Save the Date 29 January 24 - Veteran Community Issues

Save the Date - 29 January 24

Veteran Community Issues

130 to 330pm AEDT

Join us as we take a step forward in strengthening our veteran and veteran family community! The Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans' Association is thrilled to announce the first of our monthly veteran Community Issues meetings, aimed at identifying and resolving the issues that matter most to you.

These meetings will serve as an open forum where every voice matters. We believe in transparency and progress, which is why we'll be tracking each issue raised and providing public updates on our website. This is your chance to make a difference and have your concerns heard and addressed. Our goal is to create a space where administrative issues are not only raised but resolved, ensuring no concern is left unheard or unaddressed.

We welcome all veteran organisations to join us. The event is free and will be run on MS Teams.

We're grateful for the support of the DVA, whose commitment to this initiative signifies the emerging standard of trust and teamwork under their new leadership. We're pleased to have some a number of the most senior staff at DVA attending this meeting, including Repatriation Commissioner Kahlil Fegan DSC AM, Deputy Secretary Alison McLaren, and Deputy Secretary Teena Blewitt PSM, as well as acting Assistant Secretary Simon Geraghty.

Participants will have the opportunity to submit their issues ahead of time or bring them up during the meeting. For complex issues, we encourage you to support it with a paper. Remember, we're stronger together, and through collaboration and mutual support, we can make a significant impact.

Join us in this journey of change and let's build a better future for our community! Save the date and coordination and registration details will follow shortly.

We would like to thank the following organisations who have developed this with us as a team.

TPI Federation, Paws for Hope and Understanding, Partners of Veterans Association, the Australian War Widows Inc, Defence Shed Wagga Wagga , Pro Patrica Wagga Wagga and Villy Community Darwin.

The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide has been granted a three-month extension

The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide has been granted a three-month extension by the Federal Government to complete its inquiries.

Commissioners Nick Kaldas (chair), Peggy Brown and James Douglas wrote to Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus in October to raise concerns the current timeframe continues to impact the ability of the Royal Commission to deliver a final report and recommendations to bring about long-lasting improvements for the wellbeing of our Defence and veteran communities.

The Royal Commission was due to present its final report and recommendations to the Governor-General by 17 June next year; however, the Commissioners stated that timeline was impacting key areas of work, including the:

  • opportunity for comprehensive action on procedural fairness for all parties; and
  • testing of recommendations with key stakeholders, such as the Australian Defence Force, Departments of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs, and Defence and veterans’ bodies, including ex-service organisations, to ensure the Royal Commission delivers implementable recommendations to Government.

The Royal Commission has previously expressed frustration at the slow response from Commonwealth agencies to requests for information, as well as claims of confidentiality, parliamentary privilege and public interest immunity.

Commissioner Kaldas has today welcomed the Government’s decision.

“Regrettably, the latest AIHW data released last month confirms there has been no improvement in the high rates of suicide in our Defence and veteran community,” Commissioner Kaldas said.

“This Royal Commission must be a call to action. We, as a nation, can no longer allow the preventable deaths of our serving and ex-serving Defence personnel to continue.”

“This short, three-month extension will help to ensure our final report is robust, evidence-based and fair to all parties, and contains recommendations that are realistic, fit-for-purpose and implementable – to ensure Government is well equipped to address what is a national crisis once and for all,” he said.

The Royal Commission’s final report must now be delivered by Monday 9 September 2024.

Meanwhile, the Royal Commission is moving quickly to appoint a number of Assistant Commissioners to ensure hundreds of outstanding private sessions with people with lived experience can be completed before the end of the inquiry.

A recent legislative change allows for the appointment of Assistant Commissioners with the appropriate skills and experience to undertake private sessions alongside the three existing Commissioners.

Commissioners Kaldas, Brown and Douglas have so far completed 639 one-on-one confidential sittings to hear the often-harrowing stories of those impacted by suicide and suicidality. There are some 320 private sessions still to be held.

“We know how important these sessions are to veterans and their families, and the catharsis and validation they bring to so many people impacted by suicide and suicidality,” Commissioner Kaldas said. “Equally, these sessions provide us real insight into the lived experience of serving and ex-serving members, and their families, and this knowledge is vital to our inquiries.”

"We want to continue to ensure they have the opportunity to be heard and the appointment of Assistant Commissioners will achieve that."

The Royal Commission hopes to finalise the appointment of the Assistant Commissioners by the end of the year.

