28 Feb 24 ESORT - DVA becomes more transparent

Ian Lindgren

Chairperson

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The purpose of this post is to provide information on the outcomes from the Ex-Service Organisation Round Table (ESORT) of 28 February 2024. This advice is provided to the members of the Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans’ Association, all other veterans, veteran families and the veteran support network. Our definition of veteran includes all those who have deployed on peacekeeping operations in the national interest of Australia including members of the AFP, DFAT, AEC, state police, NGOs and anyone missed.

In preperation for ESORT we did send a message to all financial members of the Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans’ Association to help with this preparation, and then we joined with the Australian Commando Association ACT and ran a nationwide activity to gain a position on each item on the ESORT Agenda. We thank Jeremy Stredwick for facilitating the meeting. Likewise other ESORT members who attended so they could gain the opinion of post 2000 veterans were Pat McCabe the National President of the TPI Federation, and Luci Casey from Partners of Veterans Australia. Working together gave us additional considerations.

The key issue that arose while we were meeting is the new veteran legislation and this is covered below.

Ian Lindgren
Chairperson
Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans’ Association

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Background

ESORT serves as a pivotal forum for facilitating collaborative, two-way discussions and issue resolution involving veterans, their family members, the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the Joint Transition Authority, and relevant organisations. For further details on ESORT, please refer to the following link.

Summary

The meeting on 28 February was an exceptional display of transparency and cooperation, surpassing any I have experienced during my four years in the veteran community. This positive impression was further solidified on 29 February 2024 when I received a private demonstration of the intended claims processing information, planned to be publicly accessible on the DVA website in the next six weeks or so. All it need is aproval by the Minister, Hon Matt Keogh MP.

These developments once again underscore the significant positive impact that Alison Frame, Secretary DVA, along with the Deputy Secretaries and commissioners, including Repatriation Commissioner Kahlil Fegan DSC AM, have made on the operation of the DVA.

The Elimination of the Claims Backlog

On 13 Feb 24 the Minister announced that all new initial liability and incapacity claims are now allocated for processing within a two-week timeframe, effectively eliminating this part of the backlog. He also announced that DVA is also on track to clear the remaining backlog of Permanent Impairment claims before the end of February.

I was rather sceptical of this because it did not give the full picture. In arrears I can see that the Minister can only put so much in a press release. We can now fill in the gaps.

  • What is a claim to a veteran and veteran family? A claim to a veteran is a claim for Tinnitus, Anxiety, and for example irritable bowel syndrome is three seperates claims. One claim per condition conditions.
  • What is a claim to DVA? A claim to DVA is the three single conditions claims rolled up into a one word definition; a claim.
  • Mixed Messages and the importance of Trust. This presents confusion because one should not have two definitions with the same name. The lowest common denominator is the item you count, because it is here you can see the effort that is involved and while Tinnitus can be accepted in days; it may take a year to accept irritable bowel syndrome. DVA have now demonstrated transparency to list the number of claims provide data stating the number of conditions that are being processed. This builds trust because nothing is worse than looking like you are trying to mislead a veteran.

Diagram 1 shows my conception of what this means and clearly indicates the positive message the Minister was describing that was under control. Technical advocated may disagree with the terminology, whereas my aim is to get a point across. We commissioned a survey that indicates that it is true that the claims backlog has been eliminated; although we noted that 10% of veterans suggested they had not been contacted within two weeks of a claim being submitted


New New Claims Data Page

On the day following ESORT I was given a demonstration of the possible new Claims Data Page to replace the current page here. It was always intended that this page included a simple introduction with rolled (summarised) data and that is what I saw. It is yet to be approved by the Minister and if it is approved it will likely include detailed spreadsheets that can be downloaded and assessed by anyone with the knowledge to understand the information and this will show the good and not so good of claims processing. Most importantly it is transparent and shows a process under control because once public DVA will be driven to improve it.

Diagram 2 shows my conception of what this means and although it may not give those in the processing queue great hope initially; it should over time as the figures are transparent and DVA is held to account to ensure they improve.

So What?

Given that a claim can consist of anywhere between 1 and say 30 conditions, when DVA states it has 200 unallocated claims, and the average number of conditions per claim is 15, then that means it has 450 unallocated conditions. There is nothing wrong with this, so long as it is presented and as mentioned above the complete data file that states the number of conditions unallocated, being processed etc is planned to be in the next release of the Claim Data on the DVA Website.

