This chapter considers:
The need for cultural awareness training as part of the process of preparing ADF members for transition;
Ways that the Australian Government could support the post-ADF employment of veterans and their families;
The Ex-Service Organisation space; and
The information needs of government to best meet the needs of former members of the ADF.
Cultural Awareness Training
Each individual leaving the service is ‘going to experience a set of losses’ which can include a sense of purpose, identity, and camaraderie or group cohesion. ‘At the moment it seems, and from what I’ve been told, it’s quite a shock. No-one’s actually sat them down, and they’ve never really thought about it’. ‘It’s about mentally preparing people for change, and that’s already going to help people on the other side’.
It is important to help people to find another purpose:
… once we’re mentally preparing people, then we start talking about: ‘Okay, now that you’re prepared for at least thinking about another purpose, let’s work out what that purpose might be.’ And there are a lot of different strategies that mental health clinicians, social workers and OTs [Occupational Therapists] can use which help tap into people’s sense of purpose, what their core values are and what jobs, activities or experiences might be feeding into those core values.
Research in the UK has shown that a good transition outcome needs cultural awareness training:
Part of the process in successful transition requires ex-service personnel to re-familiarize themselves with the cultural expectations of civilian life so as to reclaim the cultural awareness that is associated with civilian life. The ‘institutional self’ that the army – as a ‘total institution’ – requires, can deplete the skills and cultural awareness needed to live again as a civilian. Cultural awareness training might usefully form part of the preparation the MOD in the UK and similar bodies in other nations makes for a return to civilian life.
Self-reliance and self-responsibility are also important factors in the transition to civilian life, and these skills need to be taught as part of a broader cultural rehabilitation process:
Cultural awareness training is necessary for return to civilian life as a preparation for retirement that is then supported and reinforced from within and across the voluntary sector. Self-reliance and self-responsibility in the transitioning soldier must be taught as part of a broader process of cultural rehabilitation into civilian life and such training should involve transitioning soldiers going out and engaging with communities, employers and educational trainers.
Cultural awareness training has been described as a sticking point during transition:
In the initial stages of their military career, veterans are told how good they are and how much better than civilians they are. All their training exercises and deployments confirm their understanding of this concept. [ … ]
At some point they will begin to think about re-joining the ranks of the civilians and this concept of what a civilian is like then seems hard to reconcile. However, most approach it assuming they will go into the commercial workplace and prove themselves to be better than their civilian counterparts. [ … ]
After deciding to discharge, there is little to help them remove the façade that they are better than civilians. Defence provide some theory of what it will take to effectively transition, however there is no de-militarisation training. They hear the transition disaster stories and believe they happen because they aren’t as strong as they are. [ … ]
Only once they have personally experienced the transition, do they begin to realise that this ‘transition thing’ is more complex than they gave it credit for. But at this point, they have missed the transition training offered during their service.
It has been suggested that more information on ‘civilian living and employment standards’ may assist people at the point of transition:
[t]ransitioning Defence personnel require a greater understanding of civilian living and employment standards so they can make an informed decision regarding their departure from the Australian Defence Force.
More emphasis on the experience of loss and other stresses that may be experienced during transition, and the potential effect they may have on mental health, needs to be included in transition preparation programs. They should also include information on, and guidance on how to navigate, the different cultural environment former ADF members can expect in civilian workplaces. While most ADF personnel successfully negotiate their transition to civilian life, more preparation on what to expect will assist everyone and should help some avoid the consequences of failing to prepare adequately for significant change.
In view of the importance of mental health in achieving a good transition outcome for ADF members and their families, access for family members to accredited training in areas such as Mental Health First Aid Training and suicide awareness, and training in how to respond in crisis situations has been recommended and the position is supported by the Committee. Training in these critical areas will provide family members with increased confidence in their abilities to assist their transitioning ADF family member to connect with the support they need sooner, improving the chances of a good transition for each member of the family.
The Committee recommends that the following elements be included in the transition preparation package to improve outcomes achieved through the transition process:
Providing a comprehensive training process during transition including cultural awareness training to enable transitioning personnel to re-familiarise themselves with the cultural expectations of civilian life and employment;
Providing training in resilience, self-awareness and self-reliance to prepare transitioning personnel for the different – civilian – environment they are entering, and for the different responsibilities that they will have in this environment compared to those in the military environment;
Providing training in psychological first aid so that transitioning ADF members and their families will be more aware of the signs of psychological ill health in themselves and in others, and are aware of the steps to take in these circumstances to assist themselves or others.
