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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

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Monday, 5 May 2014


[Greetings omitted]

I am pleased to join you here today. As you may recall, the last time I visited was in December last year for the opening of this facility at the University of Melbourne.

Many of you will have heard me say this before, but I will continue to stress that the mental health of veterans is a key priority for the Coalition Government.

As a country and as a Government, we must never repeat the mistakes that were made post Vietnam, the scars of which are still being felt today.

Underpinning everything the Government and my Department are doing 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.

Addressing the mental health needs of veterans is a challenge not only for my Department, but for the Government as a whole, as well as for the veteran community and their families.

Early intervention is the surest way to minimise the risk of escalating symptoms and long term damage.

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 earlier 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 reservation.

When my Department briefed me on this new and exciting resource, I thought it important to be with you this morning. It is clear to me that a vital element in this process is providing the right training and resources to clinicians and the mental health workforce.

This program is significant because it showcases the resources that my Department has developed to assist clinicians to meet the mental health needs of a new generation of Australian veterans.

I am pleased that the Australian Government has partnered with tertiary institutions, like the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health, in developing these evidence-based resources.

It is quite clear that those who have served in the Australian Defence Force have had unique experiences.

The 2010 ADF Mental Health Prevalence and Wellbeing Study identified that 22 per cent of the ADF population had experienced a mental health condition in the previous twelve months, compared to a 20.7 per cent of a matched general community sample.

It is encouraging to learn that we are better prepared than we have been to recognise mental health problems, intervene early and provide effective treatments to enable our veterans the best opportunity for recovery.

Those who form part of the mental health workforce are critical partners in this mission.

One of the great challenges of our current time is to ensure that mental health practitioners are able to respond to the needs of contemporary veterans.

To assist in this task, evidence-based treatment has evolved over recent years.

Mental health workforce capability research conducted by ACPMH for my Department has identified capability gaps in the practice of evidence-based treatment for PTSD and treatment planning for complex co-morbid cases.

It was also identified that there was also a lack of understanding of the military and veteran experience which in some cases was a barrier to effective engagement with veteran patients.

Informed by this research, a suite of new online support and e-learning resources for providers has been developed by DVA. This suite of new resources are being showcased on screen behind me.

They include the At Ease Professional website, which is a one-stop online site for mental health providers treating veterans. The website offers access to evidence-based assessment and outcome tools, treatments options, patient resources and the latest research in military mental health.

The Mental Health Advice Book draws on the latest Australian and international best practice treatment of mental health issues and is designed to help practitioners apply their existing knowledge and expertise to both younger and older veterans. This handbook has been distributed to every mental health provider who provided a service to a veteran during the 2012 year.

DVA also offers free online training programs to increase the knowledge and skills of mental health providers who treat serving and ex-serving personnel.

These programs are available to all mental health providers, and deliver insight into the unique veteran experience and the specific mental health issues veterans face.

The Understanding the Military Experience online training program helps providers better understand how military service can affect the mental health of serving and ex-serving personnel.

The vetAWARE program assists community nurses to better understand the mental health challenges faced by our most vulnerable veterans and war widows, identify symptoms and refer appropriately.

DVA partners with Australia’s leading academic institutions to develop these resources.

I am pleased to announce today that DVA is once again partnering with ACPMH and working with the Royal Australian College of General Practice to develop a new program for GPs on veteran mental health for the RACGP’s GP online learning portal. The program will complement the new Managing disaster and trauma related mental health online program funded by the Department of Health.

The new Case Formulation e-learning program being launched today will assist clinicians to prioritise multiple conditions and adopt a case formulation and treatment planning approach with their clients. Veterans commonly present with co-morbid disorders and complex needs that require careful treatment planning.

The new Case Formulation e-learning program has been developed for DVA by ACPMH and Future Train.

The new e-learning program will assist providers to focus on presenting problems that are likely to have the most impact on recovery and help them set priorities for treatment planning.

The Government, my Department and the Department of Defence are committed to improving mental health resilience, promoting and enabling early intervention, and seeking quality health care to meet the needs of all veterans now and into the future.

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

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