Meeting summaries

Meeting 9 August 2017, Parliament House, Canberra

The Prime Ministerial Advisory Council on Veterans’ Mental Health (the Council) met at Parliament House for its 13th meeting and 2nd for this year on 9 August 2017. The Chairman welcomed three new members to the Council, Dr. Sheralyn Rose, Ms Jocelyn Parsons and Mrs Joy Jenkins.

The Chair also noted the retirement of Ms Sue Campion in her capacity as an Ex Officio member of the Council and welcomed Ms Veronica Hancock as Ms Campion’s replacement.

There were no apologies for the meeting. After dealing with a range of administrative and standing items including previous minutes, a report from the Secretariat on outstanding Action Items, correspondence, a Defence update and a report on DVA and Defence research the Council turned its attention to emerging areas of interest.

The Council received comprehensive briefings from:

  • Ms Paula Dabovich, Higher Degree by Research candidate at The University of Adelaide presenting her thesis on Identity of Agency of High Risk/Highly Cohesive Soldiers Undergoing Rehabilitation in the Australian Army.
  • Dr. Lynelle Moon, Senior Executive Health Group of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
  • Mr Alex Gerrick, Assistant Secretary Communication and Engagement branch working on DVA’s Veteran Centric Reform.

Ms Dabovich’s presentation highlighted, using her considerable research, how personal experience shapes a soldier’s health-related behaviour during rehabilitation and transition. The Council discussed the concept of providing a “facilitating environment” to assist in transition. Importantly this includes the provision of such environments in both the ADF and community to build on veteran health expertise and allow our veterans to connect better with each other.

Ms Liz Cosson then led the Council in a discussion around the recent report, from the National Mental Health Commission, on their ‘Review into the Suicide and Self Harm Prevention Services Available to Current and Former Serving ADF Members and their Families’. In particular, the Government’s response to the report and subsequent budget initiatives announced were noted. In discussing the report the Council noted the Key Findings of the report and the importance of an appropriate communication strategy to better inform the veteran community, including families. The Council agreed that real progress was being made but there remains room for more to be done and the Council will continue to monitor progress.

Dr. Lynelle Moon then briefed the Council on the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report into the Incidence of suicide among serving and ex serving ADF personnel 2001 – 2015. The Council noted the report, in particular, the clear area of vulnerability around our younger veterans with shorter periods of service transitioning involuntarily. This was noted as a key issue and will be an important part of advice to the Minister in regard to Transition policy.

Ms Liz Cosson and Mr Alex Gerrick then provided the Council with an update on work ongoing in the Transition Taskforce. It was pleasing to note the common and aligned thinking in the taskforce and previous Council deliberations around transition.

The Council spent some time refining and discussing a recognised priority area of transition. The Council refreshed its previous deliberations on transition management and support for former members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The Council discussed the challenges of transitioning from military to civilian life and the importance of adequate preparation in transitioning ADF members, including health and wellbeing, and financial support.

The Council took for consideration a draft paper from the Secretariat for the Minister in regard to Transition policy. With some minor amendment the paper was agreed. The Secretariat was tasked to redraft the paper incorporating the Council’s comments and prepare a letter for the Minister.

The Council then had an opportunity to discuss with Minister Tehan the outcome of their deliberations. The Minister noted the views and advice provided by the Council.

The Council will meet again in Canberra on 5 December 2017 and will continue to progress significant work out of session.

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Meeting 2 March 2017, Parliament House, Canberra

The Prime Ministerial Advisory Council on Veterans’ Mental Health met at Parliament House for its seventh face to-face meeting on 2 March 2017.

The Council spent some time refining and discussing its current priority areas:

  • National Communication Strategy. The Council discussed a revised approach to a national communication strategy that has a strong focus on employment and its relationship to the transition process.
  • Vocational Rehabilitation. The Council received an update on the progress of the Veterans’ Employment Assistance Initiative being conducted by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA). The Council communicated its support of the Initiative and welcomed updates from DVA at future face-to-face meetings, as well as noting that any engagement and support required from the Council is encouraged.
  • Transition. The Council continued its previous deliberations on transition management and utilised a portion of the meeting to workshop the topic in depth. The Council aims to use the information from the session to develop a paper with advice to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs the Hon Dan Tehan MP (the Minister).