Appropriate career coaching or mentoring support early in the transition process is important to increase the likelihood of veterans securing employment and having positive civilian workplace experiences. Employment is a restorative psychological process, which can improve self-esteem and have a positive effect on mental health and wellbeing. Businesses also need to be more aware of the benefits of employing veterans, and the attributes and skillsets which they can bring to the workplace.
Encouraging ADF personnel to consider their lifetime career plans, and the steps they need to take to identify and attain their goals, will help them to view their military careers as an important part of their working life, but as one part among many. This will help them to acknowledge that they may have skills and abilities that they are not using or developing in their military careers, which can help them in their later transition to civilian life.
Encouraging recruits to plan how and when to start acquiring the skills and qualifications needed to be competitive in the post-ADF workforce will help them to acknowledge that their ADF training is not necessarily the only training that they will need to complete in order to ensure that they can be competitive in the civilian workforce among civilian job seekers.
It has been proposed that Defence maintain a database of members’ skills, updated with the skills they have gained when they complete each course of training. The database would need to be accessible by former members of the ADF after transition, so as to provide access to their records for educational institutions for purposes such as Recognition of Prior Learning, as well as for members to provide to employers.
Culture Within the ADF
Service personnel have a high quality support structure while they are in the ADF and it enables them to focus on the task at hand and to achieve military objectives. Civilian life is less structured, with individuals required to take responsibility for, and manage a wider range of issues.
Dr Romaniuk described the culture in the military as one where ‘everything’s done for you’ and suggested that a case managed approach when leaving the military would help to smooth the path of transition:
The other important thing to mention is that, when you’re in the military, everything’s done for you. They really cultivate a culture of dependence. But then, once you put in your discharge, that’s all on you. So DVA are there, but they have to go to them – they have to reach out and go to that service. They’re not tapping someone on the shoulder and saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got an appointment now.’ I think that’s an issue, because if you’re cultivating a culture of dependence then you have to then help with that process, which is why I think a handover/case-managed process would sort of mitigate that. The flipside to that is to change the culture of dependence from the beginning, but I’m not sure that would be an appropriate way to go.
Dr Paula Dabovich, in discussing transition effects on those engaged in clinical care, commented that government may wish to consider some of the impacts of an individual’s service, which can have an effect on their engagement with support services:
What the ADF and DVA may need to more fully consider, are the ways in which service necessarily impacts an individual’s ability to relate to (and thereby trust and tolerate) those outside the ADF, and how this impacts on an individual’s relationship with themselves.A lack of trust in, or tolerance of, self and others, impinges on an individual’s personal sense of identity and agency (sense of self) during MCT [military to civilian transition], which in turn, impacts an individual’s willingness to engage support services …
The Victorian Minister for Veterans requested that the issue of cultural attitudes within the ADF towards serving personnel who begin the transition process be addressed, as he noted that ‘ESOs in Victoria report feedback that serving personnel perceive an attitudinal change towards them after submitting discharge papers, resulting in them feeling that the process is adversarial’.
While initial recruit training is about creating a high functioning member of the military team, and one who is willing to sublimate their own needs for the ‘collective cause’, research has shown that those who have a better transition back to civilian life are those with a supportive spouse who ‘takes on the role of orienting them to the civilian world again’:
During my interviews, a lot of people talked about the initial recruit training and what happens during that recruit training – the idea that you get broken down and built back up to be a functioning members of the military. A lot of people talk about that as indoctrination in a positive sense, where you’re really letting go of yourself as an individual and your individual needs for the betterment of your team and the good of the collective cause.
At the same time, with that culture in the military, because it’s all-encompassing, you’re really told what to do all the time. … When you leave, you don’t have a Medicare card and you don’t have a GP. How do I go about doing that?’ It’s all up to you, and there’s no-one there saying, ‘Oh, you’ve got to do this and you’ve got to do that, and this is how you go about that process.’ Sometimes there is someone like that, if a veteran is lucky enough to have a supportive spouse. Another aspect of my research demonstrated that those who do better are generally people with a supportive spouse who then takes on that role of orienting them to the civilian world again and helping them through those very basic things that were all taken care of in the military.
