Chapter 9 Veterans’ Support Structures
The final Chapter acknowledges the many government, non-government,
non-profit and ex-service organisations in Australia which support veterans,
wounded and injured or otherwise, and specifically acknowledges their contribution
to the Inquiry. It finishes by considering broad-scale coordination
requirements for veteran services.
The Committee received evidence from a multitude of organisations, both
public and private, which support our wounded and injured Australian Defence
Force (ADF) members. The Vietnam Veterans’ Association of Australia (VVAA) noted
the importance of support organisations, submitting that while the Department
of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) procedures for dealing with ongoing health care and
support are adequate, a considerable degree of support and assistance is being
sought from the ex-service and broader community. VVAA submitted that support
organisations are well placed to provide such support, and can provide a buffer
between ex-service personnel and the government bureaucracy that they are
cautious of dealing with directly.
The Committee received submissions from a number of support
Australasian Services Care Network
Australasian Services Care Network (ASCN) is a ’community of practice’
of Australasian providers of care and accommodation services, primarily to the
Service and ex-Service community and their families. The group was created
following the inaugural Defence Community Forum in 2011, and provides a network
for providers to share insights, create a unified ‘voice’, work collectively
and collaborate, form public policy positions, work with other international
ex-Service care provider bodies, and enhance outcomes for the Network and their
beneficiaries. Membership is open to providers of care and accommodation
services to the Service and ex-Service community of Australia and New Zealand.
Australian Centre for Post-traumatic Mental Health
The Australian Centre for Post-traumatic Mental Health (ACPMH) is a not-for-profit
incorporated association, affiliated with the University of Melbourne’s
Department of Psychiatry, whose vision is improved wellbeing and quality of
life for individuals and communities who experience trauma, with a particular
focus on current and former members of the Defence community. It works to
achieve this vision through an integrated model of provision of policy and
service development advice, research, and education and training activities.
Carry On (Victoria)
Carry On (Victoria) is an ex-service welfare organisation operating
solely in Victoria and are a major supplier of welfare assistance to the
Victorian ex-service community which predominantly provides low cost rental accommodation,
mainly in rural cities; education assistance to children of veterans; and
general welfare in the form of advice, guidance and financial assistance.
Centori Pty Ltd
Centori is a privately owned and independent Australian adventure company
creating opportunities to experience worldwide leisure and peak adventure
travel for wounded soldiers amongst other groups. It offers activities ranging
from high altitude climbing, bespoke trekking, endurance kayaking, walking
safaris through big game areas of Africa, unique corporate Road Trips, to tailored
travel covering Australian military history. The company made its name on the
Kokoda Track, but now offers programs on every continent.
Centre for Military and Veterans’ Health
The Centre for Military and Veterans’ Health (CMVH) is an internationally-unique
academic, community and military partnership funded by the Departments of
Defence (Defence) and Veterans’ Affairs (DVA). CMVH have a team of
researchers, health practitioners and serving ADF personnel who work together
to better understand and address health issues affecting military personnel,
veterans, and their families through: research; military-specific professional
development opportunities for health professionals; and Think Tank Forums to
provide opportunities for high-level strategic input to the military health
Defence Families of Australia
Defence Families of Australia (DFA) is a ministerially appointed group
that specifically represents the views of Defence families. Its aim is to
inform Government and Defence on the needs of the family. Its goal is to
ensure quality of life for all Defence families by providing a recognised forum
for their views, and by reporting, making recommendations and influencing
policy that directly affects families, and in turn, enhancing the capability of
the Defence Force.
Go2 Human Performance
Go2 Human Performance assists people to alter limiting beliefs, increase
confidence and develop mental fitness. Over 20 years, Go2 Human Performance’s
work and self-management programs claim to have assisted thousands of people
including wounded and injured veterans change their lives and deal with most
illnesses. Go2 Human Performance staff have a combination of professional
backgrounds in the behavioural sciences and dynamic contemporary techniques.
Legacy Australia (Legacy) is an organisation that began in the years
after World War I and has as its role the support to the families of
incapacitated and deceased veterans. Legacy cares for dependants of those who
served their country; namely veterans who died (or were incapacitated) on
operational service or subsequently died as a result of their service.
Mr Tony Ralph, President of Brisbane Legacy highlighted that:
Children [of fallen soldiers] will always be Legacy wards. We
will always provide services to the children provided the mother and the
children want them.