The Council received briefings from:

  • Ms Karen Court, Company Secretary from Overwatch, a first response organisation working in the veteran community to prevent suicide;
  • Air Vice-Marshal Tracy Smart, on updates to mental health research the Department of Defence is currently involved in.
  • Dr Martin Harris, CEO of Strategic Transitions, an Australian based company whose focus is to understand the characteristics and processes of transition.

The Council’s briefings from Dr Harris on transition formed the basis of an afternoon workshop on how to support Australian Defence Force (ADF) members at all stages of transition. Rear Admiral Brett Wolski RAN, Head of People Capability with the Department of Defence, briefed the Council on current processes in place to support members of the ADF. The Council considered how to include current services and support into a model of transition that has a multi-faceted approach to engagement for members of the ADF transitioning into civilian life. The Council will continue to refine its advice in relation to transition management and develop a paper for the Minister.

The Council will meet again face-to-face on 9 August 2017 and will continue to progress significant work out of session.

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Meeting 30 August 2016, Parliament House, Canberra

The Prime Ministerial Advisory Council on Veterans’ Mental Health met at Parliament House for its sixth face to-face meeting on 30 August 2016.

The Council spent some time refining and discussing its current priority areas:

  • Vocational Rehabilitation. The Council received an update on the progress of Veterans’ Employment Assistance Initiative being conducted by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA). The Council also discussed the announcement by the Prime Minister, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP, about the Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Initiative to be launched in November 2016. The Council discussed ways to support the Initiative.
  • Transition. The Council continued its previous deliberations on transition management and support for former members of the Australian Defence Force who have recently separated.
  • Homelessness and Incarceration. The Council received an update from DVA on the progression of work in relation to homelessness and incarceration among veterans. The Council discussed the forthcoming Veterans Ministers’ Round Table. The Council agreed that this was an excellent opportunity for the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments to work together to address issues affecting former members of the ADF. The Council agreed that homelessness and incarceration are important agenda items for this Round Table.
  • Peer Support. The Council received further briefings from DVA on the progress of the implementation of the Peer to Peer Support Network Pilot, noting that a second round of Peer Mentor Workshops are arranged for October 2016. In Townsville, the workshop will be held by Mental Illness Fellowship North Queensland and in Sydney, the workshop will be held by RSL DefenceCare in conjunction with St John of God Richmond Hospital.

The Council received briefings from:

  • Mr Michael von Berg on behalf of Overwatch, a first response organisation working in the veteran community to prevent suicide; and
  • Air Vice-Marshal Tracy Smart, on the priority work being undertaken in relation to mental health in the Department of Defence.

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Meeting 2 March 2016, Parliament House, Canberra

The Prime Ministerial Advisory Council on Veterans’ Mental Health met at Parliament House for its fifth face-to-face meeting on 2 March 2016.

The Council spent some time refining its advice to Government on its three strategic priorities:

  • Vocational Rehabilitation. The Council received an update on the progress of Veterans’ Employment Assistance Initiative being conducted by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA). The Council discussed the attractiveness and timing for a potential event in partnership with the Australian Government and senior leaders of corporate Australia. The event would recognise and promote the unique skills and values that former members of the ADF can provide to the broader national workforce and the benefits of employment in the prevention and management of mental health conditions. The Chair was empowered to write to the Minister with the Council’s advice on this issue.
  • National Communication Strategy. The Council noted the recent change in ministerial responsibility within the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio. The Council resolved to provide advice to the new Minister about the importance of a national communication strategy aimed at increasing community recognition and support for members and former members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and their families affected by mental health issues.
  • Peer-to-Peer Support. The Council received further briefings from DVA on the progress of the implementation of the Peer-to-Peer Support Network Programme pilot. The Council considered the desirability of a second forum for ex-service, and other community-based, organisations, modelled on the previous Peer-to-Peer Support Network Forum held on 26 November 2014, at the Australian War Memorial.

The Council continued its previous deliberations on transition management and support for former members of the ADF who have recently separated. The Chair briefed the Council on the outcome of recent meetings with the CDF and Mr Shane Carmody, the Chief Operating Officer of DVA. The Council received briefings from Mr Carmody, the Chief Operating Officer of DVA and Rear Admiral Brett Wolski, Head of People Capabilities of the Department of Defence on transition support for members of the ADF. The Council considered which organisations, both within and outside of government, might be best placed to initiate follow up contact with recently separated members of the ADF to ensure good health and wellbeing is being maintained post-transition. The Council has asked for further development of options for transition management be undertaken ahead of the next meeting.

