Statement From Minister For Veterans’ and Defence Personnel Darren Chester

Regarding support for veterans

“Mental health is everyone’s business – families, friends, employers, community organisations, and ex-service organisations.

“It is a national tragedy that more than 3000 Australians take their own lives each year and there is no single solution to this sad and complex issue. When it comes to veteran suicide, the only acceptable number for me is zero – the only acceptable number for the Australian people is zero.

“Australians can be assured that the Government is working with veterans and their families every day to improve services and support for those who have served in our Australian Defence Force (ADF) and will continue to play its part in improving mental health and reducing the risk of suicide.

“Right now, veterans and their families who are experiencing mental health challenges can call Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling. This is a vital service dedicated to veterans and their families and can be reached on 1800 011 046.

“Those veterans who have served at least one day in the ADF can get free treatment for any mental health condition. Funding for this is not capped and driven by demand.

“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.

“Regarding calls for a royal commission, the Prime Minister has said all options are on the table. He has also made it clear our government will take concerted action to prevent suicide across the nation. We are providing more than $230 million a year towards veteran mental health, as part of more than $11 billion for veterans in this year’s budget.

“The Productivity Commission is in the final stages of a review of DVA’s operations. It will report back to the government very shortly and we will take action as required.

“The Government has committed nearly $500 million to the transformation of DVA and the comprehensive reform of its service delivery system so that it is easier for Australian Defence Force personnel and veterans to access support and services, including the support needed to address mental health challenges.

“Through this transformation we are seeing real differences, and a great example is the online claiming platform, MyService.

“Moving to an online platform has allowed veterans to submit claims by answering as few as three to seven questions, compared to the 40 questions on some paper forms. In some cases, claims for common conditions are being approved almost instantly.

“We have also introduced a range of new programs and services to support the mental health and wellbeing of veterans and their families. These include:

  • Making immediate income support available for those with mental health claims through the Veteran Payment and intensive case management arrangements for those with extra needs.
  • Providing financial support for the purchase of psychiatric assistance dogs for veterans with PTSD, in addition to the trial underway with La Trobe University to build the evidence base.
  • Funding a new partnership between Open Arms and the RSL to deliver a national program of mental health first aid training to help volunteers recognise people at risk and offer intervention and support.
  • Introducing the Australian Defence Veterans’ Covenant, the Veteran Card and lapel pins to enhance recognition of the service and sacrifice of Australia’s veteran community – respect and recognition is a vital part of good mental health for veterans and their families.
  • Boosting veteran employment programs with an additional $16.2 million over four years to Soldier On, Team Rubicon and the RSL to help veterans find meaningful civilian employment and $4.3 million to assist veterans to translate their skills and experience to the civilian context. Employment is clearly critical to veteran self-confidence and mental wellbeing.
  • Providing funding for a network of Veteran Wellbeing Centres in six locations across the country to deliver a one-stop-shop for veterans’ support services, ensuring closer integration and coordination of government and non-government support, including connections with local health services, community organisations and advocacy and wellbeing support.
  • Funding the Stepping Out Attention Reset (SOAR) trial which will evaluate a computer-based attention control training designed to re-calibrate an individual’s attention and threat detection system. This will support ADF personnel that are due to transition to civilian life.
  • Providing more than $9.7 million to Kookaburra Kids to help them support children with a parent serving in the ADF or a veteran parent affected by mental illness.
  • Investing $2.1 million to deliver a national program of comprehensive health checks to identify service-related illness, disease and injury associated with anti-malarial medication.

“Just this week I held a Veterans Mental Health Summit involving experts in the field of veterans’ mental health and wellbeing.

“The Summit is 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."