For over a century, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) has been supporting those who have served and sacrificed for our country and the families who have supported them. To those who have served or are currently serving and to all defence families, I thank you for everything you do. It is sometimes not an easy life, but it is a life to be proud of.
Throughout military service, the aim is to be as healthy and active as can be in order to ‘serve well’ and be 'fit to fight'. Our aim is to be there to support veterans to live well and age well after their military career and that extends to their families.
As I present to you the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Annual Report 2018–19, we reflect on the journey so far and on what we have achieved for veterans and their families. We have now completed the second year of the most significant reform in DVA's history, continuing to evolve into a department that encourages and supports wellbeing at all stages of veterans’ and their families’ lives.
The cover of this annual report reminds us of the significance of what we do and what we are continuing to work towards. We want to know young serving members and their families from the moment they enlist in the Australian Defence Force (ADF). If we can follow their careers and experiences from the beginning then we can better understand their needs before they transition to civilian life and reach out proactively.
During 2018–19 we continued to align our vision, strategic priorities and purpose. We introduced new programs and services to address mental health challenges and support the wellbeing of veterans and their families. Reflected in our annual report is the acknowledgement of a number of great achievements and advancements that are delivering better outcomes for veterans. The ongoing commitment from the Government to our transformation is making these achievements possible and allowing us to continue our work with the veteran community to ensure we are continuously improving their health outcomes and reducing their risk of serious mental health issues.
DVA’s transformation—putting veterans and their families first
In 2018–19 DVA’s transformation program focused on delivering real benefits for veterans and their families through a number of initiatives.
The work underway is building a more proactive DVA to connect veterans and their families with the support and treatment they need sooner. This year, the number of services available online has increased, new technology has made the phone system more intuitive and easier to use, and veterans across Australia have had more opportunities to connect with face-to-face services and support.
DVA is also using data and analytics to gain insights so that we can deliver more effective, evidence-based policies and services which will continue to shape DVA in 2019–20. We are creating a better experience for veterans and their families when connecting with us, no matter how they want to manage their business with us. We are embracing new technology and providing more modern access to services, such as online claiming through MyService.
Key partnerships across the whole of Government are helping to deliver better services and support. For example, our relationship with the Services Australia (previously the Department of Human Services (DHS)) is enabling us to provide veterans in rural and regional areas with the opportunity to meet in person through the DHS Mobile Service Centres and the agent networks pilot.
To achieve our transformation we not only have to change our services and our processes; we are also focusing on aligning our internal culture with our future vision. Our ability to deliver better outcomes to veterans is reliant on our organisation’s ability to deliver those outcomes. The culture we foster internally will ultimately determine our ability to provide veterans and their families with the support they need, when and where they need it.
Improving continuity of care during a veteran’s transition from the military to civilian life
We are working closely with Defence to enable us to understand veterans from the time they enlist to when they transition from the ADF, better appreciating what our future veterans and families have experienced.
In 2018–19 the Early Engagement Model (EEM) was paramount in helping with the continuity of care and the transition process. With Defence notifying us off transitioning members, these veterans and their families can access the right services and support to help them to prepare for civilian life earlier.
As we continue to improve the continuity of care, from 1 July 2019 veterans have access to DVA funded Annual Veteran Health Checks from their GP for the first five years after transition.
Mental health support and veteran suicide prevention
DVA has introduced a range of new programs and services to support the mental health and wellbeing of veterans and their families. I want our veterans and their families to know they are not alone and support is available to them whenever they need it.
One of these initiatives is the Client Support Framework, which provides streamlined access to timely and individually tailored support for at-risk or vulnerable veterans and families. Under the framework, we have a multi-skilled cohort of mental health clinicians and social workers who are providing support services for veterans with more complex circumstances and those who are vulnerable.
DVA has also established a more evidence-based assessment, helping our staff to better understand the complexities that our veterans face so they do not fall through the cracks if they are receiving support through various areas of the department. This involves clearer referrals and collaboration between DVA and Open Arms—Veterans & Families Counselling (Open Arms) so that vulnerable veterans can receive a holistic support service.
