RCB Update 4/2019 – Action Changes Things

Facts from the Aust and Malaysian Governments’ records prove that RCB’s operational deployment (1970-1989) to protect the RAAF assets at Air Base Butterworth against the communist terrorists threat during Malaysia’s Counter Insurgency War (1968-1989) was warlike.

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Vietnam Veterans’ Day Legacy Remembered

TOMORROW Australians across the country are encouraged to commemorate the service of all those who served in the Vietnam War and the Battle of Long Tan.
Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester said Australians should pause and reflect on the bravery, teamwork and endurance that was displayed throughout the battle and wider war.
“Almost 60,000 Australians served during the Vietnam War, and tragically 521 of them died with a further 3,000 wounded,” Mr Chester said.
“Tomorrow, 18 August, we commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day and the 53rd anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, where we remember the sacrifices of those who died and say thank you to all those who served.”
The Battle of Long Tan took place in a rubber plantation not far from the small village of Long Tan and is widely known as one of the fiercest battles fought by Australian soldiers, who faced wet and muddy conditions due to torrential rain and the loss of their radios.
We also remember the actions of more than 100 Australian and New Zealand soldiers who were vastly outnumbered, facing a force of 2,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops,” Mr Chester said.
“Tragically, some 18 Australians died and more than 20 were wounded. This was the largest number of casualties in one operation since the Australian task force had arrived a few months earlier.
“This Battle formed a significant part of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War – a decade long campaign.”
Later today Minister Chester will attend the Vietnam Remembrance Service held at the Sale RSL Sub Branch, laying a wreath to pay tribute to all those who served in the Vietnam War.
The legacy of Australia’s Vietnam veterans is still felt by those in the ex-service community today. Vietnam veterans were vital in the establishment of the Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service, now known as Open Arms — Veterans & Families Counselling, and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Long Tan Bursary scheme which provides education funding support.
Open Arms has been operational for more than 35 years and is a life-saving service that provides free and confidential counselling, group treatment programs, suicide prevention training and a community and peer network to support mental health and wellbeing in the ex-service community.
Tomorrow, applications for the Long Tan Bursary Scheme 2020 academic year will open. The scheme provides funding to help eligible children, and now grandchildren of Australian Vietnam veterans, meet the cost of post secondary education.
Thirty-seven bursaries, each worth up to $12,000 over three years of continuous full-time study, are awarded annually to successful applicants across Australia. Applications close on 31 October 2019.
To find out if you are eligible for the Long Tan Bursary scheme, please visit the DVA website HERE.
To find out more about Vietnam Veterans Day, please visit the Anzac Portal website.
If this anniversary causes distressing memories or feelings for you, or someone you know, please call Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling, provides support for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families. Free and confidential help is available 24/7. Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 1800 011 046 or +61 8 8241 4546) or visit www.OpenArms.gov.au HERE

‘I have known utter despair’: Thousands of veterans on wrong level of benefit, say advocates

Thousands of defence force veterans are likely on the wrong level of benefit or are missing out on injury payments they are entitled to due to the complexity and difficulty of dealing with the claims system, according to leading lawyers and advocates.

As the federal government prepares to respond to a damning Productivity Commission report into the $13 billion-a-year compensation system, veterans and those assisting them with claims have raised concerns about vastly different payments for similar or identical injuries, depending on which Act they apply under.

Currently, depending on injury and the timing of their service veterans can be compensated under the Veterans Entitlement Act, The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-related Claims) Act and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. Different levels of compensation also apply depending whether their injury occurred during war or war-like service.Thousands of defence force veterans are likely on the wrong level of benefit or are missing out on injury payments they are entitled to due to the complexity and difficulty of dealing with the claims system, according to leading lawyers and advocates.

READ MORE of this Canberra Times article dated 10 August 2019

RELATED  ARTICLES

Veterans’ Affairs chief promises change

The crisis facing veteran support organisations

Enough inquiries that go nowhere – it’s time for a royal commission into veteran suicide

Need for Constructive Dialogue and Not ill-considered and inaccurate criticism of DVA

The RARA supports DFWA’s concern at the recent ill-considered and often inaccurate criticism of DVA by some in the media and on social media platforms.

