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Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Page: 7222


Mr SNOWDON (LingiariMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Minister for Indigenous Health and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Centenary of ANZAC) (12:25): On 15 June 2012 I requested that the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade inquire into and report on the care of ADF personnel wounded and injured on operations. On Monday, 24 June 2013 the committee tabled its report. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the committee for the report, which makes 25 recommendations for the Department of Defence and the Department of Veterans' Affairs. I have asked both departments, as I am sure you would understand, to examine closely the report in order for the government to provide a full and considered response.

I should point out that both departments are committed to improving our understanding of the needs of veterans and their families and providing them with the highest quality service and support. I know this report will be a valuable contribution for us in continuing to develop our understanding of their experience and for both Defence and DVA in identifying any barriers to their receiving appropriate support, particularly after their military service as clients of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. The recommendations for DVA broadly address issues such as veterans' mental health, transition from Defence, and accessing DVA care and support.

As part of the committee's inquiry both DVA and Defence lodged submissions and presented before the committee. The submission lodged by DVA focused on five key issues: understanding the characteristics of those wounded or injured in operations; a more flexible, simple and comprehensive process for recognising service related injury; working closely with the ADF on services and the transition of personnel to civilian life; effective ongoing care and support after discharge; and readiness for the future. I should say that DVA has a strong and I believe proud history of supporting those men and women who have suffered and have offered service to our nation and the families that have made sacrifices to support them.

DVA's submission to the committee provided information on a number of initiatives aimed specifically at providing care and support to those wounded or injured on operations since 1999. Over the course of the department's 94 years of operation it has developed considerable knowledge and skills in understanding the risks and effects arising from the unique and demanding nature of military service. As such, DVA is transforming its service delivery models to meet the emerging and ever-changing needs of the contemporary cohort of veterans and their families.

I think it is important that we emphasise that immediate help is available for eligible veterans, including those currently serving with operational service such as in Afghanistan or Iraq, to access mental health treatment without the need to lodge a compensation claim. For eligible veterans with diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, other anxiety or depression, DVA will pay for immediate treatment. This access to immediate treatment for mental health concerns is separate to applying for compensation.

I welcome the committee's acknowledgement that, for the most part, the care provided to Australia's wounded and injured is world-class, particularly in the immediate aftermath of a battlefield incident. The committee states:

The Departments of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs have honoured their responsibilities to support the recovery and rehabilitation of these individuals and their families and, through various programs, continue to improve veteran support processes and coordination.

Unfortunately—

as referred to in chapter 6 of the report—

some veterans still ‘fall through the cracks’. This has to end.

I acknowledge that there is still more work for both the Department of Defence and the Department of Veterans' Affairs in this space to enhance the support they provide to our wounded and injured personnel. However, I think it is important to recognise that there is significant effort already underway in both departments to respond to the needs of these personnel. For instance, one recent initiative between DVA and Defence is the establishment of the ADF servicewomen's steering committee comprising current serving and former female ADF members, including reservists.

DVA also appreciates there are concerns for some veterans transitioning from Defence and the nature of the claims process. Both DVA and Defence have in recent years focused on improving transition of veterans from the ADF to DVA care. I must say that this is an issue which I have been driving very hard since I was first put into the DVA portfolio. Having been the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, it occurred to me then as it does now that there is greater capacity for these two agencies to work more closely together to look after the needs of serving veterans. DVA will continue to work closely with Defence towards a seamless transition and to streamline the claims process—a process which, I know, is being taken on board by both agencies as a key component of what they are about.

Most of the report was focused on research. DVA is committed to a strong research program. Much of the report also focused on research, and I have commented on that. A new strategic research program will strengthen research relationships through collaboration with other research bodies and organisations, including Defence, and ensure that research is focused on the department's priorities. This will involve, importantly, developing relationships with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, the key scientific adviser to the Department of Defence, for which I am also responsible.

Defence stands by its commitment to ensure ADF personnel always receive higher quality care, and the contact with Medibank Health Solutions underpins this commitment. Defence is holding MHS accountable for effective service delivery by closely monitoring performance against the contracted obligations and agreed performance indicators. This is a matter which is close to the front of my mind because I regularly visit the Defence facilities and have cause for discussions both with Defence health personnel and with service personnel, and we talk candidly about the access they have or do not have, depending on where they are, to appropriate health care services.

DVA and Defence are cooperating extensively and DVA is working with the ADF to make the process of discharge from the military into civilian life as smooth as possible, including for those personnel who have sustained wounds or injuries from their service. Both departments have recently renewed their commitment to supporting the ADF community with a signing of a memorandum of understanding. This MOU is for the cooperative delivery of care and support to eligible persons. The Support to Wounded, Injured or Ill Program, SWIIP, was established as a joint Defence and Veterans' Affairs undertaking that aims to provide coordinated, transparent and seamless support to individuals during their service and after transition from the ADF, including by enhancing support for personnel with complex or serious medical conditions who are transitioning to civilian life; improving information sharing between DVA and Defence relating to injury or illness; and streamlining and simplifying compensation claims handling. There are other initiatives which we have in play to assist those wounded and injured in operations, the first of which is soldier recovery centres. Soldiers wounded or injured are also already seeking care and services at soldier recovery centres on bases in Townsville and Darwin, with a third on its way in Brisbane. These centres provide a dedicated health precinct to those members to rehabilitate, recover and return to their duties.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 12:34 to 13:03

Mr SNOWDON: Before the suspension I was talking about the further initiatives to assist those wounded and injured on operations. I recognise the time for the debate has expired. I was going to talk about the veterans mental health budget package of $26.4 million in the 2013-14 budget and I was also going to talk to you about the mental health strategy and the review of military compensation arrangements, so this is in response to the review of military compensation arrangements. The Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Military Compensation Review and Other Measures) Bill 2013 was introduced into the parliament on 20 March 2013. We are hopeful it will pass through the Senate this week.