New DVA Website

We were advised that there will be a new DVA website that conforms with modern website layout and accessibility standards as soon as it is approved by the Minister.

The Legislative Reform Process – A Single Veteran Legislation Act

This highly anticipated document reduces the veteran legislation from three acts to one.

We have been given until 28 April 2024 to review it and consult with the government. It is likely that the legislation will be introduced into parliament in June 2024, so we need to ensure it meets out needs. It includes issues like house hold services being made available to all and the funeral benefit being raise to $14,000 for all that meet the criteria.

Whilst every organisation will now review it and provide feedback, we gained approval to have the most experienced advocates meet in one place and over a period of three days give the “veteran community opinion.” More to follow on that as it is organisation.

The Key documents to go to:

The Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans’ Association will set its own agenda for review, but as we did with the Australian Commando Association ACT facilitation, we will have a separate review for al those who do not feel they are represented at ESORT or anyone that simply wishes to attend. We will also facilitate the review by advocates for the whole community.

We have no opinion on the legislation as yet.

If you would like a presentation and an opportunity to discuss the new legislation these will be freely available on request and keep an eye on this page for the contact details when they become available.

Hearing Aids

We were advised that for those still working and under the age of 64 there is a high probability that a request for hearing aids will be seen as a special circumstance and the full cost of higher quality hearing aids may be paid for by DVA. This is already occurring and Pat McCabe, the National President of the TPI Federation should be recognised for her role in this. Importantly the DVA executive demonstrated flexibility in consideration and that there is leeway to consider a wider scope for full approval.

Aged Care

An aged care taskforce has been established internal to DVA to resolve may issues, but particularly those where aged care homes might not allow veterans and war widows to use DVA services. I would have liked to see one of the ESOs co-chair this, but let’s see how it goes. We will all need aged care one day. I have a feeling that at the moment some of the difficult issues are being overlooked, but with the transparency now in DVA, I feel confident that something like a national survey of DVA clients in aged care might give the true picture and this will be received well by DVA.

MyService

It was identified during the MyService brief that there were 20 projects currently underway and that none of them have veterans involved as a senior user on the governance board, nor were veterans participating in the user acceptance testing of the projects before they go live.

It was agreed that veterans will conduct user acceptance testing and we will discuss a veteran being involved in the governance of the projects.

It was also identified that a claim can still go through MyService and not be properly completed and nor have the correct support documents. Therefore, it was agreed to place an advisory not on MyService to use the services of a no cost advocate supplied through ESOs to help ensure that the claim has a chance of being considered and ultimately bec oming successful.

Acceptance of DVA Cards

The APPVA raised this and because we believe that that facilities that are accepting DVA cards is falling and that it is not a matter of just paying the medical community more, rather it is a matter to ask what do you need to come back and provide services to the veteran community without co-payments or full payments.

Andrew Kefford PSM, Deputy Secretary Policy and Plans responded, and I will release that information once I get a copy of Andrew’s document.

The important thing to note are that if you are required to pay up front or provide a co-payment, after doing so (the hard bit) submit a Claim out-of-pocket medical expenses.

There was also some discussion about whether or not a provider is legally permitted to charge more than the DVA rate. As a person with a business background, I feel that a business owner’s first duty is to their company remaining solvent and not to DVA’s fees schedule. We are all allowed to disagree, and we will have a clearer picture soon. I feel that there should never be a time that DVA fees are not accepted, particularly if they were raised. More debate to follow.

The Australian Special Air Service Association submission on the 20 year Review of the IGADF

A well put together submission that outlines many concerns was noted by all.

The MATES Program

The Secretary and Andrew Kefford PSM presented much of this. I do not propose to cover it here because it is complex.

A DVA Proposal for a Peak Body

The Secretary outline her intent to engage a consultant to further investigate a business case into the establishment of a ESO or veteran peak body. This consultancy will provide independent expertise to engage broadly with ex-service and veteran organisations at the national and state levels to develop proposals on a peak body, including:

  • The potential roles and responsibilities of a peak body
  • Principles of operating model
  • Potential membership requirements and processes
  • Funding model
  • Any drawbacks or risks associated with a peak body.

The consultant will commence consultation from March and we have asked them to engage with all ESORT members and Young Veterans Forum in the first instance, and to seek further recommendations from the veteran community.

