Coronavirus (COVID-19) updates from the Australian Government

Veterans' Affairs: Supporting Regional Recovery and Growth

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) supports the wellbeing of those who serve, or have served, in the defence of our nation, and their families.

DVA delivers effective programs and benefits that enhance the wellbeing of veterans and their families, and provides and maintains war graves and delivers meaningful commemorative activities to promote community recognition and understanding of the service and sacrifice of veterans.

All those who have served their nation in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) deserve access to a world class veteran support system that enables them to continue their meaningful contribution to our nation, while providing strong and stable support structures.

Many of the veterans and families that DVA supports are located in regional, rural and remote communities.  DVA has offices in regional centres around Australia including Launceston, Lismore, Townsville, Newcastle, Maroochydore, Broadbeach and Wodonga, and DVA staff are co-located with Services Australia in regional offices including Morwell, Ballarat, Geelong, Robina, Tweed South and Woden. 

DVA and the Department of Defence also work together to support Australian Defence Force members to access their DVA entitlements. This includes DVA Veteran Support Officers working from major Defence bases and routinely visiting small Defence bases in a hub and spoke model of service delivery that extends to rural and remote locations across Australia. DVA Veteran Support Officers routinely visit locations as far and wide as RAAF Base Tindal, HMAS Cairns, RAAF Base East Sale, Bandiana Military Area and Swartz Barracks in Oakey.

DVA is committed to delivering equitable access to a system that empowers veterans and their families to live fulfilling lives after service by creating and implementing simpler and more effective programs, services, and benefits to deliver better and more timely outcomes for veterans and their families.

The 2021-22 Veterans’ Affairs Budget Package provides targeted support for priority areas in mental health, wellbeing, transition and support for the families of veterans across Australia, including in regional, rural and remote communities.

The Government has announced its Veteran Wellbeing Centre network will be expanded over the next four years, including establishing new centres in Tasmania and South-East Queensland to provide support for transition, employment, health and social connection. The Government is committed to maintain and continuously improve the network for veterans and their families in regional Australia.

The Wellbeing and Support Program (WASP) will also continue to provide quality intensive mental health support for highly vulnerable veterans who are either transitioning into civilian life after service, or who have complex care needs. The WASP is a national program and regional veterans will be supported with face-to-face services where possible, supplemented by online and over the phone services.

To encourage early engagement with rehabilitation and voluntary participation, the Government has launched a pilot program to provide participants access to vocational and psychosocial rehabilitation without the requirement for any liability claim to be lodged. Evidence gathered as part of the pilot will inform future initiatives on removing barriers to veterans accessing rehabilitation.

The Family Support Package will be expanded to more veterans’ families and widowed partners and allow them greater choice in how to use the services provided through the program. Intensive support will be provided for families to adjust to new or challenging life circumstances, complementing other DVA and Government services. This enables more families in regional and remote Australia to access existing services in their region.

As at 31 December 2020, the Veterans’ Affairs Portfolio, which includes the Australian War Memorial, employed 2,030 staff under the Public Service Act 1999. Of this total, 1,368 staff (67 per cent) are employed in Canberra, central Melbourne and central Sydney, 619 staff (30 per cent) in other capital cities and 43 staff (2 per cent) in regional areas.

For what they have done, this we will do.

New Initiatives

Wellbeing and Support Funding

Support for Highly Vulnerable Veterans through the Wellbeing and Support Program

The Wellbeing and Support Program (WASP) provides support to vulnerable veterans with complex medical and or psychosocial needs, including veterans transitioning from the Australian Defence Force, to access their DVA entitlements and health services to support their independence in the community. The 2021-22 Budget provided $23.3 million over four years to transition the Program to an ongoing measure. Through the WASP, veterans have access to intensive community-based case management to support engagement with health and rehabilitation services. The WASP is a national program and regional veterans will be supported with face to face services where possible, supplemented by online and over the phone services. 

