President’s Annual Report – November 2016
The Partners of Veterans Association of Australia Inc. (P.V.A. Australia Inc.) is a nationwide support network for partners, ex partners, widows, widowers and families of past and present members of the Australian Defence Force. We are committed to providing every support and assistance practicable for their welfare, health and special needs including the impact on the family when caring for disabled former or current ADF members. The National body provides leadership and advocacy to the State branches who in turn coordinate the flow of information to and from the national association.
Nationally as well, our role is to represent the concerns of our constituents to the Federal government and various government departments in an effort to improve their lifestyle.
Following these words I now present to you my annual report.
2016 has seen a somewhat slow and disjointed start to the year with another federal election in early July, resulting in delays with May budgetary outcomes and a substantial loss of time as the government went into a longer than usual caretaker mode. Whilst Malcolm Turnbull was returned as Prime Minister we saw yet again a change of the Minister for Veteran Affairs. Dan Tehan member for Wannon was appointed Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Defence Materiel as well as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cyber Security and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC.
Our representations to government this year remained largely the same as the previous year; removal of any age restrictions (up to 26 years) on eligible children of Veterans to receive counselling through the Veteran and Veterans Family Counselling Service (VVCS); clearer guidelines on subsidised accommodation for carers from remote areas when their Veteran is hospitalised away from home and they wish to stay close by; child care to be made available for younger partners who need to access face to face counselling through VVCS and child care is an issue; and Crisis Accommodation to be widened through an underutilised VVCS program and made available for needy partners and children of veterans.
I am pleased to announce that our representations for the removal of the age restriction for eligible children of veterans from more recent conflicts to receive counselling through VVCS has been successful and all we await is a commencement date for this to occur. This is an issue that our association alone has taken to government over a number of years and we are so pleased that we have at last succeeded in our endeavours.
Another major achievement for the association was the announcement in the May budget of the granting of 2.1 million over the next two years to the Kookaburra Kids Foundation to run a pilot program for children of current or former military members who live with a person suffering from mental health issues. Commencing in January 2017 camps will be held in NSW, ACT, Qld and NT. With positive outcomes, it would follow that further money will be granted at the end of the two years for camps in SA, Vic, WA and Tasmania. Having been involved from our first representations to government, we have appointed Pat Cleggett our former national secretary as our national coordinator to help wherever possible for the Kookaburra Kids camps to be successful.
After signing a memorandum of understanding to join with other national ex-service organisations to become a voice within the Alliance of Defence Service Organisations (ADSO), this group has now expanded to have seventeen member associations. We attended a meeting in Melbourne in February to ascertain our issues that we would pursue over the next six months as a combined force and in particular bring them to all sides of government prior to the election in July. This in no way inhibits us as an association voicing our own issues to government but as part of the alliance it strengthens the impact that such a large contingent from the veteran community make. I returned for a further meeting in Melbourne at the end of October which was attended by Sir Angus Houston (Rt’d) a former Chief of the Defence Force and representatives from other ESO’s who are looking to join with ADSO. Overall it was an excellent meeting with fresh ideas put forward for the year to come.
May saw the national association meet in Melbourne where we spent 3 very successful full days in meetings. During our time there we met Buster the assistance dog, Victoria’s first dog to graduate for the Young Diggers Dog Squad, with I understand, more to come! Members from Victoria joined us for a very moving service at the Shrine of Remembrance to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan and afterward we shared a very nice afternoon. Our midyear meeting for 2017 will be held in Adelaide and we look forward to meeting up with many of our SA members.
Eventually after the federal election another busy year on top of our usual welfare work continued, which leads me to our core business of supporting all former or current partners, widows/ widowers and their families.
Once again I stress the fact that there are no paid staff in our association, we are all volunteers and once again I thank each and every one of you for the magnificent job that you do every year. Thank you sounds so meagre for the time and friendship that our volunteers give of themselves but I am sincere in my thanks.