Summary from the 7 Dec 23 Ex-Service Organisations Round Table (ESORT)

The purpose of this news item is to brief you on the ESORT of 7 Dec 23. Chris Moss attended in my place.

My over-riding concern is that while a lot of positive things are occurring within DVA, there remains no urgency to reduce veteran suicidal ideation. There are however small projects, piecemeal activities, that are doing well.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Update - The Hon Matt Keogh MP

Minister Keogh thanked all members for their efforts and contributions, not only through forums such as ESORT, but for the work they do in their respective organisations to support veterans and families. The Minister discussed key priorities including consultation on the legislation reform pathway to produce a better, simpler system of compensation, opening new Veterans’ and Families’ Hubs, and the importance of veterans and families having access to well-trained advocates as part of a broader eco-system of support.

DVA Update – Secretary Alison Frame

Secretary Frame acknowledged the significant contribution of ESORT members, and noted the value of ongoing collaboration in everything we do to learn from experience and leverage expertise in ex-service organisations. She highlighted achievements in 2023 including a significant reduction in the compensation claims backlog, recruitment of 500 additional DVA staff and implementation of MyService upgrades. Emerging priorities include Aged Care, continuing to meet information requests of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, Transition, Legislation Reform, connecting with veterans who are currently not accessing DVA services and building on DVA’s research and evaluation agenda, in collaboration with our Five Eyes partners across areas of common interest.

My thoughts are that it is a pity you all cannot see the significant changes at the senior levels of DVA as a result of Alison Frame, Teena Blewitt PSM, Alison McLaren, Andrew Kefford PSM, and Khalil Fegan DSC AM commencing. Leadership starts at the top and there has been no more ignoring of ESORT member’s questions as there has been prior to 23 Jan 23 when Secretary Frame arrived. Equality and respect now are first and foremost and when subordinates take the old ways and provide a “non-answer” or attempt to ignore the veteran community, this approach is very quicky adjusted by the new leaders.

Veteran, Family and Stakeholder Engagement Strategy

I co-chaired the working group on DVA’s own draft Strategy noting it is based on best practice and is a living document. While the Strategy is focused on engagement, and designed to promote a structured and consistent approach for DVA staff to follow when engaging with the veteran community, members also flagged the importance of good communication. The final document will be released early next year.

Veteran Journey Mapping

The ESORT was given a presentation on efforts to map how veterans and families currently interact with government agencies responsible for providing services and programs. Mapping is about informing service planning across departments and to identify how the government can provide seamless, integrated and tailored services to improve experiences. The ESORT discussed areas for improvement noting ESORT will continue to be consulted as journey mapping evolves.

My own thoughts are that following a veteran’s journey through DVA is very important because we can see where the blockages are, so I encourage this initiative and the APPVA is taking an active part in the activity.

Royal Commission and Legislation Reform Update

DVA is focused on implementing Recommendations 1 to 4, relating to legislation simplification, improving the compensation claims processing system and addressing the compensation claims backlog. The ESORT was provided with an update on the exposure draft legislation to simplify veterans’ legislation, including expected timing for consultation. There was discussion on areas of interest to members, including grandparenting provisions, non-liability healthcare and terminology contained in the current legislation.

My opinion is that we will have to watch closely what occurs with our new legislation especially if it looks like it will be fast tracked through Parliament. More to follow on that.

ATO implementation of the Douglas Decision

Please note that earlier in the year the APPVA fought hard to stop the Douglas Decision Legislation and we won the argument at ESORT to stand up a working group and investigate it, however none of the major ESOs displayed any interest, and we did not have the resources to do it with the TPI Federation so it went through without a challenge.

The Veteran Alliance Association provided a presentation to members on the impact of the Decision on affected veterans. Members discussed areas of interest. DVA is establishing a working group to further map out impacts and to inform ongoing consultation with the Australian Taxation Office. The importance of providing clear information to assist individuals to make well informed choices for the future was acknowledged. An invitation to join the working group will be provided to Members of ESORT soon.

We will have to watch this carefully because it is disadvantaging many.

Offsetting

The Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans’ Association provided a presentation to members on offsetting provisions over the years and their impact. Discussion focused on options under the current system, and ensuring individuals have the right information to make informed decisions. Noting overlaps with the Douglas Decision, the working group being established will also consider offsetting in its remit.

Offsetting causes significant distress and the APPVA will examine it to confirm that there are legal tools that allow veterans to be affected so negatively.