The Council also continued to consider what advice it might provide to Government on the perceived gaps in services for children of former members of the ADF with mental health conditions. The Council is interested in possible partnerships with the ex-service community and existing mental health services for children.

The Council considered the outcomes of a performance assessment. Two areas identified through this review, that require further action, are the frequency of meetings and method by which the Council’s advice is conveyed to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs the Hon Dan Tehan MP (the Minister) and the Prime Minister. The Council resolved the Chair would address these concerns with the Minister out of session.

In addition, the Council received briefings from:

  • Colonel Nicole Sadler, Director, Strategic and Operational Mental Health, and Ms Carolina Casetta, Senior Mental Health Research Officer, from the Mental Health, Psychology and Rehabilitation Branch in the Department of Defence, on the Longitudinal ADF Study Evaluating Resilience (LASER) Study.
  • Professor Colette Browning and Lisa Hearn, from the Royal District Nurses Service Institute (RDNS), on the work being completed at the RDNS in relation to veterans and other former serving members of the ADF.

The Council met with the Minister, to provide him with an update on the deliberations at the meeting.

The Council will again meet face-to-face on 30 August 2016 and will continue to progress significant work out of session.

 

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Meeting 8 September 2015, Parliament House, Canberra

The Prime Ministerial Advisory Council on Veterans’ Mental Health met for its fourth face to-face meeting on 8 September 2015.

The Council continued its consideration of its three strategic priorities:

  • Vocational Rehabilitation. The Council received an update from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) on the progress of Veterans’ Employment Assistance Initiative including possible next steps.
  • National Communication Strategy. The Council continues to discuss a national communication strategy aimed at increasing community recognition and support for members and former members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and their families affected by mental health issues.
  • Peer-to-Peer Support. The Council received a briefing from DVA on the progression of the implementation of the Peer to Peer Support Network Programme pilot, which will commence in late 2015.

At the meeting, the Council continued its discussions on areas of emerging importance:

  • Veterans’ Homelessness. The Council received a brief on the Veterans At Risk report commissioned by DVA from business management consultants Thomson Goodall Associates in 2008 and delivered in 2009, and was provided an overview of the DVA initiatives that assist veterans, including those homeless or at risk and their families, implemented since 2009–2010. The Council noted the work being done by DVA and the Ex-Service Organisation Round Table to address the issue of homelessness amongst former members of the ADF.
  • Incarcerated Veterans. The Council considered a number of items of correspondence from state and territory governments about the difficulties in ascertaining comprehensive and accurate data about the number of former members of the ADF in prison systems. The Council continues to consider further strategies to engage with state and territory governments to improve data on this issue.
  • Transition Management. The Council commenced an examination of the experiences of ADF personnel and their families as they transition to civilian life. The Council will provide advice on how the transition process might be better positioned to promote early access to mental health support and treatment.

The Council received briefings from:

  • Mr David Butt, Chief Executive Officer of the National Mental Health Commission, on the National Review of the Mental Health Programmes and Services Report
  • Professor David Forbes, Director of Phoenix Australia, and Professor Malcolm Hopwood, on the proposal for a Centenary Institute Treatment Research Centre and Practitioner Support Service
  • Mrs Robyn Ritchie, National Convenor of the Defence Families Australia, on the support provided to families of current serving members of the Australian Defence Force.

The Council met with the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson, to provide him with an update on the deliberations at the meeting.

The Council will meet again in March 2016.

 

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Meeting 3 March 2015, Parliament House, Canberra

The Prime Ministerial Advisory Council on Veterans’ Mental Health met for the third time on 3 March 2015.

Prior to the official meeting, the Council spent some time in conversation with the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin AC. Discussions focussed on the mental health risks associated with transitions through many life stages and also on the role that families of current and former serving members can contribute in providing support and assistance to partners and other family members with a mental health condition. The Council spent some time talking with the CDF about improving the transition arrangements for members moving beyond full time service.

During the formal meeting, the Council continued its consideration of its three strategic priorities:

  • Vocational Rehabilitation and Transition Management. The Council received an update on the very positive progress of the pilot Veterans’ Employment Assistance Initiative, which is in its final stages with an evaluation to commence in April 2015. The previous resolution to await the outcome of the evaluation before determining further action was reaffirmed.
  • National Communication Strategy. The Council continued its work developing advice for Government on a national communication strategy to increase community recognition and support for veterans, members and former members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and their families affected by mental health issues.
  • Peer to Peer Support. The Council received a briefing from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) on the outcomes of the Peer to Peer Support Network Forum held at the Australian War Memorial on 26 November 2014. The Council noted the positive feedback from the forum, which will inform a pilot peer support programme beginning in late 2015.

