NAIDOC Week — The Role of Indigenous Servicemen & Women

ABORIGINAL and Torres Strait Islander people have made a valuable contribution to Australia’s defence since the Boer War, and this NAIDOC Week we celebrate their history, culture and achievements.

Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester said as part of this year’s theme ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth.’ we reflect on the role of Indigenous Australians — the know-how, practices, skills and innovation which has helped those before us and to shape present day service.

“Indigenous Defence personnel have a long and rich history of contributing to the defence of Australia, which continues today,” Mr Chester said.

“More than 133 Indigenous Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel were recruited through development and pre-recruit programs in 2018-19. Additionally, 29 Indigenous ADF personnel will start other programs before the end of June 2019.

“The ADF has a number of Indigenous community and cultural immersion programs which provide opportunities to increase the representation of Indigenous Australians in the ADF.”

These programs include the Jawun Indigenous Community Placement Program for the Australian Public Service and ADF personnel; the Army Aboriginal Community Assistance Program; Navy and Army Indigenous Development Programs; and the Indigenous Pre-Recruit Program.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) has an established Indigenous Liaison Officer Network to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans in obtaining their entitlements and benefits. This will ensure that the Department’s strong commitment to helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans and their families is maintained.

Later this year we mark the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War, in which it is estimated as many as 6,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have served.

“During the Second World War Australia came under direct attack from Japan when northern Australia was bombed, although all Australians were in some way impacted by the war, this had a direct impact on those who lived in the North,” Mr Chester said.

“Australia’s armed forces employed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in de facto units to carry out reconnaissance of the northern Australian coast line, where they assisted locating Japanese and Allied aircraft crash sites.

“During the first Japanese raid on Darwin in 1942 a Japanese airman crashed on Bathurst Island. Tiwi Man, Matthias Ulungura, took the Japanese pilot prisoner, the first time an enemy combatant had been captured on Australian soil.

“As the war came to the top-end of Australia, the understanding and connection to country that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had proved to be of great benefit in the defence of the Australian mainland and islands to the north.”

The significant contribution to the Defence of Australia’s North and North West by Indigenous service personnel continues to this day.

“The Army’s Regional Force Surveillance Group undertakes Border Protection Operations and supports the ‘Closing the Gap’ strategy via its efforts in Indigenous Engagement and Development,” Mr Chester said.

“Drawing on the proud heritage of Indigenous service in Australia’s North during the Second World War, the Group has the highest rate of Indigenous participation of any Formation in the ADF, providing capability for Australia’s security, while also delivering ongoing opportunities for Indigenous Australians.

“This NAIDOC week I encourage all Australians to acknowledge Defence’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander defence personnel as well as our veterans, and stand together on our commitment to reconciliation and ‘Closing the Gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.”

For more information visit Indigenous Australians at war on DVA’s website or go to the Indigenous Veterans’ Liaison Officers network webpage for help with DVA’s services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans.

NAIDOC Week events
Find out what NAIDOC Week events are happening across the country and don’t forget to share your own!

8 July 2019

Outgoing Repatriation Commissioner thanked for dedicated service

AFTER almost a decade of enhancing the services and support provided to veterans and their families, and the broader ex-service community, Major General Mark Kelly AO DSC will pass the Repatriation Commissioner mantle to Mr Don Spinks AM.

Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester said veterans and their families had benefited greatly from Major General Kelly’s leadership, passion and commitment to the ex-service community.

“Major General Kelly has performed with distinction as the Repatriation Commissioner and I commend him on his achievements, most notably the improvements made to Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling, formerly known as the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service,” Mr Chester said.

“During his years of service, we have seen Open Arms become a nationally accredited mental health service as well as expanding eligibility to include children, partners, former partners and certain United Nations and Australian Federal Police personnel — improvements which have made a difference in the lives of many.”

Most recently Major General Kelly guided the counselling service through its rebranding to be called Open Arms, signalling its increased eligibility and positioning it as the frontline mental health service for the ex-service community.

