Veterans’ Affairs: Regional Australia—A Stronger Economy Delivering Stronger Regions 2018–19

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ (DVA) purpose is to support those who serve or have served in the defence of our nation and to commemorate their service and sacrifice by:

  • maintaining and enhancing the quality of life of clients by improving their financial wellbeing, self-sufficiency and their physical and mental wellbeing
  • acknowledging and commemorating veterans’ service and sacrifice, and promoting an increased understanding of Australia’s wartime history.

The Department provides support and services to current and former members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), and their families, including those living in regional and remote communities.

In the 2018-19 Budget, $11.2 billion will be provided to support around 288,000 clients, including veterans and dependants. The funding comprises: $6.2 billion for income support and compensation; $4.9 billion for health services for veterans and their families; and $80.0 million for commemorative activities.

Most veterans and their families prefer to deal with DVA on the telephone or increasingly online, using new services such as MyService. For those who prefer face-to-face contact, there are more than 170 access points across all states and territories of Australia, including in regional and rural areas via a network of government service centres and agents.

As part of the DVA Transformation and in partnership with the Department of Human Services (DHS), DVA is also trialling other innovative service delivery methods. DVA services are now being delivered from more service points, expanding our reach through a pilot using the DHS Mobile Service Centres, the Golden Wattle and Desert Rose which service rural and remote Australia, as well as through an expanded agent network with DHS.

DVA is also trialling information services with other partners, including Australia Post. Trial sites in North Lakes Queensland and Mt Gambier in South Australia are currently operational, testing new regional approaches to service delivery.

DVA also offers outreach services including support for community based activities such as grants, day club visits, mens’ health peer education, visits to over 40 ADF bases, and gives presentations on services and entitlements.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs also supports the acknowledgement and commemoration of those who served Australia and its allies in wars, conflicts and peace operations through promoting recognition of service and sacrifice, preservation of Australia’s wartime heritage, and official commemorations.

In 2018-19, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs will conclude the implementation of the Anzac Centenary national program. Throughout the centenary period from 2014 to 2018, the nation will remember not only the Anzacs who served at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, but all Australians who have served in uniform across a century of service. The Anzac Centenary program is a national commemoration that comprises domestic and international activities and events. Anzac Centenary activities are also being planned and delivered by state, territory and local governments, and business and community organisations, including in regional areas.

New Initiatives

Armistice Centenary Grants Program

The Armistice Centenary Grants Program is a one-off grant program, which enables local community-based commemorative projects and activities that commemorate the end of the First World War, to remember Australian service personnel from all conflicts and celebrate a just and secure peace.

In the 2017-18 Budget, the Australian Government provided $7.5 million for this grants program ($5.0 million for 2017‑18 and $2.5 million for 2018‑19) with each federal electorate allocated $50,000.

The application closing date was extended to 28 March 2018 to ensure local communities were provided with the opportunity to liaise with their Federal Member of Parliament in support of activities and projects to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War in November 2018.

Support for Veterans through Improved Compensation Arrangements

This measure provides former members of the Australian Defence Force who are unable to work with fortnightly compensation payments equivalent to their normal earnings where they are engaged in an approved study program as part of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs rehabilitation plan. The 2018-19 Budget provides $10.8 million over the forward estimates to support this initiative. It will run until 30 June 2022.

This measure aims to provide financial surety to veterans through their medical discharge into rehabilitation and then into ongoing remunerative work, where possible. Ongoing financial security is paramount to this veteran cohort, and this initiative seeks to provide support through study to facilitate reskilling, long-term self sustainability to mitigate future reliance on the incapacity payment system.

Eligible veterans in regional areas will be able to access support through an approved rehabilitation plan.

This measure also reverses two 2015-16 Budget measures which will ensure that veterans’ permanent impairment payments under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-related claims) Act 1988 remain as they are and consistent with the permanent impairment payment entitlements for civilians under the Comcare scheme.

Support Veterans’ Employment Opportunities

An additional $8.3 million will be provided in the 2018-19 Budget over four years to further develop, implement and promote the Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Program, and to fund two new initiatives under the program.

