An encouraging end to a challenging year
2020 has been a challenging year for most of us. The bushfires and floods at the start of the year directly affected tens of thousands of people in the veteran community alone. Then as we started to resume our normal lives, the world was hit with the COVID-19 pandemic. But I am optimistic about the future.
With Second World War veteran Les Cook as he talks to Princess Anne via Zoom as part of the 75th anniversary of the Second World War. Photo: Australian War Memorial.
The recent Federal Budget has strengthened DVA’s capacity to support veterans and their families in important ways, and the department’s response to COVID-19 has brought out the very best in our culture.
In addition, we as a department are making significant progress in our transformation. While there is more to be done, we have a plan and I am confident we are making a difference.
Around 90 per cent of our staff were working from home during the height of COVID-19. In most cases, we saw an overall improvement in productivity. This is because staff were able to better manage their work-life balance and spend less time commuting to and from the office. I have received some lovely letters from veterans letting us know the department is doing great work and how they felt supported during this difficult time.
Since the onset of COVID-19, we have delivered more than 225,000 stimulus payments, paid more than 1,200 supplements to students who receive education support, connected with more than 70,000 vulnerable veterans and set up a special e-news on COVID-19, which updated 150,000 veterans on vital support and services available to them.
Though COVID-19 affected how the nation commemorated the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the department did a remarkable job of acknowledging this historic milestone, and honouring the almost one million Australian men and women who served at home and abroad. The four-page lift-out at the centre of this edition of Vetaffairs brings some of those stories to life.
Moving forward, we will continue our transformation. We are seeking to better understand veterans’ and their families’ needs by using our data and insights to better shape our policies and programs. Our efforts in this area were recently rewarded when the department won an Australian Business Award in Innovation for developing a platform that uses powerful artificial intelligence techniques to build comprehensive data on veterans and their uptake of DVA services.
In August next year, a question specific to veterans will be included in the Census for the first time. This will help us gather useful information not just about the veterans we already support but those we would like to reach out to and support.
We are seeing an increasing take-up of the MyService online claims portal, the reduction in paper forms and the consolidation of our phone lines. We have also rolled out a new IT system that allows staff to view a veteran’s entire profile and history at one time, and invested in a cultural change program involving education, training and engaging with the veteran community.
I am encouraged by the appointment of some impressive people to our leadership team. In August, Ms Kate Pope PSM was appointed to the role of Deputy President of the Repatriation Commission and a member of the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Committee. Two other appointees to the Repatriation Commission are Mr Stuart Smith AO DSC (Retd), who is acting in the role of inaugural Defence Engagement Commissioner, and Ms Gwen Cherne who was appointed as the first Veteran Family Advocate (representing the perspectives of veterans’ families in ongoing policy and decision-making across Government).
Profiles of Stuart, Gwen and Ms Vicki Rundle PSM, Deputy Secretary Veterans and Families Services, are included in this edition of Vetaffairs and we will profile Kate and Mr Don Spinks AM, the Repatriation Commissioner, in the next edition.
At the beginning of this column, I mentioned how the Budget has strengthened our ability to support the veteran community. It provides targeted support for the mental health and wellbeing of our veterans and their families and offers improved support and services for those transitioning to civilian life. I encourage you to read the main Budget article and the Minister’s column for more detail on the Budget measures announced.
I hope you enjoy this special Budget edition of Vetaffairs. It is the last edition for 2020 and going forward you will enjoy Vetaffairs published three times a year. This is also the first edition of our new digital magazine of Vetaffairs. I encourage you to try viewing the pages of the digital edition on your personal device and subscribing to go digital in the future, if it is your preferred way of reading Vetaffairs.
This year has not been easy and we do not know what is in store for 2021, but I know DVA will continue to be there for veterans and their families and will adapt to any new challenges that present.
The DVA team and I wish you all a safe and merry Christmas.