Deputy Commissioner S Consultation Forum - Act

Deputy Commissioner S Consultation Forum - Act




30 November 2016


Ms Jennifer Collins – Deputy Commissioner (Chair)

Mr Hadyn White – Executive Officer to the Deputy Commissioner (Secretary)

Mr Tony Nicholls – Manager Canberra VAN

Ms Pat McCabe OAM – Kindred Organisations Committee and TPI Association

LTCOL Les Bienkiewicz (Ret’d) – Defence Force Welfare Association

Mrs Annette Sadler – War Widows’ Guild

Mr Rob Connor – Canberra Legacy


1.1Welcome, Membership, Apologies and Adoption of Agenda

1.1.1The Chair opened the meeting at 11:05am, welcoming Members to the 17thmeeting of the Deputy Commissioner’s ACT Consultation Forum.

1.1.2New members were introduced:

  • LTCOL Les Bienkiewicz, representing the Defence Force Welfare Association (DFWA). Colonel Bienkiewicz had previously been the Forum’s DFWA representative for the first 5 meetings from November 2009 until March 2011.
  • Mrs Annette Sadler, previously representing the DFWA, replacing MrsCarol Everitt as the representative of the War Widows’ Guild.

1.1.3Apologies were received from:

  • Mr Peter Eveille – The Returned & Services League of Australia;
  • Mr Peter Ryan – Vietnam Veterans’ Association of Australia;
  • Mr Ian Thompson – Vietnam Veterans Federation; and
  • Mr Gerard Mapstone –Veterans Support Centre Belconnen.

2.Minutes of the Previous Meeting and Business Arising

2.1Members confirmed the minutes of the meeting of 5 April 2016.

Deputy Commissioner’s ACT Consultation Forum Minutes


3.Updates on Key Business Areas and Initiatives

3.1Complaints & Feedback Management

3.1.1Feedback Management System reports for the financial year to 29November2016, compared with 2015/16 data:

National / 2015/16 / % / 1/7/16- 29/11/16 / %
Complaints / 2,293 / 76.3 / 1,151 / 74.1
Compliments / 711 / 23.7 / 402 / 25.9
Total / 3,004 / 1,553

3.1.2For complaints, the usual subjects such as Booked Car With Driver, Rehabilitation & Compensation matters (a range of issues such as Incapacity Assessment, Initial Liability, Permanent Impairment) and VAN matters (again, a range of issues) have been all surpassed (numerically, at least in the last three months) by an increase in complaints regarding telephony. These have included complaints about the wait times, on hold music (which, incidentally, has been changed due to the number of complaints & feedback received from clients) and other issues (such as when there have been telephone outages).

3.1.3For compliments, the slight increase is due to the Office of Australian War Graves recording a range of compliments (from both spouses and/or family members) received about ‘Post-War Commemorations’ ie. plaques for eligible deceased veterans.

3.1.4Members confirmed long wait times contacting DVA staff. Responding to a question from Ms McCabe, the Chair confirmed that the Commonwealth Government had no overseas telephone call centres.

3.2Veteran Suicide

3.2.1On 11 August 2016, the Prime Minister, the Minister for Health and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs jointly announced a review of suicide and self-harm prevention services available to veterans and ADF members. The National Mental Health Commission, in consultation with clinical experts and a reference group comprising current and former members of the ADF, will analyse the effectiveness of existing suicide and self-harm prevention services. The primary focus of the review will be on examining the data and evidence about the services and programs provided by Defence and DVA.

3.2.2Ms Collins advised that an interim report was expected to be released at midday, with a final scheduled to be tabled to Government in February 2017.

3.2.3On 1 September 2016, the Senate referred the matter of “suicide by veterans and ex-service personnel” to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee for inquiry and report by 30 March 2017. 76submissions were received by the 7 October preferred date. The Committee continues to accept submissions and has received 304 as at 29November 2016.

3.3Veterans MATES

3.3.1The first topic under the Veterans’ Medicines Advice and Therapeutics Education Services program for 2016, Antipsychotics & Dementia, was released in September.

3.4Alternative Dispute Resolution

3.4.1Alternative Dispute Resolution is now available in Victoria and Tasmania for all applications lodged on or after 30 September 2016. A further staged rollout for the other Registries will continue during 2017 in conjunction with the new case management system.

