Serving those who serve or have served our nation, and their families
The past 18 months have presented many challenges to all Australians and impacted on many communities. We have experienced bushfires and floods and we continue to adjust to the presence of COVID-19.
I am proud of the role the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has played in supporting communities, whether it be in responding to the pandemic, evacuating families from bushfires or flood-ravaged areas or in recovery operations. I am also proud of the department’s commitment to those who serve or have served in the ADF, and to their families. For example, DVA has been able to reach out with messages of assistance to veterans and their families living in postcodes impacted by the natural disasters and the COVID-19 lockdowns. I am also proud of ex-service and veterans support organisations who connect with the veteran communities to ensure they receive the support they need in times of need.
When it comes to the pandemic, the DVA website has a dedicated COVID-19 page for specific information about, for instance, the vaccine roll-out, your entitlements, and the services DVA is providing.
DVA has taken steps to ensure veterans and their families are supported physically, mentally and emotionally during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been actively reaching out to the veteran community, keeping people up to date on developments around the pandemic with special editions of our e-newsletter DVA e-news, and special sections in Vetaffairs. And we are keeping people informed on a daily basis via the Latest News for veterans page of our website.
We have also provided a series of factsheets to ex-service organisations and service providers, and we have made full use of our social media channels to deliver important COVID-19 messages and support members of the veteran community dealing with isolation and mental health concerns.
We also sent letters via the Veterans MATES program to more than 70,000 medically vulnerable clients, more than 20,000 GPs and more than 2,000 aged-care facilities providing health advice on minimising the risk of contracting COVID-19, and the importance of continuing routine medical care.
For more information about DVA services and support go to our website or phone 1800 VETERAN (1800 838 372).
DVA’s ongoing transformation
Although COVID was disruptive and required us to work differently, DVA has continued its Veteran Centric Reform (VCR). For the past four years VCR has been transforming DVA to better know, connect, support and respect all veterans and their families.
I want to acknowledge the following achievements:
- We now know all ADF members from the moment they enlist;
- We now connect with ADF personnel as they transition back to their civilian lives and reconnect with their communities;
- More veterans are connecting with DVA than before the transformation began;
- We have made it easier for people (serving or ex-serving) to register with DVA through MyService and the Australian Defence Veterans’ Covenant. The Covenant serves to recognise and acknowledge the unique nature of military service and the contribution of veterans and their families. If you are a veteran or reservist and you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to apply to receive your Veteran Card, Lapel Pin and Oath;
- We have consolidated 179 phone lines. You can now call us on 1800 VETERAN (1800 838 372;
- We have digitised more than 400,000 client files;
- We have introduced provisional access to medical treatment and I encourage veterans to take this opportunity to continue treatment while waiting for their claims to be finalised; and
- Open Arms — Veterans & Families Counselling continues to operate 24/7 on 1800 011 046.
I am first to acknowledge that these improvements to our systems and processes have led to easier access and this has resulted in an increase in the number of claims being received by the department. But I want to assure readers that we are working hard to reduce the backlog and reduce the wait time. This includes early screening of all claims received to connect with those veterans or families needing immediate support, and establishing dedicated delegates to our most complex claims. I encourage you to continue to submit your claims and to contact the department if you need immediate support.
Addressing veteran suicide
You may be aware that a motion was passed in Parliament on 22 March calling for a Royal Commission into veteran suicide.
Of course, any decision to call a Royal Commission into veteran suicides is a matter for the Government. Since the announcement of the appointment of an interim National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention, the department has committed to support Dr Bernadette Boss, including the independent review of past Defence and veteran suicides. The department remains committed to reducing the rate of suicide in the veteran community.
We also continue to work to find ways to support veterans and their families to build and sustain wellbeing to support good mental health, recovery, and reducing veteran suicide as part of the whole-of-government approach towards zero suicides.
We are now in year two of our Psychiatric Assistance Dog program, which is connecting veterans who live with PTSD with a trained and qualified dog to support their health and wellbeing. I am encouraged that this program is proving to be so successful.
DVA is also working closely with the RSL and state authorities to deliver Veteran Wellbeing Centres that are providing on-the-ground services and connection to support when and where it is needed most.
I want to remind readers that we are a community that supports each other and that the department is here to support those who need it. In the lead-up to Christmas last year, Open Arms — Veterans & Families Counselling launched its #Check5 campaign. The premise of #Check5 is simple: commit on social media to check in with five mates and encourage them to check in with five mates too. Connect with them, chat with them and motivate them to act. This is also available in the lead-up to Anzac Day.
I encourage any veteran or family member who is troubled by the recent conversations around suicide to call Open Arms — Veterans and Families Counselling on 1800 011 046 or the department on 1800 VETERAN (1800 838 372).
I am very pleased to advise readers that our national Census this year will include an identifier question about service in the ADF. This is a great outcome and will help us ‘know’ our veteran community better, ensuring we can connect with and support all veterans and their families wherever they are in Australia. The results of the Census question will help us work with other government agencies to ensure we can provide the support and services where you need them most.
In late February, the Minister announced that the Australian Government-led overseas Anzac Day commemorative services will not proceed in 2021.
I encourage you to tune in to the COVID-safe national broadcast of the Dawn Service at the Australian War Memorial or Light up the Dawn from your own driveways.
Finally, as a veteran myself, I know that service in the ADF is as good for the individual as it is for our nation. Be proud that you have served your nation; Australia owes you a debt of gratitude. I am also very conscious of the role families play in supporting those who have served our nation. Thank you for your service.