The RSL Queensland is engaged with Downer EDI (mining services) and Saab (aerospace) to produce a program of cultural training so that their staff have a better understanding of the culture that former ADF personnel bring from the ADF, because the corporations are experiencing a high ‘churn’ rate among transitioning members, who leave after a few months when they realise that they don’t subscribe to the different values of the organisation. RSL Queensland identified the cause of the high ‘churn’ rate as cultural – former ADF members are accustomed to the ADF culture, and not having a strong attachment to the corporate culture, may choose not to remain in a job if they find it does not align with the cultural values formed during their time in service.
Within the ADF, and within each of the three services, there are numerous sub-cultures. With the degree of difference between the workplace cultures of an Air Force pilot stationed in Australia, an Army infantryman on deployment in Afghanistan and a Navy sailor posted on board ship for six months of the year, it is impossible to generalise about the culture within the ADF, and how well or otherwise it prepares people for civilian life. There are numerous examples of people from each of the services who have voluntarily left the ADF and successfully transitioned into careers of their choice. The impacts of the Defence culture are not universal, but will affect some people more strongly than others.
The Committee recommends that the Department of Defence:
Encourages ADF personnel to view their military career as one element in their broader career in the workforce, and to take a pro-active approach to obtaining the appropriate accreditation and training needed to meet their employment expectations and increase their employment options post-ADF; and
Maintain a skills database for each ADF member, accessible by individuals post-separation.
Australian Government Employment Support
The largest ever study of Queensland Defence personnel and their families found that in the two years after leaving the ADF, 19 per cent of former ADF members were actively looking for work.For the majority, their household income, which drops during transition, later recovers to the level it was while in service. However ‘for a fairly sizable minority it appears that that average household income never gets back to where it was whilst they were serving’. For some this is due to retirement, and is not an issue as the income reduction is expected at that time, however RSL Queensland found that one of the key reasons for this drop in income is ‘the significant underemployment of Defence spouses’, and the finding that 89 per cent of spouses of currently serving members said that the service of their partner had moderately or significantly impacted on their employment.
There has been some success with programs such as the RSL Employment Program and the Prime Minister’s Employment Initiative, which had ‘taken longer to get going than many would have wished’ but is ‘starting to show a few green shoots’. Larger organisations such as Westpac and mining company Downer EDI, are actively looking for people from the defence sector, and some are engaging recruitment personnel whose role it is to look for potential employees among those transitioning from Defence, because they recognise the skills that a person transitioning from the ADF can bring to a role. Because the ADF is constantly training people, former ADF personnel are used to taking on new knowledge very quickly, and this is a skill that some employers find very valuable.
In addition to government and ‘big business’ employers, there have also been significant successes in employment of veterans with small businesses:
… As we’ve mentioned in our submission, while things like the Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Awards, which we held this year, recognise the higher end of town in a lot of those cases, the success stories of smaller recruiters‑such as Ironside Recruitment, who we’ve had a partnership with over time who focus on the individual and do place into smaller opportunities‑are significant. … The majority of people transition from the ADF into very fulfilling and incredible careers, because they are provided with a broad range of skill sets at a very young age that their contemporaries are not.
Prior to transition, approximately 40 per cent of ADF members have found full-time employment, 13 per cent wish to study, and about 25 per cent indicate that they will be looking for work post-transition. From January 2019 an intensive employment program commenced, targeting early leavers and those with known risk criteria, to improve the likelihood of their securing employment post-transition. This program includes those leaving aged 18 to 24 years of age, and takes a more needs-based approach.
About 900 or 950 people medically discharge from the ADF each year, and about 600 in the 18-24 years age group leave early – that is, they leave before completing their initial minimum period of service. These younger people face youth unemployment issues when they transition out, as they generally have few or no skills due to having only spent a short time in the ADF. Both these groups – those medically discharging, and younger leavers under 25 years of age, will receive extra support in transitioning and gaining employment.
Women and men in transition are looking for the same sorts of things – financial security, employment, housing, health stability, spouse employment, children’s schooling. Once those things have been achieved, they can move forward with the rest of their life.
