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The Federal Budget - What It Means For Veterans

AFA National President, Carl Schiller, OAM, CSM, provides a summary of the Federal Budget as it relates to veterans.

On 7th of October, I attended  Ex-Service Organisation Round Table (ESORT) Meeting, hosted by the Secretary, DVA, on the Government’s 2020-21 Budget, along with other Ex-Service Organisation (ESO) representatives. The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, The Hon Darren Chester also attended.

Not unexpectedly, the Budget is heavily influenced by the impact of COVID-19 on our economy and the general wellbeing of the Australian community.  However, despite the budgetary constraints expected, the veteran community has been well supported given the circumstances, with $11.7 billion allocated to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to support over 220,000 veterans and 100,000 family members.

I have set out below some of the key elements of the 2020-21 Federal Budget as it relates to our veterans and information around DVA’s future direction and priorities. A copy of DVA’s  ‘Year in Review 2020’ – is also included below.

The Government will table its interim response to the Productivity Commission in Parliament shortly.  However, I don’t expect it to be too different to what I have outlined below.

CHALLENGES FOR DVA

Unlike many other government departments and agencies, DVA has a capped operating budget, meaning it must provide cost offsets for any increases in funding.

Since 2018, it has experienced a 242% increase in claims.  Complex claims have increased by 179%.  Not unexpected, ‘Open Arms’ calls have increased dramatically during the pandemic.  The Secretary of the DVA advised that her Department’s client base has also risen by 67%. There is a myriad of other statistics, but this provides an image of a department under pressure to provide the best possible service to veterans and their families.

BUDGET ALLOCATION

$11.7 billion has been allocated to DVA to support over 220,000 veterans and 100,000 family members. For those who like pie charts:

Broken down, this allocation includes:

Additional resourcing ($64.1 million)

  • $4.3 million to develop a data sharing and analytics solution for DVA and Defence. This is an important initiative to expedite claims processing.
  • $23.2 million to support DVA’s claims processing that includes the ‘purchase’ of contracting and training of claims processing staff.
  • $36.6 mission to assist the Department in maintaining services standards.
  • $1.1 million to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the end of WW2.

Mental Health Support for Veterans and their Families ($101.7 million)

  • $94.3 million to increase fees by DVA to mental health, social work and community nursing providers, fee simplification and fund psychiatric training places. The increase remains short of the marketplace fee structure. Concern was raised that DVA’s fees must be competitive to ensure services are available to veterans and their families, especially those residing in remote locations.
  • $5.0 million to expand Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling
  • $2.4 million to expand eligibility of the Coordinated Veterans’ Care Program to certain White Card holders.
  • $25.9 million to increase TPI Pension and other Disability Pension payments for those who pay private rent, and to simplify payment arrangements.
  • $1.7 million to increase support for veterans who travel for treatment in a private vehicle. Essentially, this increase in funding is to align DRCA with MRCA travel.

 Employment and Transition Measures

  • $6.0 million to broaden and improve the Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Program to support veterans seeking meaningful employment.
  • $17.7 million to establish a Joint Transition Authority (JTA) to support the 6,000 ADF members who transition each year. The establishment of the JTA was a recommendation of the Productivity Commission that was supported by the Air Force Association and other ex-service organisations.  The JTA framework has been developed within Defence pending the Government’s formal endorsement.

‘A BETTER WAY TO SUPPORT VETERANS’ – THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT’S INTERIM RESPONSE TO THE PRODUCTIVITY COMMISSION INQUIRY REPORT

Several months ago, I indicated to the AFA National Board there were indications that the Government would embark on an evolutionary pathway rather than adopt a revolutionary strategy on the Productivity Commissioners’ recommendations.

Twenty-five of their 69 recommendations have been adopted.  The Minister and Secretary, DVA will be seeking ESORT input into their further examination of the Productivity Commission’s inquiry and Robert Cornall’s report into veterans’ advocacy in preparation for Budget 2021-22.

A major achievement by the Minister is the rejection of the proposed limitation on future eligibility for the Gold Card to new groups, and the proposed annual premium to be charged to Defence. 

The Government is expected to table in Parliament its interim response to the Productivity Commission’s recommendations shortly.  Among those already mentioned is its commitment to a stand-alone DVA with a multi-year transformation program.

DVA’S FUTURE DIRECTION AND PRIORITIES

Secretary, DVA reaffirmed her department’s commitment to:

  1. continuing to support the whole of Government response to the COVID 19 pandemic to ensure veteran support for veterans and their families
  2. continuing her department’s commitment to know, connect, support and respect veterans and their families
  3. delivering a final response to the various reports and responses dealing with veteran and family support, and transition from the ADF in preparation for Budget 2021-22
  4. planning for the 5th wave of veterans
  5. delivering international and domestic commemorations.

INFLUENCE OF NATIONAL EX-SERVICE ORGANISATIONS

Although the veteran community is still to see the Government’s full interim response to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into the veteran support system, we should feel assured national ex-service organisations and individuals in the community who provided well-argued and balanced responses to the various inquiries have influenced the Government’s decisions on the Commission’s recommendations.

ESORT continues to have a significant influence on the veteran support system and is likely to be retained as a national voice for the various ex-service and service communities.

Carl Schiller, OAM, CSM

President, Air Force Association

Budget Presentation – DVA Achievements

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