Commentary borders at times on crass enthusiasm for a story and less about the care of veterans. DVA and its staff in recent years has performed remarkably well in coming to grips with the many and varied challenges they are facing.

Whether it is veteran suicide, which is surely a national problem, veteran homelessness, the transition of individuals from the ADF to civilian life, the availability of psychological support, veteran employment or the myriad of other services it provides the leadership and staff of DVA are responding positively.

READ DFWA’s Media Statement here

Medical Evidence – Statement, TPs and Background

Statement from Liz Cosson AM CSC Secretary Department of Veterans’ Affairs 

Liz Cossons

“In response to today’s media reporting claiming DVA is outsourcing its compensation claim process, I offer the following statement, attached talking points and background to why we have placed a forward notice on the AusTender site. This is a public site.

Contrary to media reports, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) is not and will not be outsourcing the decision-making process for veterans’ claims.

The proposed tender, details of which are available on the AusTender website, addresses a number of recommendations including the need to assist veterans who submit claims by securing medical evidence in a way that assists in getting faster decisions.

These recommendations have come from:

• Senate Inquiry – The Constant Battle: Suicide by Veteran

• 2017-18 Australian National Audit Office – Efficiency of Veterans Service Delivery

  • The 2019 Productivity Commission report.

Through the proposed tender, DVA is seeking to identify a more efficient and effective way to gather this medical evidence, in order to facilitate the timely determination of compensation and rehabilitation claims. In some circumstances, DVA may need to approach a medico-legal provider for an assessment and report. This may occur if:
• the veteran does not have a treating doctor, or where there is insufficient or conflicting information
• the treating doctor cannot or will not provide the required evidence or cannot provide it in a timely manner
• a subsequent report still does not meet the diagnostic criteria
• a report is deficient in some aspect and a report from a further medical professional is required for the purpose specified in the referral.

This department is committed to putting veterans and their families first, including by changing the processes within DVA to drive more effective and timely claims processing, greater support through the claims process, and more positive outcomes for our veterans and their families.

The forward notice of the proposed tender, published on 29 July 2019, requests interested parties complete a survey and provide a range of information including, but not limited to, information about their organisation, their approach to the tender, and what information they would need from DVA to complete the tender.”

ADFRA’s DFRDB UPDATE – JULY 2019

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

DFRDB UPDATE – JULY 2019

Hi All,
Most of you will aware that the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s investigation into the administration of the DFRDB scheme with respect to commutation is in progress. But we are not waiting idly for the outcome.

We have continued to pursue the Minister on the narrow terms of reference of the Ombudsman’s investigation and received this Response from the Minister’s Chief of Staff.
The key statement in which is:
“There are currently no plans for further investigation into the overall design of the DFRDB Scheme.”

In an Article – The Albury Border Mail – 20 July 2019, there is this quote from a spokeswoman from the Minister’s office:
“The government consulted with the Ex-Service Organizations Roundtable to develop the terms of reference for the ombudsman’s inquiry. The public had the opportunity to provide input, this has now closed and the Ombudsman will consider this information as part of the investigation.”

A blatant cop-out.

On a separate front, Christian Bennett has been investigating and established from CSC that the DFRDB scheme is in fact a Trust with the following trustee structure:
1. A Commonwealth entity created by legislation in 2011.
2. Corporate Governance is provided by CSC Board.
3. Directors are nominated by stakeholders, i.e.;
    a. The Minister of Finance, who nominates the Chair person and 5 Directors,
    b. The President of Australian Council of Trade Unions, who nominates 3 Directors, and
c. The Chief of Defence Force who nominates 2 Directors.
Directors can serve multiple terms and tenure is limited to 9 years.
This is a matter of serious concern, because making the CSC and the Department of Finance responsible for protecting DFRDB members’ interests is akin to putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank.

This and the Terms of Reference for a wider reaching inquiry will be raised by Kel Ryan, National President, Defence Force Welfare Association, at an upcoming meeting with the Hon Darren Chester, Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel.

We are not holding our breath and will mount a legal challenge. More details when we have mapped out our strategy.
Regards,
Jim Hislop

download 2019 07 23T094620.803

Herb and Jim

Veterans’ Affairs chief promises change within the next year

The head of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs has vowed to walk away from the job if she can’t improve ex-defence personnel’s experiences with the beleaguered agency within the next year.

