From the President
An interesting month to say the least!
Early in the month I met with five veterans of recent conflicts. They are all involved in the social media space and are enthusiastic to share the cyber world and how the Association can utilise it to reach a wider cohort of the veteran community. I will develop this with Branches in more detail in the lead up to NATEX in November in Sydney.
On 4 July as President DFWA I was invited to attend a dinner held by the RUSI Queensland. The guest speaker was Mr Peter Varghese AO, formerly Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and now Chancellor of the University of Queensland. Mr Varghese spoke on the regional security scene confronting Australia.
The Association’s response to the Productivity Commission Report continues to be a focus. This project is being headed up by Queensland Branch with Rob Shortbridge and John Lowis as lead writers. Well done you two.
The lead in the Association’s submission to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission is the Honourable Medical Adviser, Michael Dowsett. I met with Michael in Canberra during the month and he expects to finalise the paper soon. It will then be forwarded to the State Branches for comment. Once that is agreed it will be sent to both the Royal Commission and to DVA. As I have mentioned elsewhere while veterans are not top of mind in the terms of reference, my intent is to have the Association’s submission acknowledged by the Commission. The focus of our concern is the care of the veteran as he/she transitions from home care into an aged care facility and the DVAs responsibilities. This needs to be clarified and tightened up.
The Military Covenant is, still, yet to pass through both Houses of the Federal parliament. Yes, this is a test of patience for those who have lived the Covenant for ten years or more, but the end is nigh I believe. The latest is that the Senate passed the ‘Covenant Bill’ but with amendments as moved by Senator Lambie. The Bill will now go back to the House for consideration sometime in September at the earliest.
I addressed the RAR Corporation AGM in Canberra during the month. I spoke of the development of ESO advocacy, its history, the decline in the influence of the RSL and the development of ADSO. You may be aware that Greg Mellick, retired Major General, a practicing barrister, an SC, board member of the AWM and and chair/President of several national and state organisations is now the National President of the RSL. Greg Mellick has indicated that he believes it imperative that the RSL work closely with ADSO and the veteran community. I have known him for many years and look forward to a positive working relationship with the RSL across its leadership.
The Association released a media statement – DVA Need for a Considered Constructive Dialogue, Not ill-considered and Inaccurate Criticism. DVA, its staff and its processes have been the subject of vitriolic criticism in recent days. The intensity of this criticism has been unfair and unjustified. I do not intend to respond to social media criticisms and ask that you encourage those veterans who approach them contact me directly should they wish to discuss DVA and the broader veterans’ issues. DVA has improved markedly in recent years and this is a credit to its present leadership. It is also due to the persistence of ESO leadership that is working closely with DVA leadership from inside the tent.
I am happy for any member to contact me regarding the Association and what we are doing.
Commonwealth Ombudsman Inquiry into DFRDB Commutation
During July, the National President and Deputy President, Executive Director and Meg Green from the War Widows Guild met with the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s team tasked with inquiring into DFRDB commutation.
The key points from that meeting were:
- The team stressed that the inquiry was independent of Government with the focus on DFRDB commutation.
- Over 3,400 submissions have been received. This is the most they have received for any inquiry.
- Many original documents and paperwork have been received.
- Other issues have been identified in many submissions and these will be separately noted.
- Submissions from DVA and Defence had also been received.
The Association, along with its ADSO partners, welcome the Ombudsman’s inquiry, albeit that we had hoped for a wider one taking in all the issues that the veterans had sought redress for many years. To be fair, the Ombudsman’s powers do not extend to examining Ministerial decisions nor to the way the original legislation was framed. Hence, the inquiry is focused on commutation and whether DFRDB superannuants had been misled in the process of electing to commute. Submissions for the investigation are now closed. The Ombudsman will publish periodic updates on their website.
Operational Working Party
The Operational Working Party (OWP) is an element of the standing consultative arrangements Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) has with the Ex-Service community. It meets three or four times a year to hear and discuss submissions from member Ex-Service Organisations (ESO) on matters to do with the way DVA policies and practices impact individual veterans and groups. The OWP is a tributary forum for the Ex- Service Organisations Round Table (ESORT). It is Chaired by a senior executive officer of DVA and its members represent various ESO. The Association’s representative is the National Deputy President, Kerry Mellor.