Psychological Trauma Recovery Service
The Mental Health Clinical Service Unit (MHCSU) is one of several
Clinical Service Units within Austin Health and comprises a range of mental
health services including specialist and state‐wide
services including the Psychological Trauma Recovery Service (PTRS) which is
Austin Health’s specialist Mental Health Service for the treatment of Trauma‐related Mental Health
Returned and Services League of Australia
The aims and objectives of the Returned and Services League (RSL) are to
perpetuate the close ties of friendship created by mutual service in the ADF or
allied forces, to maintain a proper standard of dignity and honour among all
past and present serving members of the Defence Force and to set an example of
public spirit and noble hearted endeavour. They do this in order to; preserve
the memory and records of those who suffered and died for Australia; provide
for the sick and wounded and needy among those who have served and their
dependents including pensions, medical attention, homes and suitable
employment; inculcate loyalty to the Nation, to guard the good name and
preserve the interests and standing of members of the Defence Force; and to promote
RSL policy on national questions.
Soldier On is a charity supporting those who have been wounded on
contemporary operations. The charity allows for the Australian community to
connect to those that have been wounded and to support their re-integration
back into Australian society through providing access to inspirational
activities, supporting rehabilitation and providing opportunities that empower
Toowong Private Hospital
Toowong Private Hospital (TPH) is recognised as Queensland’s leading
private mental health care facility and is seen as a specialist centre in
veterans’ mental health. The TPH Group Therapy Day Programs area has run
outpatient cognitive behaviour therapy-based group therapy programs for
currently serving ADF personnel and ex serving members with Post-Traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Alcohol and Drug (A&D) addiction for the last 12
years and their programs are accredited by the ACPMH.
Trauma Release Australia
Trauma Release Australia use trauma release exercises (TRE) in an
approach that deliberately uses the body’s innate process of involuntary
shaking and tremors in a safe and controlled way to physically release the
effects of chronic stress and unresolved trauma including PTSD.
Veterans’ Health Advisory Council
The Veterans’ Health Advisory Council (VHAC) advises the South
Australian Minister for Health and Ageing, Mental Health and Substance Abuse,
Defence Industries and Veterans’ Affairs on the health issues of veterans, war
widows and their families and advocates on their behalf.
Vietnam Veterans’ Association of Australia
The aim of the Vietnam Veterans’ Association of Australia is to assist
all veterans, dependants and their descendants in all matters relating to their
health, welfare and wellbeing.
Vietnam Veterans’ Federation of Australia
The Vietnam Veterans’ Federation of Australia (VVFA) and its affiliated
partners, the Vietnam Veterans Peacekeepers and Peacemakers Association of
Australia (VVPPAA), are dedicated to the welfare of all service and ex-service
personnel and their families. VVFA is made up of volunteers who chose to help
veterans in need.
Young Diggers is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing
on-line care and welfare to all serving and ex-serving military personnel and
their families. Young Diggers operate in association with the Goodna RSL
sub-branch and services club, but remain independent in operation.
When contacted, Young Diggers communicates with the person and when they
are ready, refers them to the appropriate people like the Veterans and Veterans’
Families Counselling Service (VVCS), a pensions officer in their area, or other
appropriate support services. Young Diggers provide a confidential service, a
non-military organisation who understands, a non-government organisation that
can be trusted, easy to talk to ex-military volunteers who have ‘been there’,
and a voice, in a safe environment, where veterans can share their feelings and
experiences with others.
Gaps and overlap
Mr Tony Ralph, the President of Brisbane Legacy, told the Committee that
the primary agencies, Defence and DVA, focus on the veteran and it is left to
organisations such as Legacy to support families. He suggested that if Defence
and DVA engaged with organisations such as Legacy at a very early stage, it would
be a more holistic experience for the member and their family and that the
support of Legacy and other organisations could become more compatible with
that of the larger organisations.
When he was asked about the formation of Soldier On and if it was the
result of some perceived deficiency in the way that Defence and DVA were
providing support to veterans, Professor Peter Leahy AC responded:
It is very much an extra. We do not think there is a
deficiency. When you look at the sum total that is available – the RSL are
doing great work, Legacy is doing great work, and there are some other
charities starting out there.
Professor Leahy went on to say that Soldier On is conscious that there
are different structures and organisations providing support to wounded and
injured veterans. Soldier On is therefore actively consulting with larger
support organisations to ensure that they are not ‘treading in someone else’s
lane’ or ‘duplicating work and effort’. He also noted that support
arrangements varied from state to state.
When asked about coordination of services, Mr Brian Freeman, the Director
of Centori Pty Ltd, told the Committee that sometimes there might be some niche
areas in the marketplace which ‘put the horse before the cart’ rather than
delivering a solution. Nonetheless he did not think that collaboration is as
important now as it might have been in the past, particularly since RSL
Queensland had committed to providing funding and coordination. He submitted
that organisations supporting wounded and injured provide their services in
different areas. He did say, however, if they were to all come together, they
would be a more powerful entity than they are individually.
