Mental Health Australia – News

CEO’s Update

The Productivity Commission Inquiry into Mental Health will hand down its Final Report on 23 May 2020, and at this draft stage the message we are hearing from both the PC, and Government, is that we – the sector – can still help shape and influence the Final Report.

Yes, the Productivity Commission’s Draft Report provides a valuable, up to date statement on the significant economic costs of mental illness. It properly places the experience of mental illness in a broader social context and we commend the PC for reviewing impacts of social determinants of mental health including housing, justice, education and employment. They rightly acknowledge the lack of a national vision for mental health and further acknowledge we do not have the governance structures necessary to support national collaboration in this area.

At this stage of the process, exactly 190 days until the Final Report is presented to Government, the grand vision for systemic mental health reform we were all hoping for is not yet clear.

So what do we do next? Having spoken with Commissioner Stephen King and the Minister’s office this week about our concerns, we know the public hearings starting today in Canberra (and concluding in Launceston on 9 December) are vital to helping improve this report. Our team appeared at the Canberra hearing this morning and presented much of what I have said here.

Melanie Cantwell
Acting CEO

Towards Zero forum – Suicide prevention

A landmark forum in Canberra this week has moved Australia a step closer to a coordinated, national approach to suicide prevention. The forum brought together people from diverse community organisations, the health and government sectors, and people with lived experience. Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, attended the forum, and said everyone provided valuable insights and ideas that will help the Government respond to the issue.

Read more 

$500,000 for Men’s Sheds across Australia

Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, says the Morrison Government is continuing to support the Men’s Shed movement with this week’s announcement of successful grant recipients under the National Shed Development Programme. In the latest round, 135 Men’s Sheds across Australia will share in $500,000 in grants that will help buy tools and equipment, maintain infrastructure, coordinate training and host community activities about men’s health issues. Read more

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

Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Summit Statement – Darren Chester

“Thank you for your attendance here today (26th June 2019).
You’re here because you have expert knowledge in mental health, suicide prevention and the potential impacts of military service on individuals and their families.

Today’s an opportunity to take stock of where we are regarding mental wellbeing of veterans and serving ADF personnel… and where we want to be in the future.

This is your chance to help set the veterans’ mental health agenda for this term of the Morrison Government.

It’s an opportunity for a full and frank discussion about what is working, what isn’t working, our knowledge or research gaps… and what else we can be doing together to improve mental wellbeing.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that mental health will be a core focus of this government and he has already announced several initiatives aimed at suicide prevention and mental wellbeing in the wider community.
Every suicide is a tragedy, especially for families and loved ones left behind.
It is a sad and complex issue which costs Australia more than 3000 people each year and of particular concern to us, here today, is the estimated 30 veterans who take their own life each year.


When it comes to veteran suicide, the only acceptable number for me is zero – the only acceptable number for the Australian people is zero.
As a government we are determined to put veterans and their families first.
I’m working with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Australian Defence Force leaders, ex-service organisations, medical professionals and the community to improve mental health outcomes for veterans and their families.


We are spending more than $230 million per year to improve veteran mental health and we are working with Defence to improve resilience among serving members.
There have been a number of significant inquiries, research and reports which have led to significant changes and the key question today is, what else can we do that will make a practical difference?

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

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.

Opinion – RSL NSW Head calls for Royal Commission into military suicides

The NSW RSL’s President, James Brown, has backed calls for a royal commission into military suicides in this article published in the Daily Telegraph 26th June 2019.

“Darren Chester, the Minister for Veterans Affairs (DVA), has announced there will be a photo opportunity on veterans’ mental health convened in Canberra for 10am this morning.

But there is no clear plan for how the wellbeing of veterans and their families will be improved in this parliament.

That’s a problem for the thousands in Australia’s veterans’ community who need help.

What we do know is that the minister does not support a royal commission into the issue of veterans’ suicides, or the structural weaknesses of our veteran support systems.

Too expensive he says — leaving aside the fact that DVA found a lazy $58m last year to top the coffers of a single consulting firm on variously undefined “strategic” projects.

There is no clear plan for the wellbeing of veterans and their families. Picture Gary Ramage

Several veterans’ groups are concerned about the potential cost of a royal commission too. I understand their worry: No one wants to see yet another lawyers picnic or yet another lengthy inquiry.

The department points to its ongoing veteran centric reform program as the solution, but as well-intentioned and progressed as this is, it is largely a revamp of IT systems, staff culture, and bureaucratic processes.

And it still has a long way to run.

Last year I applied for a DVA white card, the first step towards accessing free mental health care.

It took nearly six months and multiple follow ups to complete that transaction because DVA’s computers don’t talk effectively to the Defence department.

Imagine how hard it must be for veterans who, unlike me, don’t have time to wait and are struggling with the basics of everyday life.

A senate inquiry into veteran suicide two years ago recommended four strands of reforms.

Improving DVA was just one of them. Progress against the others has been variable.

Veterans tell me for all the reviewing and reforming progress has not come fast enough and no one is joining the dots across all of the systems meant to support veterans, including among the nearly 5000 veteran support organisations outside of government.

Nor does anyone have an eye to the fact that the veteran volunteer network of thousands of advocates and welfare officers is fast retiring and overwhelmed by the complexity of the bureaucratic system.

So what can be done?

First, the government needs to appoint a veterans tsar.

A respected leader, reporting directly to the Prime Minister, who can cut to the heart of the issues in our veterans’ support systems and forge a plan to address them.

An ambassador who can range across the breadth of federal and state government to ensure that all departments and agencies are enlisted in the fight to respect and support veterans.

