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).

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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).

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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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Opinion – RCB Commutation Stop the veterans’ pension rip-off

“Veterans who have suffered years of underpayment from their Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme (DFRDB) deserve much better. Many have put their lives on the line in times of conflict, but while the government glorifies troops as it sends them to war, it too often treats veterans of those wars with contempt in the bureaucratic way it deals with their financial and medical needs.

The Citizens Electoral Council made this clear in its Australian Alert Service magazine on 27 February. So far both the Coalition government and Labor have dismissed the veterans’ genuine grievances—but now, under pressure, on 25 March the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester announced the government will commission an independent inquiry into the DFRDB.

A previous compulsory superannuation scheme, the Defence Force Retirement Benefits Scheme (DFRB) operated between 1948 and 1972 and had an option to take a commutation (an early lump sum) after 20 years of service. Veterans who chose this option accepted a reduced pension to repay the value of the commutation, with the repayment amount based on their life expectancy or actuarial age. For instance, if their life expectancy was 30 more years, their annual pension was reduced by the amount of their lump sum divided by 30 years. But many veterans are living well past that actuarial age and are still receiving the reduced pension, even though in many cases the original lump sum has been reimbursed multiple times. Additionally, the Notional Life Expectancy tables used to calculate the reduced pension were based on outdated 1962 figures. In effect they’re penalised for reaching a ripe old age. It just doesn’t pass the pub test!

Veterans were compulsorily transferred to the new DFRDB from its inception in 1972. 

After suffering years of reduced pensions, veterans are now demanding justice, including by petitioning the Parliament. Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester dismissed Principal Petitioner, Mr Ken Stone (Petition No. EN0745) in parliament on 18 February, saying “the Government does not support the view that pension recipients have been denied eligible benefits”.
Maybe Chester should have remembered he was dealing with veterans who, unlike him, have been to war, because they were not deterred.

In a letter to Lucy Wicks MP, Chair of the Standing Committee on Petitions, Mr Stone—a retired Wing Commander—didn’t mince his words: “From my detailed response to the Minister’s assertions, I am sure that you and your committee will see through the duplicitous and deceitful reply the Minister (or his minions) has provided to my Parliamentary Petition, that makes a sham of the Petition process.” 
Veteran Jim Nicholls explained to the CEC: “We are not seeking ‘the portion we commuted be restored’; this is about getting the pension restored to its rightful amount once the commutation has been repaid.”
The Labor Party’s position is no better, with MPs writing to veterans insisting that if they commuted funds decades ago, they should stay on a reduced pension indefinitely. They claim this was the “intention” of the DFRB commutation arrangement.
But Mr Stone has presented a document to the CEC which knocks Minister Chester’s and Labor’s claims on the head. The relevant document is the RAAF Personnel Information Handbook (4th Edition) dated October 1988. This handbook was issued to RAAF members new and old, and covered most aspects of RAAF life.
Under the heading “The Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme”, it states: “When you receive retired pay (i.e. pension) you will have the right to commute. This means that you are able to borrow an amount equal to several times your retired pay at the time of your discharge and repay that amount over your normal life expectancy.”
This clearly shows that the lump sum was a loan that was to be repaid by calculating a fixed repayment at discharge, based on life expectancy with no mention of CPI adjustments or whole-of-life repayment expectations. So, irrespective of what publications may have existed within the Department about it being a life-long repayment, this is what RAAF personnel were actually told in the 1980s.

The Australian government has exploited our defence personnel for too long. It is all too happy to send them into senseless and even illegal foreign wars at the whims of British and American geopolitical demands. The government funnels billions of dollars to profit arms companies—the Joint Strike Fighters alone are expected to cost taxpayers $17 billion. But when it comes to the welfare of the veterans who have been prepared to put their lives on the line for their nation, they are treated with contempt. The government’s policy betrays that its patriotism is self-serving and fake. This policy must end, and the government must stop ripping off veterans.”

Craig Isherwood‚ National Secretary
Citizens Electoral Council of Australia- Media Release Friday, 29 March 2019

Advice – Changes to the income and assets test and payments

Part of making retirement affordable is fully understanding your entitlements and keeping up to date with rule changes. Here are the latest government updates to help you stay on track.

Income and assets tests
From 2 July, the maximum income amount before the full Age Pension is affected is $172 per fortnight for singles and $304 combined per fortnight for couples The new thresholds are $1987.20 and $3040.40 respectively. The new asset limits are $561,250 for single home-owners and $844,000 for couples (combined). For non home-owners, the limits are $768,250 and $1,051,000 (combined).

Widow Allowance no longer available
From 1 July 2018, the Widow Allowance was no longer available to new applicants. Those who would previously have claimed the allowance can now make a claim for either the Newstart Allowance, Age Pension or Special Benefit (if you’re over Age Pension age but don’t meet residence rules for the Age Pension).

Recipients of the current Widow Allowance can keep the payment until 2022 or until they transfer to the pension (whichever is sooner), as long as they retain their eligibility.

End to backdated payments 
Claims for certain payments and concession cards will need to be completed in full before they are assessed, with the cessation of ‘intent to claim’ arrangement to enable backdated payments from 1 July 2018.

You will have 14 days to complete your claim if you contact Centrelink, start an online claim or submit an intent to claim before 30 June 2018.

Payment of Carer Supplement 
Those eligible for the Carers Supplement will receive a payment of $600 for each eligible person in their care. If you care for a disabled child, you will receive the Child Disability Assistance Payment of up to $1000 for each eligible child. These payments will be made between 1 July and 31 July 2018.

Changes to grandparent payments
From 2 July, grandparents who care for their grandchildren will face changes to the payments they receive, with the Grandparent Child Care Benefit (GCCB) being replaced by the Additional Child Care Subsidy (Grandparent) (ACCS) from 2 July 2018.

If you are already receiving the GCCB, you will receive a letter from the Department of Human Services advising you of the changes. If you wish to claim the ACCS (G), you will need to complete a child-care subsidy assessment via your online Centrelink account.

Downsizing super rule starts
On 1 July 2018, the much-vaunted ‘downsizing’ super rules commences. This allows retirees to make a non-concessional contribution of up to $300,000 (singles) or $600,000 (couples) into super from the proceeds of selling their primary place of residence, if they have lived there for 10 years or more. This contribution applies even if the super balance exceeds the current $1.6 million cap.

There could be a financial downside for those who take advantage of the program, with changes to exempt asset values possibly affecting your Age Pension.

More super changes take place
As well as the downsizing rules, other changes to super rules took effect on 1 July. These were:

  • the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal was replaced by the industry-funded Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA)
  • individuals whose annual income exceeds $263,157 and have multiple employers are able to nominate that wages from certain employers are not subject to the superannuation guarantee
  • rules for tax deductions on personal contributions tightened
  • catch-up super contributions can be made by individuals with a total superannuation balance of less than $500,000.

This article by Janelle Ward is published in the digital Your Life Choices – Simplifying retirement

 

 

 

 

I recommend you subscribe to it. Ted Chitham

Well-Being: Age/Service Pension update: 1 July 2018 changes

This article from YourLifeChoices reveals the indexation of income and asset thresholds that will apply from 1 July 2018.

For age/service  pensioners, this means that those who have narrowly missed out on a full or part Age/Service Pension due to income earned or assets held, may now qualify for a payment or have their payment increased.

In what could further boost your rate of Age/Service Pension paid, deeming thresholds have also been indexed.

So grab yourself a cuppa and find out if your payment will change.