Comment – Surviving Recent Friendly Fire

Friendly Fire
What has been very disappointing and demoralizing in recent times are the emails, social media posts and the broader media attacks upon DVA, the ESORT and the ADSO.

Especially are the attacks on individuals and ESO leaders for not being supportive of the broad veteran communities. Nothing could be further from the truth.
When these attacks get personal, lesser mortals might choose to walk away from it all but considering how far we have all come for the better we have no option “than to stay the course”.

Nothing is perfect in life and DVA is no different, but the improvements initiated over the last four years, through the Veteran Centric Reform program, are encouraging, but there is still a long way to go.

DVA, with the ESORT and others, are engaged and are working through the Productivity Commission Report and the Cornell Advocacy Report.

There is no doubt that the ESO community is being listened to in so many different areas, including families. There is a more holistic and workable approach in the case management of veterans and their families.

Unique Opportunity
The veteran community has a once in a lifetime opportunity to reset the agenda for veteran care into the future.

Presently there is increasing pressure on the DVA and the Government to consider and then implement much of what the Productivity Commission has recommended. This takes time. Yes, it is frustrating and slow grinding work. The pressure on the individuals who toil within DVA for the betterment of veteran care is relentless. This coupled with the constant pot shots from those outside the tent is having a demoralizing effect on all who work within the organisation. This is unfair! They should be allowed the opportunity to focus on the task of veteran care and not be forced to continually duck ill-considered friendly fire and, some, not so friendly.

Client Satisfaction
Interestingly, a client satisfaction survey conducted by an outside organisation has found that there is an 81% overall client satisfaction rating of DVA. When this is broken down demographically by age, the satisfaction rating of those 65 years and over is 89%; 45 years to 64 years, 72%; and under 45 years only 58%.

The last group is obviously the younger veteran. This poor 58% is precipitated by the complexities, duplicities and confusion across the three Acts.

DVA, with overt pressure from ESO leadership, is presently reviewing these three pieces of legislation to harmonise them as either one or two Acts. This will alleviate the issues, the time and the decision-making controversy that causes such angst for the younger veteran community.

ESORT and ADSO
The ESORT and the ADSO is supportive of DVA during this difficult period of implementing some of the recommendations of the PC and all we ask of the ex-service community is to give us all a fair go.

There are no cars, blazers or cigars for the work the members of the ESORT or ADSO do in these roles. It is all on a pro bono basis to try to make a difference in the best interests of veterans and their families.

Some criticisms of us may be justified at times due to poor communications, most are totally unfair and unacceptable. This when individuals are personal in their attacks and not backed by fact or constructive involvement in the area of veterans’ issues and veteran care.

10 September 2019

Kel Ryan 
National Spokesman 
Alliance of Defence Service Organisation 
Mobile: (0418) 759 120 

Michael von Berg
National President
RAR Corporation
Mobile: (0411) 870 055

FUNDING FOR ORGANISATIONS TO SUPPORT OUR VETERAN COMMUNITY

VETERANS and their families across Australia will be better supported thanks to more than $875,000 in community grants aimed at improving veteran health and wellbeing.

 Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester said 68   projects will receive funding under the Veteran and Community   Grants (V&CG) and Men’s Health Peer Education (MHPE) programs.
 “These grants will support veterans and their families by providing funding for activities and services that promote healthy and good quality lifestyles,” Mr Chester said.
Due to the overwhelming number of applications under the V&CG program, we have provided additional funding through the MHPE program for this round, with successful projects supporting the veteran community by encouraging involvement in community activities and physical activity, which in turn enhances mental wellbeing.”

The V&CG program supports organisations by providing funding for projects that sustain or enhance the health and wellbeing of the veteran community. The MHPE program has a range of similar outcomes and therefore additional funds could be sourced.
“The Federal Government is committed to putting veterans and their families first and through this round of funding we are able to recognise a range of local activities and services that will support the veteran community in living a healthier lifestyle,” Mr Chester said.
“Congratulations to the community and ex-service organisations that will receive funding to deliver activities and services to support the veteran community.”
To find out more information visit the Veteran and Community Grants program page on the Department of Veterans’ Affairs website or visit the Community Grants Hub.

5 September 2019

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

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.

READ MORE

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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