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

Opinion Ross Eastgate – Tim Fischer on course for his biggest victory

FORMER national serviceman and deputy prime minister Tim Fischer has been reported as being “gravely ill” in Albury hospital.

Mr Fischer, who as a 1RAR platoon commander fought in the Battle of Coral in Vietnam in May 1968, has made no secret of his decade-long battle with various cancers. His latest, possibly terminal battle is with acute myeloid leukaemia. He has previously battled bladder and prostate cancers and melanoma.

Tim Fischer claimed he was exposed in Vietnam to the defoliant Agent Orange, as were many of his mates.

READ MORE

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

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.

ADF Retirees Association – DFRDB Update – June 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regards,

Herb Ellerbock & Jim Hislop

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

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

Key points:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-party group to be set up

Darren Chester addresses the veterans summit in Canberra

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

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

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

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

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

“That needs to be worked through as well.”

Discovering ‘why these people have been doing nothing’

Jesse Bird posing in army camouflage with gun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hundreds of suicides

Warrior's Return collates statistics on suicides by veterans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you or anyone you know needs help:

ABC News – 27th June 2019

ABC TV 7.30 Report – Duty of Care

Calls for royal commission over the rate of veteran suicides

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

Watch the video report here

Wed 26 Jun 2019, 8:45pm

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

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

Watch the video report here

Wed 26 Jun 2019 8.45 pm

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