Expanding the Wellbeing Centre Network to Tasmania and South-East Queensland

The Australian Government is providing $10.7 million over four years from 2021-22 to expand the national network of six Veteran Wellbeing Centres announced in the 2019-20 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook. This includes $5 million to establish a wellbeing support centre in Tasmania, through one or two hubs with associated outreach via physical and digital support services, and $5 million to establish a wellbeing support centre in South-East Queensland, also with associated outreach. The remainder will support the Department in delivering these important centres.  

This will deliver integrated wellbeing support to Tasmanian and South Eastern Queensland veterans and their families from all levels of government, business and community partnerships. It will help connect these veterans and their families to a range of core services that will include support for transition, employment, health and social connection.

As an election commitment, in the 2019–20 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook the Australian Government provided $30 million over three years from 2019-20, including $10 million in 2021-22 to continue establishment of a national network of six Veteran Wellbeing Centres in Townsville, Queensland; Perth, Western Australia; Darwin, Northern Territory; Nowra, New South Wales; Adelaide, South Australia; and Wodonga, Victoria. The program seeks to deliver integrated support to veterans and their families from all levels of government, business and community partnerships. The Centres will help connect veterans and their families to a range of core services that will include support for transition, employment, health and social connection. The Perth Centre opened in November 2020 and the remaining centres are expected to be fully operational prior to June 2022, with interim services expected to be available across all locations in 2021. For example, an opening was held for the Adelaide Centre in April 2021, with service delivery to commence from June 2021.

Expanding Support for Veterans and their Families

Non-Liability Rehabilitation Pilot

The Australian Government is investing $2.3 million to conduct a two-year pilot commencing 1 January 2022. This will provide timely access to vocational and psychosocial rehabilitation without requiring a veteran to have lodged a compensation claim. The pilot will leverage existing national arrangements for needs and capacity assessment; trial streamlined planning and delivery of rehabilitation activities; and evaluate the outcomes for veterans when these services are uncoupled from liability for compensation. The aim is to raise awareness of the benefits of early engagement with rehabilitation and encourage voluntary participation. The additional benefit will be the evidence gathered to inform future initiatives on removing barriers to veterans accessing rehabilitation, including any findings on the quality and accessibility of metropolitan and regional services.

Expand Family Support Package

This $5.1 million initiative provides simpler access to a greater range of support for more veterans’ families. It extends eligibility beyond families and widowed partners of the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 (MRCA) veterans, to families of the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 (VEA) and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-related Claims) Act 1988 (DRCA) veterans at risk of, or in crisis and their widowed partners. It no longer ties eligibility to a veteran’s type of service or rehabilitation participation, and includes the families of recipients of the veteran payment.

Around two in five DVA clients reside in regional or remote Australia. This initiative enables more families in these locations to access existing services in their region, which will have a positive impact particularly in areas of high veteran population. The proposal does not increase services available in regional areas, but rather extends eligibility for veterans’ families to receive financial assistance under the Family Support Package. This will enable veterans’ families to seek support through existing services, including in crisis situations.

Veterans’ Health Care

Care Workforce Fee Increase

The Australian Government will invest $61.9 million over four years from 2021-22 to increase fees for occupational therapists and podiatrists and undertake a comprehensive review of the Veterans’ care and support sector. The measure is aimed at ensuring sustainable access to DVA funded services and strengthening the viability of businesses operating under DVA arrangements. This initiative builds on the 2020-21 Budget measure titled Increasing DVA Fees to Improve Access to Mental Health Support for Veterans.

This funding is expected to positively impact more than 50,000 DVA Card holders and 1,600 occupational therapists and podiatrists who live and work in regional or remote locations. The review element of this measure will also develop recommendations to streamline Veterans’ care and support arrangements and address many of the non-price factors that may impede business viability, particularly those factors that disproportionately impact regional providers.

