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Previous Ministers' releases and speeches - Senator The Hon. Michael Ronaldson

Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC
Special Minister of State

PDF version (104 KB)

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Transcript of Speech on the Occasion of the Opening of the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health Melbourne


[Greetings omitted]

Firstly, I would like to thank Professor Michael Vitale and Professor David Forbes for inviting me here today.

The coverage of veterans’ mental health and PTSD in the media over the weekend is a timely reminder of the enormous task in front of us.

As I have often said, our job is not to tailor programmes based on what we think the uptake might be.

Rather, it is to ensure that there are systems in place no matter how many people need them.

As one of Australia’s leading centres in trauma-related mental health for the veteran and military community, ACPMH has supported my Department with high quality work in the areas of policy, service and systems advice and research and training. 

The health and wellbeing of Australia’s serving ADF members and of our veteran population continues to be a primary focus for the Federal Government.

As the shadow minister, over three years in opposition, I conducted more than 100 veterans forums so I am no stranger to the issues facing our veteran population

Prior to the election a detailed policy document and agenda was announced by the Coalition to make sure our servicemen and women have the support they need both now and in to the future.

Since coming into Government, I have made it clear that the mental health of veterans is a key priority for the Coalition. I have also made it clear that we must never repeat the mistakes that were made post the Vietnam War when this country let down those men who were doing no more and no less than serving their nation. 

Underpinning these commitments is our four pillar approach to veterans’ affairs.

Recognising the unique nature of military service;
Maintaining a stand alone Department of Veterans’ Affairs;
Tackling mental health challenges for veterans and their families;
Supporting veterans through adequate advocacy and welfare services.

Can I also say that addressing the mental health needs of veterans is a challenge not only for this Department, but for all governments as well as for veterans and their families. 

Early intervention is undoubtedly the surest way to minimise the risk of escalating symptoms which in the worst cases can lead to tragic loss of life.

The challenge for the Department is to have in place access to the services required for early intervention. 

The challenge for veterans and their families is to acknowledge their health issues early rather than later; when the challenges are multiplied and the opportunities for recovery are minimised.

As many veterans and current serving members have said to me, the reluctance to seek assistance or acknowledgement of mental health issues can be motivated by many factors, including fear of failure, an overwhelming feeling that they are letting down their mates and families and, also, the potential impacts on their careers.

I acknowledge all of these concerns without hesitation.

Therefore, challenges facing the Department cannot be underestimated.

As you are aware, many of our current and former serving Australian Defence Force personnel suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

We want to ensure that the highest level of support is available, and that the veteran community and their families know that help is available and that help can make a difference.

What our statistics tell us is that as at September 2013 around 46,500 DVA clients were known to have a mental health condition, of these around 28,500 have a stress disorder (including PTSD).

In relation to more recent service, as at the end of September 2013, there were 2,396 veterans with one or more accepted mental health conditions from post-1999 conflicts.

DVA spends about $166 million each year on veteran mental health, providing access to a broad range of mental health support, geared towards early intervention, self support and treatment.

More than $61 million of this is spent on inpatient and outpatient mental health treatments at public and private hospitals in states and territories across Australia.

From July 2014, DVA will expand arrangements for mental health treatment for eligible veterans, without the need to lodge a compensation claim.

This treatment option will be available to veterans who have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression and alcohol and other substance misuse disorders.

As we see more of our personnel returning from Afghanistan, DVA’s collaborative partnership with ACPMH and Defence is vital in helping us to deliver the continuum of support that is crucial.

ACPMH has come a long way since it began as the National Centre for War-Related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in 1995.

ACPMH was responsible for the delivery of the ‘Australian Guidelines for the Treatment of Acute Stress Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.’ These were updated in 2013.

These guidelines are vital in supporting our mental health practitioners to deliver best practice evidence based care to our veterans.

What ACPMH has achieved in the veteran and military mental health research space is profound.

Research projects such as Australia’s first randomised controlled treatment trial (Cognitive processing therapy) treatments for veterans with PTSD; Pathways to care investigating service seeking in veterans applying for and receiving DVA compensation; Barriers to Rehabilitation Phases 1&2, Evaluation of DVA mental health initiatives, Family studies/family functioning in veterans and partners and Anger/measurement of anger in combat-related PTSD.

These research projects have resulted in a range of enhancements and improvements being applied to the services we deliver to the veteran community.

The development of mental health self-care information materials and e-health options for veterans and their families has supported a person-centred approach to mental health and well-being. 

The work that lies ahead for ACPMH will no doubt bring with it challenges, but only when we are challenged in the work we do, do we produce the best results.

The new premises here in the Allan Gilbert Building, will provide the space for ACPMH to continue developing its services to the veteran community, to the defence force, and to the Australian community more broadly.

I look forward to seeing the relationship between ACPMH, University of Melbourne and DVA continue to grow and bring benefits for both parties, and ultimately our veteran community.

While we are here today, I would also like to take the opportunity to talk about the Department’s new research tool, the Evidence Compass.

The DVA Evidence Compass is a website whereby research literatures are organised, reviewed, synthesised and disseminated on questions of high importance to DVA. It is imperative that the department has a consistent approach to literature reviews and a clear schema to map all available research and evidence.

In essence, The Evidence Compass, allows all relevant research literature to be kept in a centralised repository, where it can be accessed and used to guide future decision making.  It is a tool for researchers, clinicians and policy staff, and also is accessible to the broader community. 

The Evidence Compass is a searchable database that summarises the literature reviews commissioned by the Department. It is now possible for researchers, policy and service delivery staff to have the most up to date evidence based research to guide policy development and treatment pathways for veterans on priority issues for DVA.

In my many years in politics, and as Opposition Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and now as Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, I know the importance of forming and sustaining strong relationships.

I can see that the relationship between DVA, Defence and ACPMH has enabled us to build a solid foundation of mental health resilience and support structures for our servicemen and women and their families.

In light of this relationship, it is my great pleasure to be invited to speak and perform official duties today. 

I thank you all again for having me here and look forward to working with ACPMH in the future to address the issues that arise and to ensure our serving and former serving members have the support to which they are not only entitled to, but also deserve.

As we are nearing the end of the year, I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

And finally, can I do as I came here to do and officially open the new home of the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health.


Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) and Veterans Line can be reached 24 hours a day across Australia for crisis support and free and confidential counselling. Phone 1800 011 046

PDF version (104 KB)