The new flexible way of looking at service through the ADF Total Workforce Model, which allows people the flexibility to choose to work a certain number of days per week or per fortnight, or a certain number of weeks per month or months per year, is requiring a significant cultural change within the ADF, but also enables members to try out work in a non-ADF environment, and perhaps commence their transition planning while still employed by the ADF.
Experience in the United States of America
The United States of America has a higher proportion of citizens who have served in the forces, and ‘the culture of the society appears to be much more embracing of the service of veterans and their families’, with ‘a belief amongst citizens in that country that they actually have a responsibility to actively engage with ex-service people’ and so employers ‘[are not just] prepared to open the door; they’re actually going out there and actively looking for them’.
It is not uncommon for young US troops to be studying towards a degree while they are deployed, but in the Australian context commissioned officers are more likely to be studying towards a tertiary degree. Those in ordinary ranks often leave the ADF with a Certificate III or IV in a technical competency. In the United States, service in the armed forces ‘is far more of an engine of social mobility than it is in Australia, so there’s perhaps a slightly different cultural perspective’. A key difference between the Australian and United States’ educational contexts is that the cost of tertiary education in the United States can be far more expensive than it is currently for domestic students within Australia, something addressed by the benefits available to US Defence members under the GI Bill.
Wandering Warriors which provides mentoring, skills training and academic education funding for former members of the special forces, supported a recommendation that funding be provided for academic qualifications for those leaving the military, as is done through the GI Bill in the US.
The Committee sees value in providing additional support to transitioning members of the ADF who would like to gain a tertiary qualification, as this can help them to gain skills and qualifications which are in demand by employers, and enhance their employment prospects post separation. There is also merit in considering the provision of employment subsidies to those whose separation is involuntary but where discharge is not related to poor performance or misconduct.
The Committee recommends that the Government consider the provision of the following:
Study assistance and scholarships to enable former ADF personnel to gain qualifications and retrain for a post-ADF career; and
Government internships and employer wage subsidies to employers providing adult apprenticeships to veterans whose discharge is honourable but involuntary.
Ex-Service Organisations (ESOs) play an important role in the support structure for transitioning ADF personnel. ESOs provide advocacy services to support veterans in navigating often complex DVA claims and entitlements processes; deliver physical rehabilitation, psychosocial and vocational support services; and provide support not currently funded by DVA, but important for successful transition and reintegration into civilian life. ESOs generally are more than the ADF or DVA in terms of the types of support they can offer and how quickly they can adjust service offerings based on feedback from veterans. The majority of ESOs are structured on a model for ‘veterans supporting veterans’, utilising the proven value of peer support to assist ADF members during transition. For a veteran who is struggling, the benefit of an ESO is that generally the people working in an ESO, and the ESO itself, have the same values and culture as the transitioning member, and this camaraderie can help the transitioning member to trust the organisation.
In 2016 the Aspen Foundation report Ex-Service Mapping Project – Final Report identified approximately 2 780 ESO and ESO-like organisations around Australia. The report highlighted the complexity of the ESO space, and identified the large number, variety of locations, and differing levels of skill and services as potentially a barrier to the effective and efficient engagement with ESOs. This presents a challenge to the Departments of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs in selecting the appropriate ESOs with whom to engage on collaborative projects. The situation is also challenging for individuals leaving the ADF and seeking services during their transition.
Defence families and stakeholders have described the ESO landscape as overcrowded, complex and inconsistent, leading to confusion and angst for Defence families, and further complicating the transition process.
The RSL NSW identified the lack of a single point of contact for ESO service delivery, and the absence of consistent standards, quality assurance and accreditation as having ‘contributed to a highly fragmented ESO ecosystem that can be difficult for government to deal with, and daunting for individual veterans new to the sector’.
DVA has a National Consultation Framework (NCF) of forums for ESO consultation and knowledge sharing, but that this body does not have the authority to make decisions or to provide coordination of services. The RSL NSW suggested that major ESO service providers collaboratively explore ways to improve Defence, DVA and ADF member engagement with the ESO sector, and recommended the creation of a peak body of professional ESO service providers, as a joint venture of major ESOs. A peak body, created as a separate legal entity following the model of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) in the international aid sector, could be responsible for accrediting ESO service providers based on a record of an ESO’s meeting specified requirements and standards. Accreditation could be a condition of DVA funding under the BEST grants program, with the relationship between the peak body and DVA formalised under terms set out in a memorandum of understanding. This would create barriers to the entry of new ESOs, as well as to the continuation of small existing ones, and would ‘contribute to the defragmentation of the ESO sector which is in the best interests of veterans and veterans’ families’. Mates4Mates also recommended the introduction of a formalised accreditation process.
