News from the Department
Liz Cosson AM CSC
Department of Veterans’ Affairs
The past few months have been particularly busy for the department, and a time of change.
Following the 2022 federal election and the change in government, the department has welcomed two new ministers to the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio: Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the Hon. Matt Keogh MP, and Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the Hon. Matt Thistlethwaite MP. The Government has committed to implementing a number of new measures to support the veteran community, and the department looks forward to delivering them to continue the important work of reducing the claims backlog and providing support and services to veterans and families.
Eliminating the current backlog of claims is a high priority for the Government and the department, as we know some veterans and family members have been waiting too long for claims to be processed.
A major factor identified as contributing to the backlog is that demand for support through the compensation system for veterans and families has increased dramatically – 48 per cent per annum since 2019. This increase has come about due to several factors, including: the improvement of our connection with Defence through our early engagement model, which has encouraged serving personnel to lodge claims during service; an increase in veterans who have served in recent conflicts; the expansion of non-liability healthcare for mental health conditions; the Veterans’ Recognition Package; and a greater awareness of the services and support available from DVA. The surge in demand was unprecedented, and we were not adequately resourced to respond to the significantly higher volume of claims that were coming through.
Importantly, to tackle the current backlog of claims, we are implementing the recommendations of the McKinsey & Co project by building the capability of some delegates to assess claims where the veteran has eligibility under two or more Acts. We are expanding Combined Benefits Processing and have established a ‘tiger team’ to complete decision-ready MRCA Initial Liability claims that have been held up. I can’t stress enough to our veteran community how important it is to all of us at the department, and to the Government, to remediate this as quickly as we can. With the additional allocation of staff to the department, we are making every effort to recruit and train staff to ensure we are meeting this commitment and will be particularly concentrating on progressing the oldest claims with these new staff members.
We are screening all claims to ensure that anyone needing urgent support is prioritised, that we can connect veterans to treatment through the Provisional Access to Medical Treatment (PAMT) while waiting for their claims to be processed, and that anyone with the Veteran White Card can access mental health support. I also want veterans and families to know that Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling is available 24/7 on 1800 011 046 and that they can call the department on 1800 VETERAN (1800 838 372) to be connected to support or services.
The department’s claims backlog has also been a focus of the important work of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide. I, and a number of our senior executives, have provided evidence on this issue and on a number of other topics, including the work we are doing to improve wellbeing, reduce the complexity of our governing legislation, and uphold the quality of the transition process to ensure the success of our veterans post service.
Although the Royal Commission will now deliver its final report on 17 June 2024, its Interim Report will be handed down on 11 August this year and will provide some early recommendations for Government consideration. The Royal Commission has been extended by an additional 12 months in recognition of the broad scope of the inquiry and to allow more time for veterans and families to come forward and share their experiences. As always, I remind you of the significance of the Royal Commission and its value in assisting us to find solutions to avoid further suicide tragedies in our Defence and veteran communities.
As the Royal Commission continues, the work of the department continues to improve the support and services available to veterans and their families. In June, I was pleased to attend the Female Veterans and Veterans’ Families Policy Forum, which was the first in-person meeting of Forum members since 2019. Forty-five Forum members travelled from across Australia to join us for the two-day event, which facilitated discussion on a range of important topics including female veterans’ future health needs, a veteran family strategy, the future of mental health service delivery, research in the veteran and family landscape, and service after service. I thank everyone who attended and contributed their thoughts, unique perspectives and solutions. I also convened and chaired the Ex-Service Organisation Roundtable after the federal election. These important forums were attended by both the Minister and Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs.
Informing our work to improve services and support is this year’s Australian Census data, which for the first time included statistics on service in the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The data, released in June, will assist us to shape the future veteran and family support system across the nation. The data showed that there are 84,865 current serving members and 496,276 former serving members. This is the best snapshot of the veteran population we have ever had access to. As we analyse the data, there will be many opportunities for us as a department to better anticipate and target future demand for services.
On a final note, I’d like to express my gratitude to all DVA staff for their continuing commitment to serving those who serve or have served in the ADF and families. I am consistently impressed with their professionalism and dedication to assisting those veterans and families seeking our support. I also extend my appreciation to the ex-service organisations, veteran support organisations, and advocates for the invaluable work they do and their ongoing commitment to supporting veterans and their families. I know many of you contribute your valuable insights, time and efforts to support the veteran community through these organisations. Many of you also contribute, whether that be through donating to your local ex-service organisation, sharing your story with the Royal Commission, signing up to volunteer, or even just thanking a veteran for their service. It is evident everywhere I go across our country that every little act is making a big difference. So thank you all, and please stay safe.