3.4.2Mr Connor confirmed that Legacy and Woden Valley RSL were very happy with the way the Alternative Dispute Resolution process was working.

3.5Single Appeal Pathway

3.5.1Following recommendations from the MRCA Review, legislation was initially introduced in June 2015 to introduce a single appeal pathway modelled on the appeal process under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act. The Bill was referred to a Senate Committee in September 2015 and Schedule 2 (relating to the MRCA single appeal pathway) was removed from the Bill to allow the passage of other amendments.

3.5.2A new Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Single Appeal Path) Bill 2016 was passed in the House of Representatives on 2 March 2016 and was introduced in the Senate on 3 March 2016. This Bill lapsed with the prorogation of Parliament on 15 April 2016.

3.5.3The single appeal pathway was included as a measure in the Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016, which was introduced in the House of Representatives on 31 August 2016. It was passed by Parliament on 15 September 2016.

3.6Mental Health Webinars

3.6.1DVA is working with a consortium of specialist organisations to develop a pilot series of webinars for mental health clinicians. The series has two main foci:

  • to increase awareness and understanding of veteran mental health issues and appropriate treatment methodology; and
  • to facilitate access to Australian and international experts.

3.6.2Webinar topics, content and learning objectives are being developed in conjunction with a multi-disciplined independent advisory group. The first webinar, “Understanding the Military Experience”, took place in August and the second, “Responding to and treating Posttraumatic Stress Disorder– what works?”, in October. Recordings of all webinars are for download at the At Ease website and DVA’s YouTube channel.

3.7General Practitioner Engagement

3.7.1It was agreed at the most recent biannual joint meeting between the Australian Medical Association, Defence and DVA, held on 12August2016, for DVA to take the lead to:

  • develop messages and promotional material for display in practice waiting rooms to encourage ADF members to connect with a regular GP on discharge; and
  • engage with Healthdirect Australia to implement a “veteran and ADF friendly practice” flag in the online National Health Services Directory to assist ex-ADF members locate a GP.

3.7.2Responding to a question from Colonel Bienkiewicz, Members were reminded of the one-off ADF post-discharge GP health assessment introduced as part of the 2014-15 Budget. Further information is available at the At Ease website

3.8Non-liability Health Care

3.8.1Members were reminded that, as part of the 2016-17 Budget, the Government has provided $46.4 million to DVA to extend and streamline current non-liability health care arrangements. This has expanded eligibility for treatment of mental health conditions to all current and former permanent members of the Australian Defence Force, irrespective of how long or when they served, or the type of service.

3.9Coordinated Client Support (CCS)

3.9.1Members were also reminded that the Department had received additional funding in the 2015 Budget as a result of a New Policy Proposal to enhance DVA’s Case Coordination program, improving the level of support and early intervention assistance provided to veterans with complex and multiple needs, such as those at high risk and/or with mental health conditions.

3.9.2This funding allowed the Department to recruit a number of additional staff which has more than doubled DVA’s capacity to support clients with complex and multiple needs. Staff working within the new model provide a primary or single point of contact where appropriate, help clients navigate DVA’s processes to ensure they are accessing all of their entitlements and connect clients with other community-based services and support where relevant.

3.9.3The program has implemented a framework which provides various levels of support to assist clients depending on their individual circumstances and needs. A screening tool is utilised to determine the client’s needs and identify which level of support is required.

3.9.4The CCS program was fully operational from the beginning of February 2016. The total number of veteran clients in the CCS program is around 650. Extremely positive feedback has been provided in an initial satisfaction survey of clients who have been through the program.

3.10Veteran-centric reform - DVA Transformation

3.10.1MsCollins advised that the Government had provided $24.8 million in 2016-17 for DVA to develop new veteran-focussed business operations and technological systems, leading to the opportunity to request further funding to implement these changes. In addition, $23.9 million has been allocated to implement urgent upgrades to key DVA computer systems.