He is passionate about commemorating Australia’s military history and ensuring veterans from all conflicts are never forgotten. During his time as Repatriation Commissioner he has been the master of ceremonies for countless commemorative events, such as Anzac Day services held internationally, including the 100th anniversary commemorations in Gallipoli, 2015.

“I have no doubt the ongoing effects of Major General Kelly’s leadership and enhancement of Open Arms as well as his passion to commemorate all Australians who have served will be felt for generations to come,” Mr Chester said.

“I sincerely thank Major General Kelly for all he has done for the ex-service community and wish him well for the future.”

The Repatriation Commission grants pensions and benefits, and provides treatment and other services under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 (VEA) to veterans and members of the Australian Defence Force, their partners, widows/ers, and children. The Commission also provides advice to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs on related issues.

Major General Kelly welcomed Mr Spinks to the role and said he was very proud of the work completed to-date in enhancing the services and support available to current and former Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel and their families.

“I have been privileged in my position to meet with many veterans, their families, and have witnessed first-hand the profound impact that Open Arms can have as well as the other services provided by DVA. I wish Don Spinks all the very best and I have no doubt he will further enhance the support to our current and former ADF personnel and their families.”

Major General Kelly served in a number of senior command appointments during his Army career, including Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment; Commander 3rd Brigade; Commander 1st Division; Land Commander Australia; and Commander Joint Task Force 633 (CJTF 633).

download 2019 06 28T145255.892

His operational experience includes service with the Commonwealth Monitoring Force in Zimbabwe/Rhodesia (1979–80), Chief of Staff of INTERFET in East Timor (1990–2000), with US CENTCOM in Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and Iraq (2003–04) and as CJTF 633, commanding all ADF elements in the Middle East Area of Operations, Iraq and Afghanistan (2009–10).

va063 img 1

Photo caption: (left to right) Mr Don Spinks AM, Major General Mark Kelly AO DSC and Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel, Mr Darren Chester.

ADSO Comment: From Duty First to Duty Done, enjoy your retirement Mark.


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ADF Retirees Association – DFRDB Update – June 2019

The Australian Defence Force Retirees Association (ADFRA) acts on behalf of Defence Force retirees and their military superannuation grievances.

Related Article: 50,000 veterans fired up over pension ‘shortfall’ The Australian 28th June 2019

Hi All, We assume that most of you are aware that the Commonwealth Ombudsman decided to commence an investigation into the administration of the DFRDB scheme with respect to commutation.

Today (27 June 2019), we as in Herb and Roz Ellerbock (our driver), Christian Bennett and I met with the Ombudsman’s investigation team.

Unfortunately, the Ombudsman himself, Mr Michael Manthorpe PSM, was called to Adelaide on short notice by the Attorney General, but the whole investigation team, including its team leader Paul Pfitzner attended the meeting.

Herb delivered this very powerful and compelling presentation (click to open – allow a bit of time for it to load). Some of the visual effects are lost in this PDF version but the content is clear enough.

Those who still believe that Commutation Payback is the most important concern that we should be addressing should take a close look at this presentation.
Our meeting was scheduled for one hour and lasted one hour and forty-five minutes. Some of the matters raised in Herb’s presentation were clearly outside of the stated scope of the investigation but at no point did the investigation team give us any impression that any of the matters we raised were out of bounds.
Many of you completed the questionnaire and submitted other relevant details of your circumstances.

Paul Pfitzner advised that by close of submissions they expect to have received some 3,000 completed questionnaires, the analysis of which would be a significant task, requiring the employment of 2 or 3 additional staff. Their aim is to provide an outcome as quickly as possible but under no circumstances would that be at the expense of thoroughness.

Paul committed to providing updates, as and when they could, containing advice that was not of a prejudicial or preemptive nature.

Thank you again if you made the effort of completing the questionnaire or making a submission. The sheer diversity of content already say much about how well we were advised.
Again, if you are not already a member then please go to our
web site and register. We will represent your concerns. If you are already a member, please encourage others to join.

Regards,

Herb Ellerbock & Jim Hislop

ABC News – Veterans put ‘through a lot of hoops’ in bid to claim compensation, minister says

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) has been “too adversarial” when it comes to handling the compensation claims of former defence personnel, Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester says.

