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Clarity needed on future of Veterans' Affairs

Opinion

The Coalition should be clear about where it stands on a recommendation to dismantle the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, says Labor’s Amanda Rishworth.

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This week the Productivity Commission begin a series of public hearings to discuss the recommendations of their draft review into the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, starting today in Adelaide.

This draft report which was released just before Christmas recommended sweeping reforms to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs which, if enacted, would see the department dismantled.

Preceded by the Repatriation Department and Department of Repatriation and Compensation, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs as we know it was established in 1976. For 43 years, its role has been to serve those who have served this nation and their families.

And while the department has changed over the past 43 years, as our understanding of the impact of war and how best to assist those who have served has evolved, its presence is vital.

The department exists, in part, as an acknowledgment of the commitment and sacrifice made by those who have put their lives on hold to serve our country; to ensure individuals who have been wounded or injured while serving their country are not forgotten; to ensure we continue to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

But, importantly, it is there to assist our ADF personnel as they transition to civilian life and ensure that they have the best possible support and assistance from government after they have served our nation. A stand-alone department to assist in veterans’ health, financial and welfare needs is a nod to the service and sacrifice of our Australian soldiers.

The Productivity Commission’s position is that the system is not fit for purpose and requires fundamental reform.

We know there are fundamental issues in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs but it is critical to ensuring our veterans get the care and support they deserve.

DVA does more than just process claims. They provide a number of other services and support for members of the ex-serving community and their loved ones.

And while veterans can become rightly frustrated with the often lengthy and adversarial claims process, the many other services provided by the department are valued by many in the veterans community.

If a stand-alone Department of Veterans’ Affairs is abolished, where do these services go? Where will veterans and ex-service organisations go for help, support and to have their needs met? What will be that one-stop-shop for veterans?

Veterans rely on the department to assist with transport to and from medical appointments and to help facilitate support from allied health providers and home support services. They rely on the department to assist with medical aids and appliances.

And beyond these central services, the department also invests in research, such as the vital Vietnam Veterans Family Study which demonstrated the impact service can have on veterans loved ones. They also run trials to better support veterans, such as new treatments for PTSD and assistance dogs.

And the department, through mechanisms such as the Ex-Service Round Table, facilitates an ongoing relationship with ex-service organisations, ensuring they have a voice and are involved in the decisions which are being made about their wellbeing.

The Government’s response, so far, is to wait for the final report to be released – conveniently due after the next federal election.

But veterans deserve to know, as we approach the next election, whether the Morrison Government plans on splitting up the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and what impact this might have for our veterans and their loved ones.

The department plays a vital role in recognising our obligation to those who have served our country. Labor has made it clear that it does not support abolishing the department as a stand-alone entity.

The federal Coalition should do the same.

Amanda Rishworth is Labor MP for the South Australian seat of Kingston and Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs.

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