Several submissions referred to the benefits that a higher degree of structure within the ESO space could bring. Suggestions for achieving this include:
Establishing a means of formal accreditation within the ESO sector so as to provide confidence for stakeholders and clients;
Creating a register of ESOs for the use of current and former members of the ADF, and the Departments of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs;
Establishing a Peak Body of ESOs, to improve cross-sector governance and quality assurance;
Establishing one-stop shops to enable veterans and their families to understand and access services, reducing stress, and improving health and wellbeing outcomes;
Training and employing professional case managers to provide veterans with a single point of contact to co-develop comprehensive outcomes focused plans;
Reviewing and updating ADF and DVA directives on engagement with ESOs; and
Encouraging service providers to focus on achieving outcomes through more strategic funding approaches.
Mates4Mates made three main comments in evidence to the inquiry:
The ESO space is very cluttered;
The limited access and availability of ESO information at transition services; and
In-service access and stigma associated with accessing ESO services while still in uniform.
A number of ESOs complained that it was difficult to gain access to ADF Transition Centres and Transition Seminars, and that access was determined on an ad hoc basis dependent upon personal contacts, rather than on a broader department-wide policy of engagement with ESOs.
Some ESOS referred to difficulties in informing current serving members of the services that they offer. Mates4Mates found that one of the most effective ways for them to do that was through on-base Soldier Recovery Centres. Soldier Recovery Centres have been very receptive to engaging with ESOs, as they see benefit for the wounded, injured and ill members, especially those on a medical discharge pathway. This approach allows for the seamless transfer of a member to the support of a Mates4Mates Family Recovery Centre on medical discharge.
The emergence of professional ESOs which proactively engage with ADF members is having a positive effect on spreading awareness of the best ways to approach transitioning from the military:
In conclusion, the barriers are numerous and ingrained with a longstanding methodology; firstly, ADF display reluctance to collaborate with ESOs, perhaps rightly so; secondly, the majority of ESOs are reactive, waiting for people to come to them and the levels of competence for services provided is questionable. This leaves the defence personnel and their families in an awkward position, entering a new life without knowing how to utilise/translate the skills they have to civilian life. However, professional ESOs are emerging who are proactively engaging current personnel and younger former service personnel through peer groups. This is growing in its effectiveness as word spreads through the enlisted ranks beginning to bridge the transition gap, through awareness of how to move on from military and integrate with civilian life. After all, those who have this transition experience are more suited to support and educate those considering taking this step.
Notwithstanding the large number of ESOs currently in existence, there is not much overlap between them:
I was just going to add: there’s a common thing that people say about how there are 3,600 ESOs in Australia and how can you attempt to work with all of them? There are a lot of organisations out there, but there are very much a smaller number that are actually out there every day providing services. The overlap between the ESO community isn’t as big as people think it is. We don’t do what RSL does and we don’t do what Legacy does. What we could do very well if we could come together in a holistic, wraparound model, in conjunction with DVA and Defence, is ensure that it is all coordinated and there are no gaps. For example, at Soldier On we specialise in employment and transition. We’ve got 119 companies that are signed up to our program, so that’s a real strength of ours. But we don’t do advocacy. Instead we refer individuals and their families to RSL and Legacy where there’s advocacy involved. I think that’s going to be a real driver for change when it all gets coordinated.
Soldier On also said it had previously spoken of the development of a peak body for ESOs, or an overarching committee. The Alliance of Defence Service Organisations (ADSO) has a number of organisations under its umbrella, and intends to provide a stronger voice on issues impacting the conditions of current and formerly serving members of the ADF, but is not a peak body as such. If it was decided to create a peak body, this would take a long time to do so.
