From the Department

Alison Frame

Secretary, Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Alison Frame

It is now over seven months since I assumed the role of Secretary – a complex role that is both very rewarding and, at times challenging.

I am thankful to the veterans, veterans’ families, ex-service organisations and community groups who have so generously engaged with me and shared their expertise, experience and ideas. They have deepened my understanding of the needs of the veteran community and also highlighted the progress that DVA has made and the opportunities ahead.

My engagements with DVA staff around the country have been similarly insightful. So many of our DVA staff engage directly with veterans and their families, and I have seen first hand their commitment to continuously improving our support to veterans and their families. These interactions and the poignant commemorative services I’ve had the privilege to attend have shown me the human face of the department’s core mission: to support those who serve, or have served, and recognise their service and sacrifice.

Fulfilling this mission is, of course, dependent on our resourcing. The Government’s May Budget included an additional $328.1 million to retain over 480 DVA staff and ensure the department has modern, efficient systems to process claims and payments. (You can read more in the articles on the Budget and the Sir John Monash Centre.)

The vital work of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide continues, and DVA actively supports this through responding to requests from the Commission. Appearing as a witness at the Adelaide hearings, I discussed the positive, significant reform that DVA has undertaken, while also outlining the work that we are doing to improve responses for some veterans and families who continue to experience difficulties accessing our services.

I also shared my priorities, which are to continue our implementation of the Interim Report recommendations and to ensure all DVA staff are supported and well equipped to do this.

We continue to be focused on improving compensation claims processing in order to reduce the backlog as fast as possible. The pace at which we process claims is increasing, and that rate accelerates as we bring more staff online, which in turn means we are getting support to our clients more quickly.

We continue to prioritise older claims, and also newly received claims where the personal circumstances of the veteran need consideration. To make it easier for medical practitioners to provide the required information for a claim, we are simplifying over 200 complex medical forms and reducing the amount of information we request. We have already reduced 19 of the most commonly used medical forms into seven simpler forms.

With both the people and the systems needed to tackle the backlog now coming online, it is encouraging to see progress. As at 30 June 2023, the number of staff involved in compensation claims processing activities had doubled since the same time last year. At the end of July, the claims backlog stood at about 30,000 – down by one third from a peak of more than 45,000 claims in September last year.

We know that transition is often a challenging time for veterans and their families, and the Royal Commission has certainly highlighted this. The new $24 million Veterans’ Employment Program will promote the skills and experience veterans offer the civilian workforce and help Australian businesses to create work environments where veterans can thrive. (You can find out more in this article.)

We continue to engage with the veteran community, including through our Female Veterans and Veterans’ Families Policy Forums. I valued the opportunity to meet with the groups and witnessed their commitment as they discussed challenging issues such as protective factors for female veteran suicide, veteran homelessness, family violence and others. (You can read more in this article.)

This is a year of very significant commemorations. On Anzac Day, I had the immense privilege of attending the Dawn Service at Gallipoli. It was a profound experience, the memory of which will stay with me for some time.

More recently we remembered Australian service in the Korean War, which ended in the Armistice 70 years ago (see this article).  On 18 August, DVA was proud to host a very moving National Commemorative Service in the nation’s capital for our Vietnam War veterans, marking 50 years since the end of Australia’s involvement in the conflict. (You can read more in the feature article).

It was with some sadness that we recently bid a fond farewell to our Repatriation Commissioner Don Spinks AM. Don made a significant difference in his four years in the role. Don fostered strong relationships across the veteran and Defence communities and was pivotal in strengthening engagement across the sector. I wish Don all the very best for the future. An announcement on the new Repatriation Commissioner is imminent.

I look forward to continuing to actively engage with the veteran community and seek your input to improvements that will make a difference.

Alison Frame addressing the 2023 Female Veterans Policy Forum.

Secretary Alison Frame addressing the 2023 Female Veterans Policy Forum.