Some ESORT members were sceptical. I formed the opinion that if the Secretary DVA wants to add to the work that the RSL, APPVA and many others have done on this then DVA should be commended. Previously this would not have happened in such a transparent manner. If 5% of it meets our needs, then that is good because it will be placed in the melting pot with all the other submissions and

Grants Reform

Changes made to the Veteran Wellbeing Grant (VWG) include:

  • The requirement for all not-for-profit organisations applicants to be registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC)
  • Encouraging collaboration, including how co-funding and/or in-kind contributions would demonstrate the sustainability of the project or activity. This strengthens the previous guidance on sustainability in accordance with the VWG Program outcomes
  • More detail encouraging non-ESOs to apply in consortium with an ESO

Future BEST Grant funding will be totally reviewed to consider the need of wellbeing officers as well as compensation advocates. It is likely to be creative and include increased funding but will not be part of the grants round about open.

Co-Design Consultative Workshops

DVA will host six online consultative forums a year which will be led by one of its Deputy Secretaries.

  • 4 March 2024 - Understanding the Veteran Experience (UVE) Off-Base Workshop, Currumbin RSL Female Veterans. An engagement to consult the Gold Coast community on the experience for Women Veterans, discuss and present on important DVA updates and understand and discuss challenges and opportunities for the community.
  • 5th, 6th, 7th March. Joint Defence and Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy Webinar. Webinars to consult with the Veteran community about the Defence and Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy.
  • 12th-13th March. Veterans’ Families Policy Forum Brisbane. This is a DVA consultative event with Veteran family members which provides a platform to raise issues directly with the Australian Government, generate ideas to solve issues facing these communities and co-design DVA products and services. The Forum informs future policy and service delivery options, and builds networks across the represented cohorts. This year’s Forum will include male family members.
  • 14- 15th March. Postvention Lived Experience Workshops. These are workshops for the family members of Veterans who have died by suicide. The purpose of these engagements is to leverage lived experiences to inform future postvention services and support. These workshops are run as a facilitated, collaborative, interactive and conversational engagement. It is structured in a safe, trauma informed and outcome focussed way.
  • 2nd May. Understanding the Veteran Experience On-Base Workshop, Lavarack Barracks Townsville. UVEs are conducted on ADF bases. The UVE provide DVA staff a deeper understanding of the lived experience of serving members and the unique nature of military service. The workshop is conducted in focus group style with serving members engaging in discussion and activities to explore their experiences and ideas, this is followed by a shared lunch and then a base tour or static display to give DVA staff a hands-on understanding of the risks and weights that serving members deal with every day
  • Week of 29th April - 3rd May. Understanding the Veteran Experience Off-Base Workshop, Townsville. The UVE off-base workshops help to better connect DVA staff to the Veteran experience. The engagement will also help to inform DVA’s organisational culture and future policy and service delivery.
  • Community Consultation Series. An initial series of 6 Community consultations focussed on specific topics of interest to the Veteran Community, current scheduling includes:
  • 9 April – Aged Care
  • 18 June – Veteran Engagement Mechanisms
  • 18 Sep – General Forum
  • More dates and details to follow
  • May 24. Female Veterans Forum. This is a DVA consultative event with Women Veterans and provides a platform to raise issues directly with the Australian Government, generate ideas to solve issues facing these communities and co-design DVA products and services. The Forum informs future policy and service delivery options, and builds networks across the represented cohorts. This two day forum is tentatively scheduled for May

Improved Governance and Veteran Consultation as a Stakeholder

The following ESORT Workshops are commencing with stakeholders from DVA, the veteran community and a wide variety of agencies:

  • Working Group - impact of taxation on lump sum retrospective superannuation payments
  • Advocacy Reform Working Group

Conclusion

We may have had two Afghanistan and MEAO veterans present at ESORT. I feel that needs to change so we do not have the current duplication of information given to many organisations with only the ESORT able to do something about it. I welcome a review and that is the policy of the Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans’ Association.

I was pleased to see that the observers were all Afghanistan and MEAO veterans because this allows them to form opinions on how better this activity could be conducted to suit that demographic. At the same time, we must not forget the passing parade of current veterans, family members and war widows, so we must also ensure their needs are met. I look forward to a review.

Overall, this was the most cooperative and transparent ESORT I have attended and it was great to see the Young Veteran representative, James Dallas, at the table participating as a equal on ESORT.

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