President’s Annual Report – November 2017

It is with a touch of sadness that I write this, my last annual report as your president as I have decided I will stand down after 14 years in the position. During those past 14 years I have tried my absolute utmost to help improve conditions along with the health and well- being of all partners/carers and their families in the veteran community.

As I step down I hand over the position to a lady who like me, has the interest of all partners and their families close to her heart. Former President of Victoria, Heather Evans stands unopposed for the position of National President and I am certain she will lead our Association to even greater heights. I will be remaining on the National Board to offer Heather any assistance she may require but I am sure she will be an absolute dynamo as your National President.

I now present to you my Annual Report for 2017.

As opposed to 2016, 2017 has been a busy and mostly productive year, the Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) and our Minister finally settling down and trying to get the department functioning in a more cohesive manner. The department received major funding in the May Budget to upgrade the computer systems; funding long overdue as DVA was being crippled by a totally inadequate system. DVA is desperately trying to come into the 21st century by introducing an online claims system and many other initiatives to satisfy a younger cohort who rely heavily on the internet. We will have to wait and see how their new ideas and changes will improve a system that has been long overdue for improvement.

Be that as it may, accolades must go to the Department for the introduction of the Non-Liability White Card covering anyone who has been in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) for as little as one day. The card covers all mental health conditions plus counselling through the Veterans & Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) and is a step in the right direction for gaining treatment for mental health conditions quickly.

It was a pleasing surprise when in the May Budget an issue we had been advocating for many years finally received the attention it deserved. Separated and divorced Partners have struggled along with limited counselling sessions available to them through VVCS and when there are children from the veteran, it is essential that the partner can access counselling if required.

This is what came out of the May Budget:
Any partner, dependent or immediate family member will have access to the services and support provided by VVCS, including counselling and group programs;

Former partners of ADF personnel will also be able to access VVCS up to 5 years after a couple separates, or while co-parenting a child under the age of 18 years.

Good News at last for Separated/ Divorced Partners!

The Alliance of Defence Service Organisations (ADSO) or more commonly called the Alliance, continues to grow in strength and members of that group have committed to collaborate more closely to try and gain much needed changes that will benefit the veteran community. Representatives meet as often as possible; prior to every Ex-service Organisations Round Table meeting (ESORT) which are held 3 times a year and then usually once more in Melbourne. Membership of the Alliance now consists of the following organisations:

The Defence Force Welfare Association (DFWA),Naval Association of Australia (NAA), RAAF Association (RAAFA)Royal Australian Regiment Corporation (RARC)Australian Special Air Service Association (ASASA), Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia (VVAA), the Australian Federation of Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Ex-Service Men and Women, the Fleet Air Arm Association of AustraliaPartners of Veterans Association of AustraliaRoyal Australian Armoured Corps Corporation (RAAC)the National Malaya & Borneo Veterans Association Australia (NMBVAA), the Defence Reserves Association (DRA)The Australian Gulf War Veterans AssociationMilitary Police Association Australia (MPAA),Australian Army Apprentices Association,the Australian Commando Association and  The War Widows Guild. ADSO also have a “shared intent” (to join in the Collaborative initiative) with Overwatch Support Association Australia, Soldier On, Quinoline Veterans and Families Association and the Young Veterans collective.

A national collaboration between all these associations will only see good outcomes for those we represent; the veteran community!

Kookaburra Kids has been our success story with children of current and former defence personnel the winners! After the government awarded Kookaburra Kids $2.1 Million back in the 2016 Budget for camps and outings for children who live with a Defence person with a mental illness there have been free 2 day educational camps held in the ACT and NSW as well as activity days.

These have been highly successful and we look forward to children of current and former defence members benefiting from Kookaburra Kids visiting their state to run these highly successful camps and activity days.

Check articles in P.V.A. News in your state section for dates and locations of upcoming activities.

Our mid-year meeting this year were hosted by SA P.V.A. and held in Adelaide. They were planned and run like clockwork by the SA girls and thank you to all who were involved in making these meetings so enjoyable. Thanks also goes to DVA in Adelaide where our meetings were held, it was an excellent venue and we were well looked after. It was wonderful to meet up with the many members who came along on Members Day for a wonderful trip to Maggie Beers for shopping and a cooking demonstration and then moved on for lunch. The vineyards and scenery were spectacular and all had a most enjoyable afternoon.

A spectacular finish to our meetings in Adelaide was a radio interview with long time member and interviewer Helen Myer who works at Radio Adelaide and is the production manager for a program called “Service Voices

Service Voices, heard around Australia through the Community Radio Network brings stories, ideas, and memories from the wider service community, hearing perspectives that might otherwise be lost in the passing of time. Our interview involved me as well as quite a few of our other board members who spoke of the difficulties and the many roadblocks that living with a veteran can bring, but also the help and support that our Association has given them and many others in similar situations. It was an excellent interview and lasted for approximately 50 minutes.