Aussie Diggers in Iraq on Anzac Day. Picture Gary Ramage

Someone who can take a hard look at what the whole of government isn’t currently doing to help veterans, and the clout to map what more could be done.

The problems are bigger than just what happens in DVA; the solutions will need to be whole of government too.

Second, the government should immediately commit the $10m required to ensure a question is included on the next Australian Census identifying prior service in the Australian Defence Force.

Our veterans should be counted in the census — the fact that they are not is a national disgrace.

That will tell us how many veterans Australia actually has, where they live, and help identify what support services they need now and into the future.

We must count veterans in our state government health and justice systems too.

Not doing so has had tragic consequences in recent years.

A simple box on an admission form querying prior service in the military can save lives by ensuring veteran-specific problems are understood and veteran support services immediately accessed.

We still don’t know, for example, how many veterans are homeless each night — though it seems anecdotally that the scale of veteran homelessness could be larger than any of us expect.

Third, the government needs to fully fund, prioritise, and implement the forthcoming recommendations of the Productivity Commission review into veterans, the inquiry into why incapacitated veterans are asked to live on 63 per cent of the minimum wage, as well as the recent Cornall review into veteran’s advocacy and legal support.

The required reforms could be extensive, and costly.

The bill to bring incapacitated veteran payments in line with the minimum wage alone could cost government more than $200m per year.

But what greater imperative could there be than keeping our promise to those who have risked their lives for this country?

All we are asking for is a frank conversation of what more can be done to help veterans and their families, and a plan to get it fixed in the next three years.

The last thing we need is another photo opportunity.”

VETERANS’ MENTAL HEALTH SUMMIT TO INFORM GOVERNMENT’S STRATEGY

Tomorrow’s Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Summit will bring together key stakeholders at Parliament House to improve services and support to those who have served in the Australian Defence Force.

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The Summit, to be chaired by Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel, Darren Chester, will focus on extra steps that can be taken to improve veterans’ mental health, wellbeing and suicide prevention.

“As a Federal Government, we are determined to put veterans and their families first, which is why I’m convening the Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Summit this Wednesday,” Mr Chester said.

“It’s an opportunity to take stock of current programs and assess what else can be done to improve mental wellbeing of veterans.

“While we have already expanded access to free counselling, and introduced new payments to ensure veterans submitting mental health claims have financial support while their claims are being considered, it’s important to constantly assess the Government’s strategy.”

Experts will be brought together to consider the current range of services, programs and pilots offered by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA), and to give advice about the strengths of current settings, where gaps could be addressed, and to inform the Government’s forward plan and strategy.

The Summit will be the first stage of a structured engagement with ex-service organisations, veterans, families and service providers, over the coming months and will be a great opportunity for stakeholders to continue working with the Federal Government on veteran matters of great importance.

“I will also be working through the Government’s approach to veteran’s mental health and well-being with my Federal Ministerial colleagues,” Mr Chester said.

“State and Territory Governments also have a vital role to play and mental health will be a focus at the Veterans Ministers Council meeting in August.

“The Prime Minister has made it clear that mental health will be a core focus of this government and he has already announced several initiatives aimed at suicide prevention and mental wellbeing in the wider community.

“It is a sad and complex issue which costs Australia more than 3000 people each year and when it comes to veteran suicide, the only acceptable number for me is zero – the only acceptable number for the Australian people is zero.

“We need to keep working together to improve mental wellbeing and prevent suicide throughout Australia.”

Free and confidential help is available through Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling, for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families. Help is available 24/7 by calling 1800 011 046.

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Troops call for better access to yoga and meditation

As the Australian Defence Force grapples with post-traumatic stress disorder among troops, former and active personnel are calling for better access to emerging therapies like yoga and meditation.

Yoga classes and specially designed meditation are already being used on some Australian military bases with promising results.

Former and active troops concede that military leaders and doctors are increasingly accepting of non-medical treatments, but they say some soldiers are still missing out on the benefits.

Listen to the Report here


Duration: 4min 19sec
Broadcast: Thu 21 Mar 2019, 12:06pm

Media Release – Community and Peer Program to Help Vulnerable Australian Veterans

FOLLOWING the success of a two-year Community and Peer Pilot in Townsville, Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling will now roll-out their Community and Peer Program across Australia, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester said today.

Open Arms download 15

“The Government is putting veterans and their families first and is committed to ensuring that they have access to the mental health support they need,” Mr Chester said.

“The primary aim of the Townsville Community and Peer Pilot was to enhance the management of complex and high-risk clients in the region, particularly vulnerable individuals considered to be at risk of suicide.

“The Pilot demonstrated that ‘lived experience’ mental health peer workers within Open Arms could enhance the management of vulnerable clients.

“Some veterans are reluctant to reach out for help because they are unable to get over the stigma of seeking professional mental health treatment.

“Peers often have a good understanding of the challenges and issues they face, and can help provide a bridge between the veteran community and professional mental health support.

“Rolling out the Community and Peer Program across Australia will provide a new pathway for clients who were previously unlikely to consider accessing or being referred to Open Arms services.

Mr Patrick McGurrin, Chief Executive of Townsville Private Hospital, said “peer support can connect with vulnerable individuals on a more personal level than traditional mental health support programs. This can result in more timely and comprehensive care being provided by specialist mental health services to those in need”.

The Community and Peer program also assists individuals and families who are currently accessing Open Arms services to connect to other services and initiatives in the veteran community. The Open Arms Peers also support a regional peer network coordinating mentoring and training for other peers working with the veteran community.

The Community and Peer Program will be rolling out to all states and territories throughout 2019.

Read More about the Community and Peer Program: visit the Open Arms website.

27 February 2019