Key points:

  • Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester says his department “has been guilty of being too adversarial” over compensation claims
  • Mr Chester said the culture in the department has been improving
  • He said he would act upon a recommendation to from a cross-party group on veterans’ mental health issues

Mr Chester made the comments to 7.30 after holding a summit in Canberra about veterans’ mental health on Wednesday.

The department has been criticised by veterans, their families and even the Productivity Commission, which said in a draft report that the compensation claim process for veterans was not fit for purpose.

One mother of a veteran who committed suicide started a petition on Change.org, which received more than 220,000 signatures. As part of the petition, she called for a royal commission into the rate of suicide among veterans and accuses the DVA of treating veterans poorly when they make compensation claims.

“I believe in the past that the DVA has been guilty of being too adversarial in terms of whether it’s protecting the public purse or putting veterans through a lot of hoops,” Mr Chester told 7.30.

He said the culture in large organisations was difficult to change but that the DVA was making progress.

“The changing culture now is around taking a more beneficial approach to the veteran or their family in terms of providing those support measures. So I think there has been improvement, I think there’s real progress here,” he said.

“The feedback I’ve received from the key ex-service organisations in about [the] 15 months I’ve been in the role is that they are seeing improvements, and they want to see us keep working with them to bed down even further improvements in the future.

“The DVA has to win back the trust of Australian veterans and their families and the service community more generally.”

Cross-party group to be set up

Darren Chester addresses the veterans summit in Canberra

PHOTO: Darren Chester addresses the veterans summit in Canberra. (ABC News)

Mr Chester said he would act upon a recommendation from the summit to contact MPs from all parties with military experience to form a group that will look at veterans’ mental health issues.

When it comes to a royal commission, Mr Chester said “all options are on the table”.

“But what I’ve been saying also quite clearly is, in about four or five days’ time the Productivity Commission is going to give me a report, which it has been working on for the past year,” he said.

“I understand it’s a 1,000-page report, looking at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and making sure it’s fit for purpose for the next 100 years.

“That needs to be worked through as well.”

Discovering ‘why these people have been doing nothing’

Jesse Bird posing in army camouflage with gun

PHOTO: Jesse Bird’s claim was rejected by DVA. (Supplied: Karen Bird)

In 2017, 7.30 reported on the case of Jesse Bird, a veteran of the Afghanistan conflict who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mr Bird took his own life after his claim for permanent impairment was rejected by the DVA.

He died at the age of 32 with just $5.20 in his bank account.

Mr Bird’s stepfather John told 7.30 his file shows his pleas for help were not taken seriously.

“He had his rejection papers prominently displayed along with a lot of other paperwork that he’d had to endure with the DVA,” he told 7.30 in 2017.

Mr Bird’s mother Karen Bird said her son had been pushed into a corner and could not see any other way out.

“He was my first-born son and I don’t have him anymore,” Ms Bird said.

Since Mr Bird’s death there have been major changes inside the DVA and the Government is spending $230 million a year on veteran mental health.

John McNeill, a volunteer who devotes his time to helping veterans navigate the complex claim system, wants a royal commission because of the failings he saw first-hand with Mr Bird’s case.

“The same story has been said over and over and over again about what needs to change. Now it hasn’t,” he said.

“So I believe the royal commission would find out why these people that have been entrusted to be the voice of the veteran community are sitting back and doing nothing to help until the spotlight is shone on them.”

Hundreds of suicides

Warrior's Return collates statistics on suicides by veterans

PHOTO: Warrior’s Return collates statistics on suicides by veterans. (ABC News)

An official estimate records more than 370 suicides involving current or former defence personnel since 2001, with one volunteer group called Warriors Return keeping its own figures on suicide by veterans across the country.

Their research shows there have been 16 suicides this year alone, with 48 last year, 86 in 2017 and 80 in 2016.

But Brian Briggs, a military compensation lawyer with Slater and Gordon, argues against a royal commission.

He believes the money could be better spent fixing problems which are well known.