The Industry Advisory Committee on Veterans’ Employment is establishing a framework to allow businesses to publicly commit to support the employment of veterans. This measure will provide funding to support the framework.

This measure will also provide additional support to veterans who are finding the transition to the civilian workforce challenging, including assistance with the preparation of civilian resumes, assistance with translating military skills into civilian language, interview coaching, mentoring and pre and post‑employment coaching services.

Affected veterans, including those in regional areas, will be supported to help them find meaningful and sustainable employment.

Mental Health Treatment for Australian Defence Force Reservists with Disaster Relief and Certain Other Service

The 2018-19 Budget provides an additional $2.2 million to extend eligibility for mental health treatment to certain Reservists. This initiative provides health care treatment for certain conditions under Department of Veterans’ Affairs arrangements without the need to link the condition to the person’s military service, and without the need for a compensation claim.

Currently, those with permanent full-time Australian Defence Force service and Reservists with continuous full‑time service are eligible for this support. From 1 July 2018, Reservists with Disaster Relief or Border Protection Service, or who have been involved in a serious training accident, will also be eligible. This means that eligible Reservists in regional areas will gain access to mental health care without the need to prove that the condition has arisen from their military service and without the need for a diagnosis.

This measure builds on the 2017-18 Budget measure Mental Health Treatment for Current and Former Members of the Australian Defence Force—expanded access.

Extend Eligibility for Long Tan Bursary

The Long Tan Bursary provides up to $12,000 over three years to eligible children of Australian Vietnam veterans who served in the Vietnam War between 31 July 1962 and 30 April 1975 to establish themselves in post‑secondary education. This 2018-19 Budget measure will extend eligibility to apply for support to the grandchildren of Vietnam veterans. This acknowledges the intergenerational emotional, physical and social effects of service in Vietnam. Those affected grandchildren in regional areas will gain support for their education.

There are no additional costs associated with this measure as the program is capped at 37 bursaries per year.

Improved Dental and Allied Health Services for Veterans

This integrated reform package re-balances the Department of Veterans’ Affairs arrangements for purchasing dental and allied health services nationally and strengthens the quality of dental and allied health services for the 140,000 Department of Veterans’ Affairs cardholders across Australia who use these arrangements.

The package has a focus on whole-of-patient care by implementing a “treatment cycle” approach to referrals from General Practitioners (GPs) to providers of allied health services. Patients are anticipated to benefit through better communication between GPs and allied health providers.

Included in the package is an enhancement to existing arrangements to support individuals who may have difficulty in travelling to access services, such as those in regional areas, by expanding the availability of telehealth consultations (via telephone or video) for additional treatment types such as dietetics and speech pathology to supplement face-to-face services.

Current Initiatives

Expanded Access for Non-Liability Health Care—Mental Health Treatment for Current and Former Members of the Australian Defence Force

Non-liability health care provides free treatment for certain conditions without the need to link the condition to the person’s military service, without the need for a diagnosis or a compensation claim. The 2017‑18 Budget provided $33.5 million over four years to extend the range of mental health conditions treated under the non-liability health care arrangements.

From 1 July 2017, treatment became available for any mental health condition for anyone with permanent Australian Defence Force service or Reservists with Continuous Full-time Service.

Further eligibility expansion is proposed in the 2018-19 Budget to Reservists who have Disaster Relief Service, Border Protection Service or been involved in a serious training accident, regardless of whether they have Continuous Full-time Service.

GP Health Assessment for Five Years Post Discharge

This initiative will enable all Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel transitioning to civilian life from 1 July 2019 to access an annual comprehensive health assessment by a general practitioner (GP) for the first five years post‑discharge. All ADF members with at least one day of continuous full‑time service, including Reservists, discharged from 1 July 2019 will be eligible to access the Annual GP Health Assessment using the Department of Veterans’ Affairs White Card, which the Government has committed to issue to all transitioning ADF members.

The Annual GP Health Assessment will significantly increase the opportunity for GPs to identify and treat mental and physical health concerns in ex-ADF members early, facilitating earlier recovery and minimising the impacts of mental health concerns on individual functioning, quality of life and workforce participation. A behavioural insights trial will also be conducted over the first three years to establish the most effective mechanisms to encourage ex-ADF members to undertake the annual GP health assessments.

