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Wednesday, 3 September 2014
Page: 6355

Veterans' Affairs


Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (14:36): My question is to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Senator Ronaldson. Will the minister advise the Senate what steps the government is taking with respect to the mental health of our veterans?


Senator RONALDSON (VictoriaMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC and Special Minister of State) (14:36): With your leave, Mr President, I notice that we have various members of the ADF parliamentary program in the chamber today, and on behalf of the Senate I thank you for your service, as the Senate does thank those within the Senate, like Senator Reynolds, who have served.

Today, I was joined by Senator Conroy at the Australian War Memorial. It is Battle for Australia Day today—the seventh anniversary. It is also Merchant Navy Day and Australian National Flag Day. I also note that today is the 75th anniversary of the start of the Second World War. The commemorations that I was talking about are very important to this nation, but the future mental health of our serving men and women is equally important. This government and my department are determined to ensure that we respond to the changing face of the veteran community in this nature, which Senator Reynolds would be acutely aware of. It is important to remember that all mental health services provided by my department are not capped; they are uncapped. They are there to meet demand. At the moment, it costs about $166 million per year. We have recently expanded access arrangements so that the DVA will pay for mental health treatment for veterans without the need for it to be related to service. We also provide online mental health information and support, including GP services, psychologists, social work services, special psychiatric services, pharmaceuticals, trauma and recovery programs, and more. We have also just increased access to the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service and introduced a post-discharge health assessment for all former ADF members. We have also— (Time expired)


Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (14:38): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister inform the Senate of the role played by the internet and social media in delivering services and support to our veterans on mental health issues?


Senator RONALDSON (VictoriaMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC and Special Minister of State) (14:38): I thank Senator Reynolds for her question. Honourable senators will be acutely aware that the face of the DVA is changing. We have had 71,000 men and women who have served this nation since 1999, which is more than who served in the whole of the Vietnam War, and their needs are different. We have therefore introduced a new dedicated website and Facebook page for the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service, which will provide an additional pathway for members of the veteran community and their families to connect to this important service. A new YouTube video, launched on 2 July, titled Start the Journey back to Good Health highlights the help available to veterans from my department and, in particular, the arrangements where DVA will pay for treatment for diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression for veterans and some personnel with peacetime service. We have also developed a new training program— (Time expired)


Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (14:39): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister also advise senators of any research activity that is being undertaken into the wellbeing of contemporary service personnel and veterans?


Senator RONALDSON (VictoriaMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC and Special Minister of State) (14:40): I again thank Senator Reynolds. As I was saying before, we and the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health have also developed a case formulation program, which is assisting mental health service providers who are treating veterans with complex problems. Some months ago, I launched the Transition and Wellbeing Research Programme. It is a $5 million partnership between the Department of Defence and my department. This will be auspicated by the University of Adelaide's Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies and will involve a large number of institutions around this country.

We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past. It is incumbent upon this nation to accept our responsibilities in relation to recently returning men and women. Their needs are different and can be more complex. My department is going to meet their mental health needs, understanding the changing nature of the— (Time expired)