National Forums and meetings
Member representation continues on the National Health Aged Care and Community Forum, and the Ex Service Round Table of National Presidents (ESORT). When her term was up, Mel Pyrah our representative on the Prime Ministers Advisory Council decided to concentrate her time at a state level and did not put her hand up for re-appointment. Consequently as a result of this we put forward a younger member whose husband is currently serving. As of writing we have not received an answer but are very hopeful of a successful outcome, as we were with our nomination of a young member in Tasmania as the partners/families representative on the National Advisory Council to the Veterans and Veterans Family Counselling Service (VVCS) As well as the aforementioned forums the department is looking at forming a female forum and plans are underway to set this in motion. A project called the Lighthouse Project is another initiative of veteran affairs to reduce red tape, repetitive questions and time taken for claims to be processed through the department. There are a great many other issues this project is looking at with one meeting of the ex-service community and department heads already held and more to come.
A Senate Inquiry into Veteran Suicide and other related issues will see great changes in the way the department of Veteran Affairs will operate into the future. Our association not only contributed towards the ADSO submission on behalf of partners and families but alone put forward our own submission. We concentrated exclusively on the effects of not only suicide on the partner and families but other related issues such as domestic violence, separation, mental illness, homelessness and the angst associated with transitioning out of the Defence force.
Response to Summary Paper – Review of Veterans’ Advocacy Training, compulsory training that Pension and Welfare officers must undertake to support the veteran Community has been released and will commence in July 2017 with a more stringent agenda for training.
Our membership climbs steadily each year, but sadly also over the past 12 months we have lost a number of our WW2, Korean and Vietnam partners many of whom have supported us since our inception. Interest from younger partners is on the increase and many of us are willing to mentor the younger ones to keep our association relevant and up to date.
1300 Help Line
Nationally our Help Line continues to operate very successfully with answer points in all states. The Help Line continues to work well with many states receiving calls for welfare support and/or information and referral.
National Facebook Page and Web Site
Our Facebook page has also operated very well over the past 12 months and is a very effective way of getting news and information out into the community quickly. An excellent source of information for younger partners and those not so young our Facebook page and Web Site continues to be attractive and relevant. For information that needs to be sent out to members quickly we use Facebook which can be accessed at www.facebook.com/partnersofveteransaus so checking this site every few days keeps our news up to date.
Outsourcing the printing and posting of the magazine in March this year for the first time produced a few hiccups that have been sorted quite successfully. The magazine remains one of our greatest welfare information tools and will be produced this way as opposed to an on-line production until our members tell us differently. If ever there is a problem with your copy of the magazine please phone our Help Line on 1300 553 835 and press your relevant state button. Don’t forget our magazine is posted in March/April, July and November/December. Members who are not financial after the July magazine will receive the Nov/Dec edition so check your cover post page to make sure when you are paid to. Those not paid to June 2017 will no longer receive a magazine so members please make sure you check this out.
Our state branches are where all our hands on work occurs, where any problems or issues within our membership stems from, as information is passed from this level up to state committees to be resolved. Welfare Officers then assist members and the veteran community with information relevant to the assistance needed. Social interaction and support by meeting in groups, organising coffee and chat or luncheon outings as well as bus trips and short respite holidays is an important part of state branch business. Other activities include:
1. Assist members, veterans and families whenever the need arises;
2. Attend DVA Deputy Commissioner meetings in every state and territory;
3. Attend VVCS Consultative forums in regional areas of their state;
4. Represent the state at Pension and Welfare meetings and forums; attend certified Welfare training courses;
6. Hold Member Days at various locations to encourage members to socialise and support each other;
7. Speak about P.V.A. at VVCS Lifestyle Couples Courses for Partners and Veterans;
8. Hospital and home visits to sick partners, widows and veterans;
9. Promote health and wellbeing at social outings, bus trips, walking groups, craft groups, assist in arranging
respite for members,
10. Attend Commemorative services across all states;
A first for our association occurred in September where the NSW branch of our association combined with the NSW Branch of the War Widows Guild and jointly applied for a DVA grant to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. This was a most successful and moving ceremony held at Hyde Parke memorial in Sydney and attended by close to 300 people. Even though the weather could have been a little kinder on the day the ceremony was one I will never forget, concentrating in the main on the widows, partners and families of Vietnam Veterans.
This brings my Annual Report to a close and I look forward to many more successful years in the future.