20 June 2024 Veteran Community Issues Meeting

The Veteran community and DVA are hurting

Ian Lindgren



Lead in Opinion Piece by Ian Lindgren, Chairperson Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans' Association

Greg Whitehouse house and I co-chaired this meeting, and before that Jeremy Stredwick and Sandi Laaksonen-Sherrin. We’ve built up quite a rhythm and regular attendees since out first meeting and while we have a meeting in on 25 July 2024, it is gearing up to sit with DVA executives again and work with as a team to solve some of our issues.

  • Aim of the Meeting. By 1 August 2024 to define and understand the most pressing veteran, veteran family community and veteran support network needs to present them to DVA in a manner that is sufficiently compelling it leaves no option but to resolve them.
  • Working Together. That our activity is not a DVA bashing activity; rather it needs to be balanced, so the Commonwealth Government and our community can work together.
  • Approach. The approach will be to identify the top ten issues and then review the top five.

This volunteer activity is interesting and I have direct access to any of the three Deputy Secretaries at DVA on any given day, and I find them ready to assist veterans, veteran families, or service providers promptly and enthusiastically. The same accessibility extends to the Commissioners. By appointment, I can seamlessly meet with the Secretary, Deputy Secretaries, and Commissioners. In urgent situations, I can reach out to the Secretary directly, a privilege not common for many, except those on the Ex-Service Organisation Round Table (ESORT).

So it is not surprising that within the walls of DVA, I witness genuine care, a sense of urgency, a drive for improvement, and tangible actions being taken. While most individuals I encounter strive to make things easier for veterans, I cannot deny the existence of those who create obstacles, though thankfully, many of them have departed from DVA in the past 16 months. I see commendable dedication and support. I consider many public servants I regularly work with in DVA to be good friends, but that does not stop me from holding them accountable. For example, if one overlooked writing a terms of reference for a working group, I would stand there and demand one be written. Likewise, I expect to be held accountable if I overstep the mark and it does happen. But we walk away friends. Sadly that is not the experience of the everyday veteran.

However, upon reading these minutes, I am left pondering why the positive initiatives I witness are so often overshadowed by the negatives. The challenge arises when attempting to delve deeper into the root causes of issues, only to face a formidable barrier of bureaucratic language, policies, and resistant individuals. It feels like hitting a solid brick wall, met with staunch opposition that even Confederate General Stonewall Jackson would admire.

Why does the underlying culture in the areas of DVA that always face criticism revert to stonewalling? Because they are human and feel defensive. Would it help if their culture changed".

"Why does the underlying culture in the veteran community distrust DVA and go on the offensive? Easy because they are human and feel moral injury. Would it help if their culture changed".

Rather than pointing fingers, I advocate for a collaborative approach involving DVA, veterans, and a representative of the individuals encountering issues. This is stakeholder engagement at its best. This is not an accusation but an opportunity to work together to save lives. Yet, the response sometime seems defensive, viewing any critique as an attack rather than a chance for constructive dialogue. So my intent to help is taken to be false, and if it is false then it must be true. In helping I am unhelpful. It does not just happen to me; others have worked at this and walked away.

It simply cannot be the external party's fault all the time; it is a shared issue because few in DVA test things with veterans or service provider. Therefore, people who are not veterans, or are not GPs, determine what it is we need and GPs need. That goes against industry norms. What we need is defined by veterans and what we get should be identified as teamwork between DVA, veterans and any other stakeholders. It is not that hard.

This paradox is indeed perplexing. Despite holding potential solutions within reach, the doors are shut frustratingly. With the Royal Commission about to hand down its report on 9 September 2024, what we need now is decisive action and a shift towards a positive narrative.

Work Together to Solve Issues

It remains unclear why progress is impeded when we stand so close to achieving it. This dilemma led some in the veteran community to raise questions about class actions during this month's meeting. That is a natural aggrieved reaction. All we are talking is a high level map of the business process flow and then stand back and examine where the issues are, discuss them, compromise and fix. That does not breach privacy. We can do it. No one on the offensive and no one on the defensive. We all want it fixed because by heavens the team in DVA must get sick of being blamed for everything.

The minutes of the 20 June 2024 veteran, veteran community, and veteran support network meeting shed light on a troubling trend affecting our community. Service providers express their frustration with a continuous loop of challenges, including low fees, delayed payments, perceived indifference, and the exorbitant cost of invoicing for DVA services.

These issues are not just a burden on the service providers but also have a ripple effect, causing distress and trauma within our community as providers opt out of serving veterans and their families due to these obstacles. It cannot be denied now that this is occurring in every state and territory. Plus, an increasing number are now will not accept DVA Cards, leading to disruptions in accessing essential services. The repercussions are tangible, with communities like Darwin and Toowoomba where the majority have to travel long distances for treatment which is out of the Territory for Darwin and up to 130km to Brisbane for Toowoomba.

Furthermore, some service providers reveal staggering overdue amounts, with debts exceeding $1 million past the 60-day mark. Medical professionals report being owed substantial sums, ranging from $200,000 to $600,000 on average, while smaller businesses like gym instructors feel the strain of unpaid dues when the only thing wrong with their invoice is a number. Why not use a phone I say? Why reject the invoice? The Repatriation Commissioner and I are going out to see a business in the coming weeks and I hope it leads to a more thorough team root cause analysis.

This distressing situation underscores the urgent need for systemic improvements to ensure timely and fair compensation for the vital services rendered to our veterans and their families. By addressing these challenges collectively, we can pave the way for a more supportive and sustainable environment for all stakeholders involved.

The Minutes of the Meeting of 20 June 2024

In this month's minutes, you'll discover the collective insights gathered from attendees across Australia, reflecting the diverse perspectives and experiences within our community. Your voice matters, and you are encouraged to participate and share your views at the upcoming meeting scheduled for 25 July 2024. The only prerequisite: a commitment to constructive dialogue and problem-solving—no room for negativity. We have issues to solve as a team with DVA.

There's a lot going on in the veteran and veteran family community and with the Royal Commission about to Hand down its final report on 9 Sep 24 emotions are high. Likewise, withing DVA the Australian Public Servants are human and emotions are high. It’s time to rachet it back a bit and remember that we are all working for veteran wellbeing and to stop veteran suicidal ideation. Hold people to account when they need it, but don’t hold each other to account all the time.

What I'd Like to See after Senate Esimates this Week

A return to friendly dialogue that is supportive and understanding of each position that works towards veteran and veteran family outcomes and reducing veteran suicidal ideation.

Minutes of 20 June 2024 Veterans Issues Meeting