Research has found that many ‘felt overwhelmed by the well-meaning but uncoordinated approach of ESOs’. These issues ‘negatively impact the motivation for veterans to use ESOs, and this is evidenced by the statistic that 70 per cent of those transitioning don’t engage with them’. This is worsened by ‘the perceptions of competition or factions between ESOs, all of which represent the antithesis of service ideology, which is ultimately underscored by a sense of unity’. Dr Dabovich recommended that a way to effectively support the development and utilisation of ESOs is to ‘consider them within a broader transition framework, perhaps underscored by public health principles’, of which an important element would be ‘a level of coordination at national and state levels that may have a capacity to monitor, support and … critically analyse their effectiveness’.
Given the organic nature of growth in ESOs and their broad range of aims, it is unclear how formal accreditation or a register would work in practice. ESOs are, in the main, voluntary organisations and it is a dynamic sector. Beyond imposing the governance requirements that are an obligation of all non-profits it is hard to envisage how the Government could effectively regulate the ESO space to ensure better outcomes for veterans. Matters such as the establishment of a peak body or accreditation are matters best left to the ESO sector to navigate. The Government should continue its focus on improving the management of transition for ADF personnel and the provision of support to veterans and their families; while the ESO sector should be left free to provide additional support whenever individual ESOs determine they can facilitate an ADF member’s transition or support the needs of veterans and their families.
Government cooperation with ESOs
The departments of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs currently engage with and promote ESOs by a number of means, including the following:
The Engage website provides a common entry point or ‘one-stop shop’ that is accessible electronically through a number of platforms. It provides access to a range of websites allowing current and former ADF members and their families to search for information, support and services from Government agencies, not-for-profit service providers, ESOs and charities. ESOs are encouraged to advertise their employment services for ex-ADF members there by registering as a service provider.
The 13 ADF Transition Centres promote ESOs and the services and benefits they provide, ‘without prejudice’.
The 23 two-day ADF Transition Seminars conducted annually, at which ESOs are welcome to set up as stall holders. A video overview of ESOs and the services they provide is presented at each seminar ‘to provide consistent messaging of the benefits of ESOs’.
A pilot of Medical Transition Forums in Brisbane and Townsville, containing an enhanced focus on the information and support services delivered by ESOs to members and their families.
Soldier Recovery Centres established by Army on a number of Defence bases, at which ESOs work in partnership with Defence to deliver programs and information to assist with the rehabilitation or transition of ADF members.
ESO events and activities promoted by Defence to ADF members and their families through a variety of social media platforms including DCO’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, and the DCO website.
DVA formally engages with a range of ESOs through national, state and territory forums under the National Consultative Framework. This framework is designed to facilitate effective communication between the veteran and ex-service community and DVA and includes the Ex-Service Organisational Round Table (ESORT), the younger Veterans – Contemporary Needs Forum, the National Aged and Community Care Forum, the Female Veterans Forum and the Veterans’ Families Policy Forum.
In recognition of the complex veteran legislative environment, DVA funds the training of ESO advocates in compensation and welfare through the Advocacy Training and Development Program.
Welfare Training focuses on providing the skills to assist veterans, their dependants and former serving members to access the wide variety of community services that are available, and Training for Compensation focuses on developing the skills required to assist the veteran community and former serving members of the ADF.
DVA uses social media to communicate with the veteran community, their families, ESOs and other stakeholders.
Ex-Service Organisation Round Table (ESORT) meetings are coordinated and managed by DVA, and act as the main forum for dialogue between the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the Military Rehabilitation Compensation Commission (MRCC), the Repatriation Commission, and the leadership of the ESO and Defence communities. ESORT also provides advice on how government can better facilitate a common approach to veteran and ex-service issues given the multiplicity of ex-service organisations which are not necessarily united in their common concerns.
Under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Program (PMVEP) DVA has undertaken research to assist in the design of the Ex-Service Organisation Industry Partnership Register. A similar facility has been made available through the Department of Defence’s Engage portal.
Defence is working with several ESOs to enhance the support services provided for transitioning members, including with RSL QLD, RSL Vic, Soldier On and Mates4Mates.
Defence and DVA consider that there is a significant amount of engagement with ESOs, which supports and facilitates engagement with individual ADF members and their families.
The ESO landscape is broad, varied and complex. Some ESOs act a s a ‘hub’ where former members of the ADF and their families may find information on transition services, referrals to welfare services, healthcare professionals, and employment search services. Some ESOs provide a service to people in their local area, for example providing advocacy services. Others such as the RSL have a nationwide network, with varying local arrangements.