This initiative was announced as part of 2017-18 MYEFO and will cost $2.1 million over four years. This proposal builds on the existing one-off ADF Post-Discharge GP Health Assessment, a 2013-14 Budget measure, and the online assessment tool developed as part of that Budget measure, which is now embedded in GP practice software. The one-off GP health assessment will continue to be available for all ex‑ADF members who transition both before and after 1 July 2019.

Veteran Payment

As part of a package of measures in response to the Senate’s report on the Inquiry into suicide by veterans and ex-service personnel, the 2017-18 MYEFO provided $16.1 million over four years for the Veteran Payment. This new income support payment will assist vulnerable veterans until their claim for liability for a mental health condition has been determined.

It provides early access to financial support and provide these veterans with vocational and psychosocial rehabilitation, including financial counselling and budgeting.

The payment commenced on 1 May 2018, and is available to veterans who meet the eligibility criteria, including those located in regional Australia.

Extended Family Support for Veterans

This initiative will deliver improved family support to contemporary veterans when they most need it, including at times of family crisis. The 2017-18 MYEFO provided $7.1 million over four years to fund this initiative. The support will include key psychosocial interventions such as greater access to childcare and counselling to enable the family unit to maintain its connections to community, employment and social interaction. Financial advice will also be available.

Eligible veterans will be those who have served in recent conflicts and are in receipt of incapacity payments under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004. Childcare assistance will be capped at up to $10,000 per child per annum (under school age) and/or $5,000 per child per annum (primary school) and cover Commonwealth approved childcare. Brief intervention counselling is capped at four sessions per year for up to five years and can be accessed by the veteran’s key family members—partner, children, siblings and/or parents—via the veteran’s rehabilitation plan.

The spouses of veterans killed in recent conflicts, or who commit suicide following their service, will be eligible for childcare assistance and household services and counselling to assist them to adjust to life after the death of their partner.

The initiative commenced on 1 May 2018, and will be available to veterans who meet the eligibility criteria, including those located in regional Australia.

Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Program

The Prime Minister launched the Veterans’ Employment Program, one of the Government’s 2016 election commitments, on 17 November 2016. Its aim is to raise awareness of the unique skills and experience that veterans can bring to businesses and increase employment opportunities in the business community.

The Government is providing $2.7 million over four years to implement a number of initiatives under the program. These include establishing an Industry Advisory Committee and annual awards to recognise the achievements of companies in creating employment opportunities for former members of the Australian Defence Force.

The Industry Advisory Committee on Veterans’ Employment has been established under the Program to develop advice on practical measures to embed veterans’ employment strategies into the recruitment practices of Australian businesses. The Committee is focussing on priority areas and provided its first progress report to the then Minster for Veterans’ Affairs in October 2017.

Annual awards have also been established to recognise the achievements of companies in creating employment opportunities for former members of the Australian Defence Force. In March 2018, the inaugural Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employments Awards showcased businesses across Australia that employ or support veterans and highlighted the significant contributions being made by veterans in the civilian workplace.

A 2018-19 Budget measure will provide funding to continue to implement these initiatives, and to implement two new initiatives (see ‘Support Veterans’ Employment Opportunities’ above). Support will be provided to assist the Industry Advisory Committee on Veterans’ Employment to establish a framework to allow businesses to publicly commit to support the employment of veterans, and additional support will be provided to veterans who are finding the transition to the civilian workforce challenging.

Case Management—Pilot 

The 2017-18 MYEFO provided $4.0 million over two years for a Department of Veterans’ Affairs case management service, which aims to provide tailored support to two groups of veterans and their families who have medical and non-medical complex needs:

  • recently transitioned (medically or administratively) members
  • veterans who have discharged for some time, maybe years, and have fallen into crisis.

The service will provide a dedicated case manager who is part of a team of multi-disciplinary team of professionals that support the veteran and their family for a 24 month period. At the centre of the service will be medical case management so that complex needs are coordinated through various health providers, including the general practitioner.

A pilot of the service will begin on 1 July 2018. It is anticipated that the pilot will include 100 cases in the first year (2018-19) and an additional 100 cases in the second year (2019-20).