Advocacy Working Group

The Advocacy Working Group was stopped by the APPVA and the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia and the leadership of newly appointed Deputy Secretary Policy and Plans, Andrew Kefford PSM. The process being followed was similar to that permitted by the previous Secretary and not the current Secretary. A new working Group will be established in the new year and DVA has now for the first time confirmed that is responsible for the governance of advocacy.

GP’s Accounts

To support GP Practices transition back to the standard process, DVA will implement a temporary arrangement with a “No Wrong Door Approach” where, if invoices are sent directly to the Accounts team that do not have an “authority to pay”, they will be forwarded to the Compensation Team for review and approval. Where a compensation claim has been lodged by the veteran, “authority to pay” will be assessed and approved if it relates to the claimed conditions, and the invoice will be paid. Where no compensation claim exists, the invoice will need to be rejected.

We have received a lot of concern in the past three weeks from the medical community who provide services to veterans. It appears that two years ago you were directed to stop sending invoices to state DVA offices and instead directed to send invoices to one central address. This changed without warning about six weeks ago when someone made the call to cancel all of your invoices and required you to go back to the original method which is still shown on the DVA website.

Again, businesses have outstanding invoices, and in some cases moving rapidly towards $1m in excess of 60 days overdue. Payroll tax payments loom on the 7th of next month, PAYG Tax at the end of each month of you have high enough turnover, super and the big two, wages and the fact that you must pay your subcontractors within five days. That doesn’t leave much left!

We have addressed this with the relevant Deputy Secretary and true to form Teena Blewitt PSM came back true to form on the same day and reversed the no payment decision with the following message to GPs:

To support GP Practices transition back to the standard process, DVA will implement a temporary arrangement with a “No Wrong Door Approach” where, if invoices are sent directly to the Accounts team that do not have an “authority to pay”, they will be forwarded to the Compensation Team for review and approval. Where a compensation claim has been lodged by the veteran, “authority to pay” will be assessed and approved if it relates to the claimed conditions, and the invoice will be paid. Where no compensation claim exists, the invoice will need to be rejected.

From 1 February 2024 the temporary arrangement will close and all GP invoices will need to send invoices to the DVA State offices and they will only be approved if they have an “Authority to Pay”.

DVA has always held a rigid hard line on decision it made, no matter how many people were disadvantaged. It is good to see common sense reign.

Fee for Services Advocates

Beware of Fraudsters. There are plenty of great fee for service claims advocates out there that give a sound service...for a fee. Some of us need this; most don't.

There are however some bad characters amongst them and for those in the Brisbane area be aware. While we cannot name the company as yet, the characteristics are a one page website, and google ratings where the newest have one star ratings. The rating then goes to five stars and the wording turns to praise. There is a reason for this. I'll let you ponder it.

Have you been stung by them? Get in contact with me. Ian Lindgren, Chairperson. ian.lindgren@peacekeepers.asn.au

Jennifer Wittwer. A courageous woman at a time of great change.

After viewing all three of Jen’s videos as they are released, there is some common ground with her book "Against the Wind". This was my review a year ago.

"I have read Against the Wind twice now because for me it truly was a gift. A gift of knowledge, awareness, sadness, of triumph over adversity and being what you can’t see. I’ve got to say that I have been guilty of some ill-considered words that would have made women feel uncomfortable when I was younger… Now in my more mature years I would say that I get words mixed up trying to ensure I tread the path of awareness when speaking about women, to women. So, your words have been a sound and complete introduction to the difference between treating everyone as equal and considering things with equality and equity. This is why I read it twice…and I do hope I’ve learnt enough from you to help me in my drive to attract women volunteers for veteran related work. It is so hard to attract women and yet together we are so strong. But one of the things I’ve learnt in the past three years of working in the veteran community is that there are few women without very challenging experiences, and now I have a level of understanding as to why it is difficult to attract women to many ESOs."

Ian Lindgren
Chairperson
Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans' Association

January 2023

Jen Wittwer, CSM, FAHRI - Resilience in the Face of Change

Part1 in a three-part series on key aspects of Jen Wittwer's career in the RAN. It is the story of one of many courageous women at a time of great change, and Part 1 tells of Jen's experiences, her approach and her leadership style. This video was funded by a Saluting their Service Grant managed by the Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans' Association.



Etienne Ryckmans - In the Service of Peace

Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans’ Association Advocate Etienne Ryckmans describes the significant experiences he had in the Army and then as a civilian peacekeeper as a UN Special Investigator in Bosnia-Herzegovina. An investment in knowledge that explains his dedication as a volunteer now. His personal footage in a conflict zone is remarkable.