National Forums and meetings

Board member from Queensland, Alison Bowman continues to represent the Association on the National Health Aged Care and Community Forum (NHACC); Secretary Rona Lunney represents us on the Operational Working Party (OWP); WA Board member Bev Benporath and Rona Lunney attend the Female Veterans and Family Forum (FVFF); I attend the Ex Service Organisations Round Table (ESORT.) Younger member from Tamworth, Joy Jenkins, represents the National Association on the Prime Minister's Advisory Council on Veterans' Mental Health (PMAC) and another younger member from Tasmania, Melanie Pike, represents Partners and Families on the National Advisory Council NAC) for the VVCS.

All national forums other than the FVFF meet at least 3 times per year, as do all State Deputy Commissioner of DVA meetings which are attended by state representatives, so you can see our presence grows stronger each year. There are a myriad of other meetings that are attended by state committee’s members and local members in each state. These members are all volunteers; there is no paid staff in the Partners of Veterans Association either nationally or at a state level. My congratulations to all these volunteers, you do a magnificent job and I truly thank you for the time and effort you put in to support your fellow partners and their families.

This last year Lesley Minner and I also appeared before the Senate Committee on the Inquiry into Veteran Suicide and other Related Issues, and spoke with the Senate about the effect on the partner and family of living with a veteran with mental health issues. Our submission to this enquiry was printed in the December 2016 P.V.A. News and results from that enquiry are now available on the Senate website.

Lesley and I also attended a working party on simplifying the Claims process through DVA; what was wrong and what was working was the main thrust of the working party. There was a great deal that an experienced number of people representing quite a number of ESOs thought could be improved, we now need DVA to start putting some of these suggestions into action! We attended this meeting simply to put forward from the partner’s point of view, how the claims process can have a huge impact on the lifestyle of the family as a whole.

Another meeting held each year is a combined Defence/DVA meeting which is brilliant as both these departments work so closely together and of course our Minister is also the Minister for Defence Personnel. This meeting in particular keeps us up to date on initiatives between the two departments to help those Australian Defence Force members who in the future will require the services of DVA.

Defence has designed a website called Engage which has been put together to better inform the defence and veteran community of services available to them. Services covered are wide and varied and the site may be accessed at engage.forcenet.gov.au/

The National Association applied for a Younger Veterans Grant this year for those partners who were looking to re-join the work force. Unfortunately we were not successful but we are now looking at a program suitable for partners to gain some much needed experience and boost their self-esteem to set them on the path to re-employment.

Membership - even though we have new members join us each year, our efforts to get younger partners to join is slow. Each state has the ability through funding from the National Association to help younger partners in their state to have resumes written and basically give them a helping hand with limited expenses until they gain employment. The need to have younger partners in our Association is crucial for our association to survive and go on to help another generation of partners and families. It would be devastating to see all our good work and gains over the years come to a halt and then to be eroded by lack of representation for partners and families.

Good news! Our 1300 National Help Line is working well as is our Facebook and Website. There is more work to be done on our website but slowly we are getting it the way we would like. Facebook remains the quickest way to get messages out to the veteran community as does our network of other ESO contacts.

P.V.A. News had a huge hiccup with our July edition because of a data mistake made by the mailing company who mails out our magazine. In the end a letter was sent from the National Association to every member with their correct details and member number included for clarification and to rectify the incorrect details on their mailing sheet. We will be vigilant in the way the mailing sheets are to be done for our future magazines.

Our state branches are where all the hard work happens and there has been plenty of welfare work done by our dedicated Welfare Officers over the past 12 months.

Issues are passed from members to state committees to be resolved or if this does not occur then in turn passed to the National Association to be determined or taken further if necessary.

State branches are responsible for the following:

Social groups for members to meet and support each other;

Assistance for members and families in need;

Arrange for members to attend short respite holidays;

Speak at VVCS Lifestyle Courses to Partners and their Veteran;

Hospital and home visits to the veteran community;

Promote the health and wellbeing of Partners by arranging: Walking groups, Bus trips, craft groups, short cruises and social outings.

As well as all this state branches still have the serious side of attending a myriad of ESO and DVA meetings, making sure their welfare officers are up to date with their training, attend Welfare and VVCS meetings and of course attend to their own state business.

My hat goes off to all of our state branches for the great job they do and have done in particular this last year.

Finally I would like to acknowledge 35 years of service that the Veteran and Veterans Family Counselling Service (a service founded by Vietnam Veterans) has been supporting the veteran community.

A morning tea was held in Canberra attended by the National  Advisory Council to the VVCS and representatives from ESOs to acknowledge and mark this milestone.

This brings my final annual report to a close and once again I feel we have had a productive, busy and successful year. I wish all our members a happy, healthy and prosperous year to come.

In unity,