The pilot will provide the opportunity to find the best case management model and service delivery method to achieve effective outcomes for these two veteran groups.

The case management service partly addresses recommendations 1 and 15 of the Senate’s report on the Inquiry into suicide by veterans and ex-service personnel.

The case management pilot provides the Department of Veterans’ Affairs with a service delivery mechanism to reach out to identified vulnerable veterans. The pilot aims to assist these veterans to receive and engage in tailored services and support they need from wider community resources and government programs. This pilot will be available for veterans in regional parts of Australia.

Scoping Study to Professionalise Veterans’ Advocacy

The MYEFO 2017-18 provided $1.7 million in funding over two years to evaluate professional advocacy models operating across Government in Australia and overseas to determine the model appropriate for the Australian veteran community.

The study is part of a package of measures in response to the Senate’s report on the Inquiry into suicide by veterans and ex-service personnel, which will examine advocacy models to service veterans in both metropolitan and regional Australia.

Veteran and Veterans Families Counselling Service—Client Eligibility Expansion—Partners, Families and Former Partners

The Veteran and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) provides free and confidential, nation-wide counselling and support for war and service-related mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

VVCS also provides relationship and family counselling to address issues that can arise due to the unique nature of military service. VVCS counsellors have an understanding of military culture and can work with clients to find effective solutions for improved mental health and wellbeing.

A family inclusive service, VVCS client eligibility has expanded over time. Today, VVCS supports not only current and former Australian Defence Force (ADF) members but also their immediate family. Supporting families is fundamental to the VVCS service delivery paradigm, which recognises that military trauma rarely impacts on the individual alone. The 2017-18 Budget provided $8.5 million over four years to make VVCS even more accessible to families by extending access to the partners and children of current and former ADF members who hold a Repatriation Health Card—Gold or White for an accepted mental health disability. The former partners of eligible ADF personnel will also be able to access VVCS support for five years following separation or while co-parenting a child under the age of 18.

Regardless of where you reside in Australia—in a city, in rural or in regional Australia—VVCS counsellors are available to support ADF veterans and their families.

Saluting Their Service

Saluting Their Service is the Australian Government’s ongoing commemorations grants program. Under Saluting Their Service funding is available for projects, including events and activities that are directly commemorative of Australia’s involvement in war, conflict and peace operations.

The program provides grants of up to $4,000 under the community Commemorative Grants category for projects that assist people at a community level and enable small communities to build memorials and preserve wartime memorabilia that are locally significant.

Funding is also available under the Major Commemorative Grants category of the program for significant projects at a national, state or territory level.

Grants are approved each year in most electorates across Australia, many in regional areas. In 2016-17, 180 grants were provided to 84 of the 150 electorates across Australia.

As at 30 April 2018, 82 grants provided to 53 electorates across Australia have been approved for 2017-18, with an estimate of a total of 171 grants to be provided to 86 electorates for 2017-18, ensuring valuable funding reaches veteran communities across the country, including regional Australia.

Coordinated Veterans’ Care (CVC) Mental Health Pilot

The Coordinated Veterans’ Care (CVC) Mental Health Pilot is a two-year trial funded at $3.6 million over the forward estimates (2017-18—2019-20). The pilot will target up to 250 veterans, particularly in rural and regional areas with relatively larger numbers of potentially eligible veterans, where access to mental health specialists may be more difficult.

The pilot will be embedded in the existing CVC Program. The CVC Program uses a team-based model of care, led by a general practitioner and supported by a practice nurse. It will provide enhanced community-based support for those with mild to moderate anxiety or depression and physical health problems, in particular musculoskeletal conditions with pain.

The pilot includes a new digital coach application on a smart phone or smart device that the veterans will use. The app is based on ‘light touch’ cognitive behavioural therapy and is being developed by Clevertar, a digital specialist in health care. Technical and clinical coordination for the pilot will be provided by Tunstall, a health call monitoring facility staffed by registered nurses and supervised by a mental health nurse.

In 2018-19, the pilot will be rolled out in a number of regional locations, commencing in Bundaberg, Queensland.

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