“I think the money would be more wisely spent elsewhere in providing services to the veterans and to the veteran community, not on having numerous lawyers appearing before the royal commission and spending $80 to $100 million, which is only going to lead to further delays,” he said.

“We already know what the issues are, what they need to do is get things happening and happening fast and happening now.

“All this money that’s being put in, what are the results? That’s where we need to sit back and see what is producing results and what isn’t working — and what isn’t working should be shut down.”

RELATED STORY: Man warned Veterans’ Affairs he could become suicide statistic days before death

RELATED STORY: DVA head offers apology after policy changed to thwart compo claim

RELATED STORY: ‘Bureaucratic bastardry’: DVA secretly changed rules to deny veteran’s claim

If you or anyone you know needs help:

ABC News – 27th June 2019

ABC TV 7.30 Report – Duty of Care

Calls for royal commission over the rate of veteran suicides

There are growing calls for a royal commission into the rate of suicide among military veterans. An official estimate is there have been more than 370 suicides involving current or former defence personnel since 2001. Despite ongoing reforms, the Department of Veterans Affairs is under fire over how it treats compensation claims and the toll it takes on those who have served our country.

Watch the video report here

Wed 26 Jun 2019, 8:45pm

Minister for Veterans Affairs talks about today’s summit on mental health

Minister for Veterans Affairs, Darren Chester, held a summit to discuss the problem of mental health issues among veterans.

Watch the video report here

Wed 26 Jun 2019 8.45 pm

A Current Affair – Our Forgotten Heroes (Cont)

Julie-Ann Finney says the Navy deserted her son Dave, and it cost him his life.

We’ve been following her campaign for a Royal Commission into the crisis affecting our veterans.

Today, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs held a special summit at Parliament House in Canberra.

Watch the video report here

26th June 2019

A Current Affair – Our Forgotten Heroes

This is our campaign to help Australia’s forgotten heroes.

Earlier this month, we brought you the heartbreaking story of Dave Finney – a poster boy for the Royal Australian Navy.

His mum Julie-Ann claims the Defence Force deserted her son.

Now, there are growing calls for a Royal Commission, as two mothers lead the charge to make it happen.

Watch the video report here

See Julie-Ann’s petition online here.

20th June 2019

Open Arms provides 24/7 support for former and serving ADF personnel and their families. Contact them on 1800 011 046 or visit the website.

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

RCB UPDATE 3/2019 – AND THE BEAT GOES ON

This is an Update on activities reported in Update 2/2019

Legal Conference

Arising from the telephone conference meeting with our barrister it was decided that as there will likely be a new Minister after the election we need to put our case to that person afresh before taking the legal path. This is because the courts would not take kindly to suing somebody who has previously had nothing to do with the decisions against us. To that end our legal team is preparing a brief for the incoming Minister.

National Media Exposure

In the meantime we are continuing our preparations with a national media organisation to expose our claim to the Australian people. No action will commence until we have a decision on the legal advice

Defence Force Retirement & Death Benefit – Commutation issue – A Summary

We continue to monitor it because it is a good example of the power of national media to influence the Government and we can learn valuable lessons from this inquiry.  The timing for the independent inquiry is to be decided after the commencement of the 46th Parliament. The so called independent body is to be the Commonwealth Ombudsman: this decision has been criticised as not being independent of Government.

That Moment of Truth – The Meetings – Update 1/2019

In that Update we reported:

“A week after our return to Brisbane we sent an RCB Brief of the matter to the Minister and Ted Chitham wrote him a personal letter appealing to his decency in decision making and the need to act. We are still waiting for a response for continuation of the unfinished meeting or a decision.”

Today (15th May 2019) the RCBRG received a letter from the Vice Chief of the Defence Force Vice Admiral David Johnston AO, RAN in which he thanked us for our correspondence: Letter of 5th December 2018 to Minister Chester, Letter of 21st February 2019 to Minister Chester, Emails of 26th February 2019 to Minister Payne and Sen Fawcett, and Letter of 22nd March 2019 to Minister Chester; and counters our claims with reasons that are challengeable. Again he repeats this sentence: “In the absence of compelling new evidence the Department of Defence does not intend to examine this matter further.”

