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Labor announces improved services and benefits for the ex-service community.

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Labor Announces Improved Services And Benefits For The Ex-service Community

Media Statement - 13th November 2007

Alan Griffin

Labor has continued to set the agenda with the release of its Plan for Veterans’ Affairs. The Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Alan Griffin, announced a series of measures to reform and improve the way the Government engages with and provides services to the ex-service community.

These measures build on a number of other initiatives that Labor has led the way on and which have resulted in higher compensation payments for disabled war veterans and war widows.

Alan Griffin announced that in addition to Labor’s existing commitments, a Rudd Labor Government will establish a Prime Ministerial Advisory Council on Ex-Service Matters, which will give Australia’s veterans and ex-service organisations a voice at the highest level of Government and a greater say with decision makers.

To further empower the ex-service community, Labor will also provide an additional $8 million over four years for ex service organisations to provide essential services for members through the Building Excellence in Support and Training (BEST) and the Training and Information (TIP) programs.

To improve the support provided to families of veterans, a Rudd Labor Government will extend the Income Support Supplement to War Widows under 58 without dependents at a cost of $7.7 million over the forward estimates.

In the area of ex-service health Labor will:

• Develop within our first term of government a fair solution to relieve the costs of pharmaceuticals for war caused disabilities.

• Consider the adequacy of medical and financial care for ADF personnel injured during peacetime service through an examination of Military Compensation Schemes.

• Implement a package of measures on ex-service health and ageing, including:

* an annual Veterans’ Health Week to promote early intervention and preventative health and community level health partnerships;

* a review of veterans’ aged care needs and of ways to improve the operability of ‘special needs’ status, as part of a broader review of aged care planning ratios;

* measures to make community mental health workers more ‘ex-service friendly’, including skills training on service-related mental health issues. through workshops, internet based training, and mixed media packages; and

* inclusion of young ex-service people with disabilities in the Commonwealth State Territory Disability Agreement.

A Rudd Labor Government will also improve the way the Department engages with the ex-service community, by:

• Addressing the Howard Government’s continuing blow-outs in claims processing times by establishing a Special Claims Unit.

• Establishing a Public Register of Ex-service Officials, who are local advocates, pension and welfare officers that are available for assisting with claims, and conducting regular surveys of these officials.

• Establishing a departmental hotline to support ex-service officials.

• Taking the politics out of medals decisions by establishing an independent tribunal on Defence Honours and Awards which will consider a number of outstanding concerns in this area.

Alan Griffin also committed Labor to considering the Military Superannuation Review report, providing a commitment to release the report and to a consultation period with the ex-service community to determine long-term priorities in this area.

These measures address a number of longstanding concerns that the Howard Government has failed to acknowledge or act upon.

Labor urged the ex-service community to consider the Coalition’s poor record on veterans’ issues over the past 11 years, including its litany of ineffective Ministers and its history of playing catch up.

“The ex-service community cannot afford another term of a cynical, tired Howard Government who takes their support for granted,” Mr Griffin said.

By contrast, Labor committed to giving veterans a fair go, and indicated that today’s plan was the first step to improving the provision of veterans’ services and entitlements.

These measures build on Labor’s pre-existing commitments over the last six months. In total, the Plan will see more than $900 million over four years of expenditure flowing to the ex-service community.