3.10.2MsCollins noted, however, that the transformation program was much broader than technology change; that it was a cultural shift taking DVA from a claims-orientated view to one with the veteranat the centre of services provided. A internal taskforce is consulting with veterans, Ex-Service Organisations, providers, DVA staff and other stakeholders regularly over the course of the transformation journey to be sure that the new business models and services we design truly meet the needs of veterans and their families.

3.10.3Responding to a question from Colonel Bienkiewicz, Members noted the number of independent and dated systems that a delegate needed to access in order to process a claim.

3.11In-person Services

3.11.1MsCollins provided an update on current VAN office lease arrangements. The Minister has decided that the lease for the Newcastle VAN, withthe current lease expiring 8 March 2017, will be extended for 12 months with a further 12-month option. The current lease for the Lismore VAN office expires 30June2017.

3.11.2The current lease for the Canberra VAN office expires 3 October 2017 with athree-year option to extend. DVA is awaiting approval to consult, with options to be submitted for the Minister by the end of June.

3.12Claims Processing

3.12.1Members noted 2014-15 claim processing figures. Of the 48,711 primary compensation-related determinations made under the three Acts, 64.6 per cent (31,466) were accepted and 35.4 per cent (17,245) were not accepted. (5,593) of primary determinations went through some form of an appeal, and, of that number, 4.1% (1,992) were either set aside or varied across. Ongoing analysis shows that DVA is getting the vast majority of decisions correct at the primary level. New evidence being lodged is the main reason a different decision is being made upon appeal (such as medical reports and further information to support the client’s contention). Data for 2015-16 should be available early in the new year.

4.General Business

4.1ACT Issues

4.1.1Noting the Minister’s meeting last week with various State/Territory Veterans’ Affairs Ministers/representatives, MsCollins expressed some surprise that the ACT’s concerns appeared to be issues around aged care, Veteran Liaison Officers (VLOs) and provider access. Members discussed each in turn, noting previously discussed complexities in aged care and the need to ensure access to appropriate legal and financial advice, concerns with bed availability at Canberra Hospital, and a desire to have a VLO-type residential care position for north and south Canberra.

4.1.2Members also noted the four main topics of national discussion – veterans’ employment, homelessness, incarceration and transition – as well as additional matters for the ACT (transport concessions and in-person service delivery).

4.1.3Mrs Sadler noted the availability of RDNS Australia in assisting with transition to residential care and sought assistance in gaining Guild representation on the ACT Minister’s forum.

4.2Advocacy Training and Development Program (ATDP)

4.2.1Colonel Bienkiewicz advised of feedback he has received on the implementation of the Advocacy Training and Development Program. While the need to ensure advocates are competent to do the work is agreed, the continual need to be trained, assessed and reassessed is an additional burden to actually doing the work and, at the moment, there is plenty of actual work that needs to be done.

4.2.2Members cited other examples, such as a presumed welfare training requirement for an 80+ year old who has officiated at hundreds of funerals in the ACT, agreeing that Recognition for Prior Learning and a lack of acknowledgement for those that have been doing unpaid advocacy for years are areas of real concern throughout the veteran community. As stated by Colonel Bienkiewicz, his perception is the ATDP is asking more and more of volunteers and that a breaking point will be reached. Ultimately he fears the only ESOs who will be able to offer this service are those with the resources to pay for their advocates.

4.2.3Members’ concerns have been referred to the relevant First Assistant Secretary, Lisa Foreman.


4.1Client Numbers

4.1.1Ms Collins presented data on historic and current client numbers (a copy of the presentation is included with these minutes).

6.Next Meeting

6.1The next meeting is scheduled for 11:00am, Wednesday, 29March2017.

6.1.2In flagging an imminent review of the consultation framework report, MsCollins floated an idea to merge, via videoconference, future meetings of the ACT Forum with NSW.

6.1.3Members thought this idea of considerable merit, recognising that the NSW Forum, while usually covering the same issues, offered greater breadth of representation, particularly from younger and unaligned serving and ex-serving ADF personnel, and that each forum would gain something from the other. A decision will be made at the next meeting.

7.Meeting Close

7.1Ms Collins closed the meeting at 12:40pm.

Hadyn White

Executive Officer to the Deputy Commissioner NSW & ACT

Secretary ACT Consultation Forum

Deputy Commissioner’s ACT Consultation Forum Minutes