News from the Department
Liz Cosson AM CSC
Department of Veterans’ Affairs
An evolution in veteran support services
I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the Hon Andrew Gee MP as the new Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel. I look forward to working with him as we seek to deliver the best possible support for the veteran community. I also acknowledge and thank the Hon Darren Chester MP for his service to the veteran community for the last three years, and his support for key reforms underway in DVA.
Australia is one of the few countries in the world that has a government department dedicated to meeting the needs of veterans. It began when the Repatriation Commission was established in 1917, and continues today as we look for new and better ways to support the veteran community.
It could be argued that the idea of ‘Repat’ (Repatriation), coined during the First World War, is a distinctly Australian concept, referring not just to bringing troops home but to supporting them as they reintegrate back into civilian life. One example is the various soldier resettlement schemes launched during the War, which were well-intentioned but only moderately successful.
As you would expect and hope, we have learned a lot since then. And by ‘we,’ I’m not just referring to what is now DVA. So many organisations and government agencies are involved in supporting the veteran community — from the departments of Defence and Health along with state and territory governments to ex-service organisations (ESOs), Comcare, the National Disability Insurance Agency, employers, health providers, and so on. What is heartening is the extent of collaboration that is occurring in the wider support network for veterans and their families. A clear example is the recently established Joint Transition Authority, which is a collaboration between Defence, DVA and the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation. It aims to ensure all services and supports work together as Australian Defence Force (ADF) members’ transition to civilian life.
What we do know is that we need to focus on all aspects of a veteran’s wellbeing. The Soldier Settlement Scheme had provided land to 23,000 repatriated solders by 1923, but among the reasons why it did not prove as successful as hoped was that many veterans who took up the offer had no training in or experience of farming, or were given parcels of land that were unsuitable or too small. It was a good idea but it needed wider support and training to ensure its success.
Recently, we developed a Wellbeing Model (see figure), which looks at seven elements that contribute to the wellbeing of veterans and, importantly, their families. This is central to our Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy and our ongoing transformation, which will improve the extent and nature of the wrap-around support we provide. DVA seeks to provide veterans and their families with the support they need to serve well, live well and age well, providing them with access to appropriate, integrated and effective services and support across those seven domains of wellbeing.
That is why we’re putting so much effort into ensuring the services we provide complement one another. For example, our Early Engagement Model means that all personnel joining and leaving the ADF are automatically put on our books, making it easier for them to access our services.
DVA offers free mental health care for life to anyone who has served even a single day in the full-time ADF (and some Reservists), and counselling is available through Open Arms — Veterans & Families Counselling, which also facilitates improved health and social connectedness through, for example, its Community and Peer Program.
DVA’s transformation over the past 4 years has improved access for veterans. For example, MyService is making the claims process easier and quicker more generally. This, coupled with a better understanding across the community of DVA services and payments including by serving members, means we have seen a significant increase in compensation claims over the past couple of years and longer than expected timeframes to finalise. DVA received additional funds in the May Budget to address the claims backlog and is committed to reducing this as a priority.
While veterans are waiting for a claim to be considered, they can access additional support including Non-Liability Health Care, Provisional Access to Medical Treatment, interim Veteran Payment, Open Arms counselling and support programs such as the Wellbeing and Support Program.
Recently transitioned veterans who identify the need for some additional employment assistance can access the Support for Employment program launched earlier this year. This program provides up to 10 hours of pre- and post-employment support, such as job-seeking skills and interview preparation. It also offers increased engagement with Veterans’ Employment Commitment organisations, and is expanding the network of employer organisations committed to veteran employment.
The Veteran Wellbeing Centres, some of which are already up and running, provide a range of services which can include transition and employment support, ESO advocacy services, social connectedness, physical and mental health services, and veteran community engagement. They provide a place for veterans and their families to connect with and support one another while also accessing the services they need.
Improving the extent and nature of this wraparound support is a major focus of our Transformation process, which will be assisted by the next Census on 10 August. It will be the first Census to include a question about ADF service, providing an effective means of gathering important information about the veteran community, which will enable us to better target services and support.
The announcement on 8 July of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide is critical. It will enable DVA to better understand what it can do to prevent veteran suicide and tailor services appropriately. I want to assure you that while the Royal Commission progresses, DVA will continue to support the health and wellbeing of veterans and their families. The essential work we do every day to support veterans and their families will not stop while the Royal Commission is underway.
I would like to conclude with a correction to my last Vetaffairs column. I said, in reference to serving and ex-serving members of the ADF: ‘Be proud that you have volunteered to serve your nation’. Of course, there are many thousands of veterans who were conscripted to serve their nation, most recently in the Vietnam War, and did so with great distinction. I am very grateful to our Nashos and their families for their distinguished service to the nation.
DVA’s Wellbeing Model