline officers. We are proud that our seconded staff were a part of the ‘APS 2000’, a surge workforce that helped with the whole-of-government effort to support Australians during this pandemic. I visited our seconded staff to see how they were faring and they told me they have gained invaluable experience. One of our Graduates said: ‘… it feels great to be a part of this whole-of-government taskforce … seeing the tangible benefits for people is really rewarding. You have a great connection to clients when you see the details of their lives … and you know you’re making a difference for them.’

Against the backdrop of the pandemic, I drew personal strength from, and am proud of, the way Australians, veterans and their families found new and respectful ways to commemorate Anzac Day. In the face of one of the biggest challenges we have seen as a nation, we may have stood apart, but we were together in so many ways, ensuring Anzac Day and its legacy continued in 2020. Widespread reporting across the media, and an endless stream of pictures on social media and other channels showcased just how Australians did this, from families building their own wreaths, tuning in to the Australian War Memorial service, standing in their driveways at dawn or poppy displays in the front yard. We showed what it means to be an Australian on Anzac Day and we highlight some of these great stories in this edition of Vetaffairs.

In May, Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Darren Chester, announced the winners of the Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Awards online, recognising the amazing efforts of veterans, employers and individuals who are supporting employment for veterans and their families. The 2020 awards received 129 nominations, the highest in the Awards’ three-year history. The high standard of nominations shows how organisations are recognising the value of hiring veterans. Congratulations to the winners.

Recently, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs released the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) Family and Domestic Violence Strategy 2020-25. This plan will help veterans and their families, as well as DVA staff, who are affected by domestic violence. Family and domestic violence is a serious problem. Those who experience domestic violence often do so over long periods, sometimes decades. Their suffering can be intense, and the effects long-lasting. DVA will continue to build the supports that survivors of family and domestic violence need, and assist perpetrators to change their behaviour and support opportunities for reconnection with their family and community. We will continue to shine a light on an issue that is often hidden, empowering survivors to break their silence and we will foster a culture that promotes respectful relationships. I would like to thank the Council for Women and Families United by Defence Service for proactively assisting us to develop the strategy and I look forward to the Council’s continued involvement as we move forward.

Finally, DVA has farewelled Deputy Secretary Charles McHardie, who was seconded to Services Australia to assist in implementing the Government’s response to COVID-19. Charles has been asked to continue this important work and has permanently transferred to a Deputy CEO role at Services Australia. Charles has made a significant contribution to the Department, leading our Transformation program and the introduction of our Veteran Recognition Program. Deputy Secretary Mark Cormack will also leave DVA and the Australian Public Service from the end of June. Mark has made a significant contribution to better policy and service delivery outcomes for our veteran community. I am pleased to announce Vicki Rundle, Deputy CEO, Markets Government and Engagement at the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), will join us to fill the Deputy Secretary role. Vicki joins us with a strong background in service delivery and reform. I am sure you join with me in wishing Charles and Mark well and in welcoming Vicki.