We also expanded eligibility to access support services through Open Arms to any ADF member with minimum one day's full-time service, as well as their family.
In 2018–19 experts came together to inform the Government on developing a forward plan and strategy on veteran mental health, wellbeing and suicide prevention. On 26 June 2019 at Parliament House, Canberra, the Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel, the Hon Darren Chester MP convened the Veteran Mental Health Summit. The summit was an opportunity for an open discussion about what is working, what is not working, our knowledge and research gaps and what else we can be doing together to improve mental health and prevent veteran suicide.
Reviews and inquiries
This year we have seen a number of significant reviews, inquiries, studies, reports and feedback from the community and the Government on the performance of our department.
The report of the Veterans’ Advocacy and Support Services Scoping Study was finalised in December 2018 and publicly released in March 2019. The study examined ways to assist veterans and their families who are accessing entitlements and services and to improve advocacy services.
The Defence Sub-Committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade conducted an inquiry into how members of the ADF can be better supported when transitioning out of the Defence Force. The inquiry report, tabled on 4 April 2019, considers a range of policy, program and service delivery responses to improve the support available to veterans transitioning from the military to civilian life.
Last year Emeritus Professor Robin Creyke AO conducted an independent review of the implementation of the recommendations of the Joint Inquiry into Management of Jesse Bird’s Case. This was a commitment made by the former Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the Hon Dan Tehan MP.
The findings from these reports and inquiries help us continue to improve and renew our focus and commitment to change.
Remembrance Day 2018 was the 100th anniversary of the First World War Armistice, marking the end of the Anzac Centenary 2014–2018—one of the most important periods of commemoration in our nation’s history.
DVA’s role in the delivery of the Anzac Centenary 2014–2018 was significant and gave all Australians an opportunity to commemorate the service and sacrifice of more than two million Australians who have served and their families who supported them.
As we approach the 75th anniversary of the conclusion of the Second World War, DVA will be broadening its focus to the Asia-Pacific region and the opportunities to commemorate and reflect on battles and events that had a profound effect on some of our closest neighbours, as well as the attacks on Australian soil.
I draw to your attention our reported variance from our original budget in the financial statements, section 8.3. Explanations of Major Administered Budget Variances. This variance is a reflection of the success of our transformation making it easier for veterans to lodge claims, as well as a higher percentage of claims being accepted.
As we reflect on the 2018–19 financial year, we are making a clear transition to an agency that prioritises the needs of veterans and their families. In 2019–20 DVA will continue to move further in this direction, providing veterans with continually better access to support services throughout their life journey.
The final report of the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into the system of compensation and rehabilitation for veterans and their families, A better way to support veterans, was tabled in Parliament on 4 July 2019. The report is important in shaping the future of the system of support for veterans and their families. During the inquiry, the Productivity Commission received more than 300 written submissions and 160 comments; and conducted 12 public hearings in all capital cities and selected regional centres.
Looking at the final report and feedback from the veteran community gives me the reassurance that we are on the right path and that our reforms will address the identified issues. I believe this is an incredible opportunity to undertake major change for future generations of veterans and their families.
The Government has stated it will respond to the report together with the Veterans’ Advocacy and Support Services Scoping Study and the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade inquiry into transition from the ADF, both of which have also considered in detail the best ways of supporting veterans and their families. DVA will work with Defence, other key agencies and the veteran community to assist the Government to respond.
As Secretary during this period, I have made it clear that our priority is to transform DVA into a proactive, agile agency that encourages and supports the wellbeing of veterans and their families. I never want our veterans and their families to feel like they have nowhere to go. We are here to support them.
I would like to acknowledge all DVA staff, the Repatriation Commission and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission and thank them for their dedication. We are all proud to be able to serve those who have served.
Liz Cosson AM CSC
Secretary, Department of Veterans’ Affairs