A number of those who made submissions to this inquiry suggested various ways to bring more order to the ESO sector. One method suggested was to establish a means of formal accreditation within the ESO sector, so providing more confidence to stakeholders and clients; another was to establish a Peak Body of ESOs, and so improve cross-sector governance and quality assurance. One suggestion was that a stronger service provider focus on outcomes could be achieved through more strategic funding approaches. It was also suggested that ADF and DVA directives on engagement with ESOs be reviewed and updated.
The number and proliferation of ESOs is an indication that the Departments of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs may not be covering all the aspects of transition optimally. Such large numbers of people should not need help to negotiate a system that is fit for purpose. The Committee acknowledges however the advances that have been made in recent years in the approaches of the Departments of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs to transition.
While it is apparent that there is a lack of order among the wide variety of ESOs, changes such as those suggested need to largely come from within the sector itself.
Information Needs of Government
There have been calls to include questions on the next Census on previous military and operational service, both to gain a better appreciation of the distribution of veterans across the nation, and to enable state and local government to better target programs to meet the needs of former ADF members moving after leaving the ADF.
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs keeps data on only those former members of the ADF who have chosen to contact them and make a claim. There is currently no source of information on the number and distribution of the veteran population throughout the country. It has been proposed that given the reactive nature of DVA service provision, funding could perhaps be better distributed to communities based on accurate data relating to age, family situation and distribution of the veterans’ community. Including questions in the Census on previous military and operational service would provide accurate data on the number and distribution of veterans within our communities.
State and Territory governments have requested data on where transitioning ADF members are settling so that they may better plan for and provide health, welfare and employment services to meet the needs of their residents. The lack of this data hinders the ability of state and territory governments to effectively plan programs and services to adequately meet the needs of all of the veterans who have transitioned to civilian life in their local areas. The Western Australian government has noted the increased cooperation between the Department of Defence and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Early Engagement Model, and hopes that this will lead to regularly sharing data with the states and territories to enable policy development and service provision. It also noted that if the Commonwealth were to share separation data with the states and territories, this would enable the development of policies that promote and encourage the employment of veterans.
Veterans SA, the South Australian government agency responsible for matters affecting the veteran community in South Australia, told the Committee that the South Australian ‘Valuing our Veteran’ community data collection project aims to have every government department ask the service status of individuals when they first present, and includes government departments managing social issues such as health, mental health, homelessness, education and corrections. This information will provide the government with as accurate a picture as possible of the veteran community in South Australia, which will inform the state government’s decision making.
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs told the Committee that in the last few years it has focused on developing the data to tell ‘the real story’ of veterans. It has been announced that a veteran identifier is under active consideration with a range of other questions for the 2021 census. The Premier of South Australia wrote to the Australian Statistician requesting that a question on who has had military service be included in the next census.
Veterans SA also suggested that providing veterans with a Medicare card with a ‘V’ embossed on it to denote ‘veteran’ would enable medical service providers to know that they are dealing with a veteran client. This would assist state government health service providers to identify early whether a patient is a veteran and enable them to quickly establish whether the patient was covered by the DVA.
Placing a marker for prior military service on Medicare cards would make this information quickly and easily accessible to health care providers and hospitals, so that they can better treat patients with military service, using funds dedicated at state and territory level especially for the treatment of this cohort. An advantage of this method of alerting health care providers to the status of the recipient as a former member of the ADF, is that the individual would not need to take any action or initiate any particular request with the service provider.
The Committee welcomes the interest that State and Territory governments are demonstrating in the welfare of veterans living in their jurisdictions and their concern to ensure that their obligations to veterans under the health agreements with DVA are met. The care of veterans is a responsibility shared by all levels of government and the Australian community. The Commonwealth Government should support other levels of government as much as possible by ensuring that appropriate information on veterans is available to support decision making.
The Committee recommends that the Government consider the requirements of government and other health service providers at the federal, state and local levels for accurate information on the locations and needs of former serving members of the ADF, and:
Provide for a question or questions in the Census about service in the ADF; and
Provide identifiers in the Medicare Card Reference Number to indicate that an individual has prior service in the ADF and is entitled to medical care as a former serving member of the ADF.
Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald
Senator Jim Molan, AO DSC
Joint Standing Committee onDefence Sub-committee
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade