Damning report demands wellbeing-centred support for veterans

By Shannon Jenkins

July 8, 2019

Picture: Getty Images

A new independent statutory agency to administer and oversee veteran support is needed, the Productivity Commission (PC) says in a new report.

The PC Inquiry Report into Veterans’ Affairs — released last week — calls for the establishment of a Veteran Services Commission (VSC) to tackle policy and implementation gaps within the veterans’ compensation and rehabilitation system.

The VSC would “proactively engage” with veterans and their families by taking a person-centred and uniquely tailored approach, the PC said.

The institutional and policy split between the Department of Defence and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) “embeds perverse incentives, inefficient administration and poor accountability”, the PC said.

While handing the responsibility of veteran policy to Defence seems like the best option — it’s not, the PC argues.

“Given a lack of trust and confidence by veterans in Defence to exercise this policy role, and strong opposition to the change, this is not realistic or feasible at this stage,” they said.

The PC calls for new governance, funding and cross-agency arrangements to address systemic problems, including a single minister and advisory council responsible for Defence personnel and veterans.

They also recommend a ‘whole-of-life’ veteran policy be developed by DVA, Defence and the VSC which includes rigorous cross-agency planning processes and external expertise.

Meanwhile, the aim of easing veterans into civilian life should be centralised in a new Joint Transition Authority within Defence. 

Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Shayne Neumann said the transition to civilian life is “absolutely critical” and referred to the current system as a “bureaucratic nightmare”.

“Whether it’s employment recognition, qualification acceptance, or indeed identification of mental health and suicidality issues, to get people to the point where they recalibrate themselves into civilian life [is critical],” he said on ABC Radio Brisbane Drive on Friday.

“We need to change the culture in the department. It needs a veteran-centric approach.”

READ MORE: Fairer and less Kafkaesque: Elizabeth Cosson takes command of DVA’s five-year plan

The current support system is “archaic” and complex, compromising veterans’ wellbeing, according to the PC. They emphasise the need for “fundamental reform” and redesign to ensure the best interest of veterans, their families and the broader community.

Best practice features of contemporary workers’ compensation and social insurance schemes should be combined in a new system, while recognising the unique circumstances of veterans, the report argued.

The current system should be simplified and moved to two compensation and rehabilitation schemes by July 2025. Scheme 1 would prioritise older veterans, while Scheme 2 would cover all other veterans and, based on a modified Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004, would eventually become the dominant scheme.  

The DVA should commission services from a support network of veterans’ organisations, the PC said. To make engaging with these organisations easier, they suggest a government-funded national peak body that represents the broad interests of veterans be established.

The report calls for an independent review of DVA’s fee-setting arrangements for health services, and suggests a change in the way treatments and supports are commissioned and provided to veterans.

A new veterans’ mental health strategy is “urgently needed”, with a focus on suicide prevention, the report said. However, the PC noted that ongoing research is needed to “better understand the mental health impacts of service life on families and how they can be best supported”.

Neumann said Labor would support a cross-party approach to supporting veterans’ mental health.

“These are serious, serious issues and we take our responsibility to offer bipartisan support very seriously as well,” he said.

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