The President of Young Diggers Australia, Mr John Jarrett, gave evidence
that there are a lot of organisations assisting veterans with, for example,
welfare and DVA claims:
There are lots of ex-service organisations that are able to
give the same advice and do the same DVA claims, as long as they are up with
all the legislation.
Mr Tony McHugh, the Manager and Principal Psychologist with PTRS, gave
evidence that, even in the Vietnam era, due to the large number of
well-motivated and well-intentioned returning Vietnam veterans, there were
multiple organisations attempting to represent them. He highlighted that now
there are even more organisations for recently returned veterans but advised
the Committee that the uptake of membership is not great.
The Committee notes that this aligns with DVA’s assessment of the
current cohort of veterans; that they tend not to join groups.
Carry On (Victoria) gave a somewhat grimmer observation. Mrs Cheryl
Hersey, Carry On’s Welfare Officer, told the Committee candidly that there is a
gap between an individual transitioning out of the Services and eventually seeking
Mr Ralph highlighted the importance of support organisations having an
on-line internet presence, especially for the people associated with the
current cohort of veterans. This also aligns with
Likewise, DFA highlighted the importance of embracing social media to
advise families of the wounded and injured on support services available to
them, and of providing this information to families when a member is discharged
Associate Professor Malcolm Hopwood, the Clinical Director of PTRS, gave
evidence that the contemporary veteran cohort, including Afghanistan, Iraq and
East Timor and the various recent peace-keeping missions, do not generally have
close links to the ex-service organisations. He advised that while there are
some ex-service organisations specifically representing that group, there has
not been a single body emerge with which the contemporary cohort identify. He
believed that there will never be universal identification with a specific
organisation and that it is unfortunate, because one of the purposes that the
ex-service organisations serve is often as a pathway to support a veteran
accessing mental health care and that that is a concern.
He gave evidence that a veteran is more likely to approach an
organisation that ‘culturally makes sense’ to that individual and that for the
contemporary veteran, ‘the RSL’s for older guys’.
Soldier On’s Executive Officer, Mr Simon Bloomer, told the Committee
that interactions between ex-service organisations was cooperative and that
there was no rivalry ‘whatsoever’. He went on to note that Victoria appears to
be far better served by such organisations than other states and that, particularly
in Queensland but possibly also in other states, the RSL ‘did more to fill the gaps’.
DFA submitted that a common complaint from Defence families is that
there are many departments and support services available and that as a result,
family members often lack awareness and clarity regarding support structures.
DFA advocated a single, recognisable service centre to coordinate health and
social support services.
Professor Sandy McFarlane AO told the Committee that the element that
was missing in the national health care framework, particularly with respect to
mental health, is a national ‘commission of mental health’ with oversight to
critique and identify the adequacy of services. Professor McFarlane argued
that the risks of neglecting the needs of current and ex-serving members of the
Defence Force are magnified by the multiplicity of jurisdictions that are
involved in their care.
Associate Professor Susan Neuhaus CSC gave evidence that the provision
of support for some individuals have fallen in the gaps between agencies rather
than being appropriately managed across agencies. She echoed Professor
McFarlane, believing that there is a need for a peak body or an advisory board with
a governance framework that sits above the various support agencies to align
and manage veteran support appropriately and to ensure that that the whole
space is managed effectively.
The Director of Carry On (Victoria), Mr Alistair Robb foreshadowed that
perhaps in the not-so-distant future, because of the evolutionary nature of
ex-service organisations, organisations like Carry On (Victoria) will
eventually run out of people to run them because of the diminishing veteran
community and that they may have to hire salaried staff to do the work of the current
Dr Glen Edwards submitted that volunteers are a much needed addition to
services in assisting ADF and ex-service personnel, however they too need
All of these organisations do important and valuable work supporting the
rehabilitation of ADF personnel wounded or injured on operations and thanks
them for their contribution to the Inquiry. The Committee extends its unreserved
thanks to these organisations, and the broader support community, and
recommends them to Australia’s wounded and injured veterans.
The Committee notes that some organisations like Soldier On are
de-conflicting with other agencies to ensure that there is no overlap between
support organisations. The Committee remains concerned that not every support
organisation is so diligent and believes that there is potentially a need for a
representative council, peak body or an advisory board to increase visibility
of effort and coordination between the various support agencies. The primary
aim of such a body would be to identify service gaps.
The Committee feels that an undercurrent of volunteerism remains healthy
in Australia, and with a new cohort of veterans, there will likely be an
ongoing pool of volunteers, ex-servicemen or otherwise. The Committee
encourages volunteerism but does not wish to impose Governmental restriction on
the services provided by such organisations.
The Committee recommends that the Government commission an
independent assessment of the need for, and establish if warranted, an
appropriate national/state-based veterans’ organisation coordination body.
Hon Joel Fitzgibbon MP
Joint Standing Committee on Forgein Affairs, Defence and Trade