Current Initiatives

Mental Health and Suicide Prevention for Veterans

Specialist Client Coordinators to Support Younger Veterans Aged 30 Years or Under

In the July 2020 Economic and Fiscal Update, the Australian Government provided $6.4 million over four years from 2020-21, including $1.6 million in 2021-22. The funding was allocated for the provision of 10 additional case managers in the Coordinated Client Support Program to provide support to young and vulnerable medically and administratively transitioning ADF members. As at 28 February 2021, since 1 July 2020, a team of case managers has been established and has provided case management services to 130 medically or transitioning veterans aged 30 and under. Transitioning members are referred to the program from the Department of Defence to DVA for case management prior to transition. Case Management support is focussed on assisting veterans to access their DVA entitlements and any additional external support they require based on a wellbeing assessment. To date the service has been well received with positive feedback from veterans reporting gratitude for the timely and tailored assistance that is offered.

Veteran Family Advocate Priorities

The Veteran Family Advocate was funded by the Australian Government in the July 2020 Economic and Fiscal Update over five years to directly engage with the families of veterans and promote their voice to help shape policy and improve the design of programs and services provided through the Veterans’ Affairs Portfolio, including those relating to veteran mental health.

Commissioner Gwen Cherne was appointed as the inaugural Veteran Family Advocate and has identified five priorities for the Veteran Family Advocate role:

  1. Suicide prevention and postvention
  2. Family policy resourcing and direction
  3. Building community awareness
  4. Identifying and addressing concerns around Transition
  5. Increasing the data and research holdings creating evidence for actions.

In 2021, the Veteran Family Advocate has been conducting awareness and information gathering engagements in each state and territory of Australia. This process is to collect the unique experiences of the veteran communities in each of these locations and to further understand the different experiences of those in metropolitan and regional areas of Australia. In 2021–22 the engagements will evolve into area specific, targeted, co-designed and co-implemented initiatives with the veteran and family communities, Ex-Service Organisations and the DVA around the five priorities of the Veteran Family Advocate. 

Mental Health Support for Veterans and Their Families

The Australian Government provided a package of initiatives in the 2020-21 Budget to support veterans’ mental health and wellbeing.

This package included:

Increasing DVA Fees to Improve Access to Mental Health Support for Veterans

The Government provided $94.3 million over four years from 2020-21, including $26.6 million in 2021–22, to provide for a permanent one-off fee increase and fee simplification for mental health providers, social workers and community nurses. The wellbeing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are particularly acute for vulnerable cohorts, including veterans with ongoing mental health concerns, veterans requiring aged care support, and ADF members transitioning to civilian life. Targeted funding in these priority areas supports strengthening the capacity of the healthcare workforce to provide timely and high quality services to veterans. This measure benefits veterans and providers across Australia, including in regional areas. In particular, this measure aims to improve health services in regional and remote areas by strengthening the viability of providing treatment in traditionally thin markets and giving veterans a greater choice of mental health and community care providers. The fee increase came into effect on 1 February 2021.

The measure also provided $5.5 million over four years to strengthen the psychiatry workforce capability to respond to unique needs of veterans and military personnel. Funding will be provided for 10 specialist psychiatry training places over the next four years for psychiatric registrars to specialise in military and veteran mental health. The program will support training places in areas of unmet need, including in regional Australia. Arrangements are anticipated to be in place with the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry to manage the training program by end June 2021, with first placements from February 2022.

Expansion of Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling

The Australian Government provided $5 million over four years, including $1.5 million in 2021-22, to expand and evaluate existing mental health and suicide prevention services delivered by Open Arms, including increased community and peer support in regional Australia.

This includes funding of $3.4 million to expand the Open Arms Community and Peer Program to two additional regional locations – Maryborough, Queensland, and Nowra, New South Wales. This will increase access to mental health support in areas of high demand for vulnerable or at-risk veterans and families. The two Community and Peer Teams will increase the case management services available to 6,000 veterans and their families in these regions.

The $5 million also included $1.1 million to introduce web-based Community and Peer Forums nationally for vulnerable veterans with specific needs especially when caring for an individual at risk of suicide or experiencing suicide bereavement. This will improve accessibility of care for veterans and their families in rural and remote areas. The online web forums have the potential to support up to 4,000 veterans and their families in highly vulnerable cohorts.