The OWP last met on 10 July. The meeting was Chaired by Mark Cormack, Deputy Secretary Policy and Programs, DVA. Much of the discussion within the OWP is subject to “Chatham House” rules, but that does not inhibit members’ reporting to their Organisations’ members the main points that were discussed. They were:
- A briefing from DVA was given on the principal findings and recommendations of the Productivity Commission’s final report to Government on its enquiry into support for Veterans and their families. Several concerns were put by OWP members on aspects of the report. They included recommendations relating to the Gold Card, status of the Veterans’ Entitlement Act (VEA), recognition of service. harmonization of legislation and reform of the Veterans’ Review Board. These and other issues are being taken up by DFWA and will be the subject of representations both formal and informal to Government.
Government’s response to the report will be a decision by Cabinet on which recommendations will be accepted. DVA will be a contributor to the Cabinet submission, but it is not known yet what their position is on individual recommendations.
- There was a submission from and ESORT member on the bewildering array of options open to Widows and other dependents under both MRCA and Superannuation legislation upon the death of a serving member of the ADF. A paper was presented that identified twenty options for compensation and outlined the financial implications for each, in a single, hypothetical, case. It was pointed out that at an extremely stressful time dependents had to address complex questions, and those offering help and support faced an often seemingly impossible task attempting to identify any path to recommend in the best interests of the bereaved.
- Concern about sometimes excessive times to process claims lodged with DVA were brought forward by another OWP member. The meeting was briefed by a DVA officer who outlined the progress being made under the Department’s Veteran-Centric reforms in reducing processing times for the great majority of claims. Complex cases continued to be a worry, but systems were continually being improved. The ESO web portal was mentioned, as well as the introduction of voice recognition technology to speed up veterans’ and representatives’ access to delegates and other DVA personnel. The meeting was advised that the ESO portal would soon be replaced by a “third party portal”.
- A member raised the question of smoking guidelines; the meeting was advised that guidance had been revised, and that this is now a settled issue.
- A paper from a member dealing with cataract surgery was presented. It proposed that DVA consider adding Laser Assisted Cataract and IOC replacement surgery to the list of treatment items approved for funding by DVA. The meeting was advised that the request would be looked into.
- The meeting was briefed on the current status of the Open Arms Neurocognitive Health Programme (NHP). The meeting was advised: “Further co-design activities have been scheduled with the NHP Steering Committee in the coming months to support effective implementation of the service delivery model in Townsville. The NHP pilot aims to launch in September/October of 2019”.
- Details of improvements to the Dental Health Programme were given.
OWP deals with many detailed matters. Any member who wishes to follow up an issue can contact National Office for more information.
Aged Care Royal Commission—The Veteran Experience
Aged care quality and safety is a matter of significant importance to the veteran community. Although predominantly this relates to elderly veterans, many younger injured veterans are also cared for in aged care facilities due to their high care requirements.
National Office is coordinating a submission to the Royal Commission on Aged Care Quality and Safety, with a focus the experiences of veterans. Of particular interest is the transition from receiving care under Gold and White DVA card entitlements, to that provided by Aged Care Providers or funding arrangements with the Department of Health and Aging.
If you or other veterans would like to assist in our submission by sharing your experiences, both good and bad, then please get in touch, either by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phoning (02) 6152 9166
National @ Work
In July, National Office:
- Convened planning groups for incorporation of ADSO, social media and membership management.
- Met with group of young veterans for discussions on social media, veteran suicide and involvement of veterans of recent conflicts in policy advocacy.
- President attended Royal United Service Institute dinner.
- President visited South Australia and met with South Australia Branch, Royal Australia Regiment Corporation, Burnside RSL Sub-Branch, Chair of South Australia Ex-Service Organisations, Commanding Officer Navy Adelaide, Deputy Commissioner DVA South Australia, RAAF Base Edinburgh, Veterans SA (part of Premier & Cabinet), DFWA Members in the Combined Mess.
- Met with Shadow Minister for Veterans Affairs.
- President attended funeral of World War II veteran on behalf of Currumbin RSL sub-branch.
- Met Ms Julie Miller, author of ‘Remember’ – about why and how we remember veterans of war.
- President addressed the Royal Australia Regiment Corporation on advocacy, incorporation of ADSO and current issues.