Faced with this continuing avoidance to meet with us (refer to the 26thNovember 2018 meeting fiasco) no wonder that we persist with our claim to obtain justice through other channels

Thanks all for your support, suggestions, comments and donations: they are greatly appreciated. I can assure you all of the outstanding dedication of the RCBRG that remains resolute in its determination to pursue our claim.

Prior Planning, Persistence, Patience and Perseverance Prevents Poor Performance

Robert Cross
RCB Service 1973, 1974/75, 1982
RCB Group Leader
Date: 17/05/2019

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DFWA Media Statement – Faceless Bureaucrats Change the Law to Beat Wounded Veterans in Court

Veterans medically discharged, including all those with mental health wounds and at risk of self-harm, can receive an Invalidity Benefit from their superannuation scheme.

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) taxes these variable payments as ordinary income rather than at the lower rates that can be applied to superannuation fund disability benefits.

Since 2015, Veterans have been trying to get the ATO to justify their position and advise what law they are using to treat their invalidity payments this way. The ATO has used every dodgy practice in the book to avoid answering the question.

In 2018, Veterans had the Administrative Appeals Tribunal consider this matter. On 1 June, the ATO’s case developed a “fatal flaw” so they requested an adjournment to “consult” with their bureaucratic masters. Although Justice Logan agreed to the adjournment, he expressed concern that the ATO might try to change the law to fix their case before the Hearing resumed.

On 7 December, two days before the Hearing resumed, changes to the law, backdated to 2007, were made to fix the shoddy ATO argument. In other words, the rules and the goalposts were changed at half-time by the faceless bureaucrats. But this is not a game! The men and women of the ADF are trained to obey the rules, even if it means they might die.

Politicians should not let faceless bureaucrats change the law to beat wounded veterans in court and no Australian should be at risk of having the law changed and backdated in the middle of their court case.

This should not happen to any citizen. Veterans have fought for democracy and the rule of law and call on all Australians to join the fight against this blatant injustice! There will be limited time after the election for the Senate or the House of Representatives to pass a Disallowance Motion negating the retrospective changes affecting the case being heard.

Read more on this matter, including what you can do, on the DFWA website here  or contact the DFWA spokesperson John on 02 5104 3106 or [email protected] .

7th May 2019

DFWA Media Statement – Recognition that ADF Members Deserve Support during and after their Service

The Defence Force Welfare Association (DFWA) welcomes the Labor Opposition’s commitment announced today in a joint Media Alert of wide-ranging support to both the nation’s current serving ADF members and to those who once served, importantly, including their families.

DFWA welcomes the Opposition’s commitments on several fronts.

The first being the retention of a specific Department of Veterans Affairs. This alone gives credibility to the notion of a ‘veteran centric’ department focused on the issues of veteran and their families.

Second is the commitment to adequately resource the Association to enhance its ability to properly represent serving ADF members in a professional manner particularly at Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal hearings. Such recognition of its role in representing serving personnel has been long sought from successive governments without success.

Kel Ryan download 2019 05 09T190332.604

Finally in commenting on Labor’s ‘Employment Package’ and its ‘National Families Engagement and Support Strategy’, the National President of DFWA, Kel Ryan, stated that he was particularly pleased that ‘Oasis Townsville’, a long-held aspiration of the Townsville veterans community to have a single hub to which all veterans and their families could go, would be appropriately funded.

The ‘Oasis’ is a model concept that could in whole, or in part, be readily replicated in other parts of Australia. The concept is reflective of the collaboration that is possible between Ex-Service Organisations to not only help each other to achieve outcomes for a common cause but to have a shared focus on supporting serving and ex-serving members of the ADF by making the lives of these men, women and their families better, healthier, happier and more rewarding.

9th May 2019

Contacts
Executive Director:
Alf Jaugietis (0438) 282 284 www.dfwa.org.au
National President:
Kel Ryan (0418) 759 120

DFWA – Voice of the Defence Community