Michael Handley Documentary Interview Part 2 of 2

Michael Handley

Michael Handley - Peacekeeper and dedicated Veteran Community Member Part 1 of 2

Michael Handley

A Profile on Etienne Ryckmans UN Special Investigator – Bosnia – Herzegovina

Bosnia – Herzegovina. Kosovo was facing a grave humanitarian crisis, with military forces from Yugoslavia in action against the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in daily engagements. Nearly one million people had fled Kosovo as refugees by that time, and many permanently did not return. This is Etienne Ryckmans' Story

Jennifer Wittwer - Part 3 of 3

The final installment of Jen Wittwer's story. A woman who set challenges for herself, for women and for all in the community and exceeded her expectations at every turn. The pick of the three videos.

The final installment of Jen Wittwer's story. A woman who set challenges for herself, for women and for all in the community and exceeded her expectations at every turn. The pick of the three videos.

East Timor from the perspective of a Peacekeeper

Ricky Prout

Jennifer Wittwer Part 2 of 3

Jen Wittwer, CSM, FAHRI - Resilience in the Face of Change

Wayne Snell - An AFP Officer's Recollections of Peacekeeping on a Global Scale

Wayne Snell is a former AFP officer who has participated in many years of peacekeeping in countries that have had violent upheavals and required the application of peacekeeping and peacemaking skills to obtain a sound outcome. Wayne’s vast experience provides many lessons learned. This is Wayne’s story delivered as part of a Saluting Their Service Grant.

Wayne Snell - Former AFP Officer.

Wayne Snell is a former AFP officer who has participated in many years of peacekeeping in countries that have had violent upheavals and required the application of peacekeeping and peacemaking skills to obtain a sound outcome. Wayne’s vast experience provides many lessons learned. This is Wayne’s story.

GP’s Accounts

To support GP Practices transition back to the standard process, DVA will implement a temporary arrangement with a “No Wrong Door Approach” where, if invoices are sent directly to the Accounts team that do not have an “authority to pay”, they will be forwarded to the Compensation Team for review and approval. Where a compensation claim has been lodged by the veteran, “authority to pay” will be assessed and approved if it relates to the claimed conditions, and the invoice will be paid. Where no compensation claim exists, the invoice will need to be rejected.

We have received a lot of concern in the past three weeks from the medical community who provide services to veterans. It appears that two years ago you were directed to stop sending invoices to state DVA offices and instead directed to send invoices to one central address. This changed without warning about six weeks ago when someone made the call to cancel all of your invoices and required you to go back to the original method which is still shown on the DVA website.

Again, businesses have outstanding invoices, and in some cases moving rapidly towards $1m in excess of 60 days overdue. Payroll tax payments loom on the 7th of next month, PAYG Tax at the end of each month of you have high enough turnover, super and the big two, wages and the fact that you must pay your subcontractors within five days. That doesn’t leave much left!

We have addressed this with the relevant Deputy Secretary and true to form Teena Blewitt PSM came back true to form on the same day and reversed the no payment decision with the following message to GPs:

To support GP Practices transition back to the standard process, DVA will implement a temporary arrangement with a “No Wrong Door Approach” where, if invoices are sent directly to the Accounts team that do not have an “authority to pay”, they will be forwarded to the Compensation Team for review and approval. Where a compensation claim has been lodged by the veteran, “authority to pay” will be assessed and approved if it relates to the claimed conditions, and the invoice will be paid. Where no compensation claim exists, the invoice will need to be rejected.

From 1 February 2024 the temporary arrangement will close and all GP invoices will need to send invoices to the DVA State offices and they will only be approved if they have an “Authority to Pay”.

DVA has always held a rigid hard line on decision it made, no matter how many people were disadvantaged. It is good to see common sense reign.

Fee for Services Advocates

Beware of Fraudsters. There are plenty of great fee for service claims advocates out there that give a sound service...for a fee. Some of us need this; most don't.

There are however some bad characters amongst them and for those in the Brisbane area be aware. While we cannot name the company as yet, the characteristics are a one page website, and google ratings where the newest have one star ratings. The rating then goes to five stars and the wording turns to praise. There is a reason for this. I'll let you ponder it.

Have you been stung by them? Get in contact with me. Ian Lindgren, Chairperson. ian.lindgren@peacekeepers.asn.au

Share