Liz Cosson has also promised to change the adversarial culture of the agency, which has been under fire for the bureaucratic and ruthless way it has dealt with veterans for many years.

In the wake of a damning Productivity Commission report, which recommended the department undergo “fundamental reform”, Ms Cosson has asked veterans fed up with the system to give the agency another go.

It comes amidst calls for a royal commission into the rate of suicides among former defence personnel, including Afghanistan veteran Jesse Bird who took his own life after his claim for permanent impairment was rejected.

It also comes after the Commonwealth Ombudsman gave the agency a panning, after it both underpaid a Navy veteran known as “Mr A” more than $500,000 and chased him for $100,000 in debts.

Ms Cosson – who served in the defence force for 30 years – said the agency had made huge changes since both cases, but the Productivity Commission report was a chance to “ramp it up [and] put it on steroids”.

“I acknowledge and I’ve owned up to this, we haven’t made quick decisions. We have not been the best we can be. We have been adversarial. But we are changing. And that’s what I want to send as a message. We are changing and we are listening to the veterans,” Ms Cosson said.

“We want to recreate that trust and reestablish some hope for our veteran community.”

She hit out at negative media coverage, which she believed was “actually hurting our veterans” and making them afraid to turn to the agency for help, and asked people to raise roadblocks with her directly.

“Tell me if we’re still getting it wrong and I will work with you to get it right because I’m in this job for four more years and if I’m still part of the problem in 12 months I will hand over. But I want to get this right,” Ms Cosson said.

She also urged people to get in touch with her if they’d had a bad experience with a particular delegate.

“It’s not about blame, it’s not about sacking, it’s about helping that frontline person get reskilled,” she said.

“I just want them to tell me if they’re having a bad experience because there’s so many good staff out there who are being dragged into [the claim] ‘no one cares in DVA’.”

“We have not been the best we can be. We have been adversarial.”

While the Productivity Commission retreated from its earlier recommendation for the department to be abolished entirely, it wants two of the three military compensation acts – the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act (MRCA) and Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation [Defence-related Claims] Act (DRCA) – to be harmonised, with the oldest scheme – the Veterans’ Entitlements Act – to be phased down.

Ms Cosson said it would likely take years – and a fair bit of courage – to reform the complex and distinct schemes.

“There are going to have to be trade-offs and what’s happened over time is that we haven’t wanted to trade off anything and I think it’s time now to build a new piece of legislation that’s fit for today but fit for the next 100 years,” she said.

“We can either just keep Band-Aiding little bits or we all have the courage to say we need to take this forward, not only the courage of government but the courage of our veterans’ community to all come together now.

“The more we divide ourselves and just cherrypick things, we’re not going to deliver the real reform we’re crying out for.”

The commission also recommended there be a single pathway for all reviews, regardless of which scheme the veteran is claiming under.

As it stands, if an internal review of the decision is unsuccessful, claims made under MRCA and VEA go to the Veterans’ Review Board, while some VEA decisions and most DRCA claims go before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The department has spent more than $14 million in the last two financial years on external law firms related to appeals though the AAT, but Ms Cosson said some of the money spent on external law firms was on advice unrelated to appeals.

“For example we wanted to be able to provide assistance dogs for our veterans who have mental health conditions and a diagnosis of PTSD. I needed to make sure I could do that so I needed to get legal advice,” she said.

She also said only a fraction of cases went to the administrative appeals tribunal – 1.5 per cent last financial year.

But she acknowledged the toll the appeals process took.

“Yes there are examples where we have not been good in dealing with our veterans and families,” Ms Cosson said.

“We haven’t shown empathy, we have been adversarial. That was part of our culture but in the last three years, things have changed.”

Veterans can email Department of Veterans’ Affairs Liz Cosson at [email protected]
If this story has raised issues for you, you can contact:

Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling – 1800 011 046
beyondblue – 1300 224 636
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800

The Canberra Times – 19 July 2019

Share your DVA experience
The Canberra Times wants to hear from veterans experiencing issues dealing with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Share your story below (in the table within the article) or email us at [email protected] . We will never share your information or disclose your identity without your permission.

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