At the meeting, the Council identified and discussed three areas of emerging importance in relation to veterans’ mental health:

  • Veterans’ homelessness. The Council is interested in the causal relationship between mental health issues and homelessness in the veteran community. The Council noted the difficulty in acquiring reliable data about veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The Council was briefed by DVA and Department of Social Services on the Commonwealth’s role as a funder of services; on the services provided by state and territory governments under the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness and the coordination role played by DVA in relation to the provision of services to homeless veterans. The Council resolved to continue its consideration of this issue as a matter of priority.
  • Support for children of veterans. The Council considered the workforce issues in the provision of specialist mental health treatment services for children, not only in the veteran community but in the wider general community. The Council resolved to undertake an environmental scan of the mental health services available to the children of veterans prior to further consideration of this issue at its next meeting and to explore facilitated social networking for children in service and veteran’s families experiencing mental health challenges as a potential opportunity to assist children in understanding behaviours.
  • Incarcerated veterans. As with homelessness, the Council formed the view that incarceration within the prison system has the potential to be part of the trajectory of issues for veterans with mental health conditions. The Council considered strategies to engage with state and territory governments to ascertain the number of veterans in the prison system with a view to understanding the dimensions of this issue.

The Council also received briefings from:

  • The Support for Wounded Injured and Ill Programme, a joint initiative of the Department of Defence and DVA. The Council noted a number of improvements in the transfer of information between the two Departments and the policies in place to further improve transition from the ADF to civilian life. The Council resolved to remain closely engaged in this initiative and take an update briefing at every second council meeting to monitor ongoing progress.
  • The Australasian Rail Association on workforce developments in the railway industry of Australia, with a particular focus on the mental health challenges for the industry in the future and key focus areas to address these. The Council noted a number of similar workforce challenges faced by the railway industry and the Defence portfolio, and were interested in the possibility of future strategic partnerships.

The Council met with the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson, to provide him with an update on their deliberations at the meeting. The Minister thanked the Council for its continuing work.

The Council will meet again on 8 September 2015.

 

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Mental Health Peer Support Forum Summary

Veterans and their families at the centre of a network of peer support provided by Government organisations

The Prime Ministerial Advisory Council on Veterans’ Mental Health (the Council), in collaboration with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) and the Department of Defence (Defence), held a public forum on mental health peer support at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra on Wednesday, 26 November 2014.

The Council has identified peer support as one of its priority areas of interest, noting the potential of well-structured mental health peer support programmes, when combined with evidence-based treatment, to lead to improved quality of life. Mental health peer support allows individuals to be matched with trained peers to receive practical support in managing their mental health and wellbeing.

In attendance at the forum were the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, representatives from Defence and DVA, and approximately 100 representatives of emerging and existing ex-service organisations, community mental health organisations and peer support experts. The forum was facilitated by Professor Mark Creamer PhD, Professorial Fellow, Department of Psychiatry, University of Melbourne and former Director of the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health.

The forum provided an important opportunity for participants to share expertise, experience and information on the role of peer support in supporting mental health recovery, and to contribute to the design and development of the Government’s Peer to Peer Support Network Programme pilot for members of the ex-service community.

Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, welcomed forum attendees, thanked the Council for sponsoring the forum, and affirmed the Government’s commitment to tackling the mental health challenges for veterans and their families, which is a pillar of the Government’s approach to the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio.

The Chair of the Council, Vice Admiral Russ Crane AO, CSM, RAN (Ret’d), addressed the audience on the importance of harnessing support for a national model for a peer to peer support network and welcomed an open conversation in order to improve understanding and awareness of the nature and prevalence of mental health conditions amongst serving and ex serving personnel.

Other presenters included:

  • Dr Stephanie Hodson CSC, DVA’s Mental Health Advisor, who briefed the audience on veteran and military mental health prevalence and treatment;
  • Mr Anthony Stratford, Community Adviser for Recovery and Wellbeing at Mind Australia, who gave an overview of what peer support is and what it is not, and how peer support can help consumers to the live the life of their choosing; Mr Michael Burge, OAM, Consumer Advocate Mental Health, who presented on his experience in setting up and running a successful peer support programme;
  • Ms Julie Wilson, from Defence’s Mental Health, Psychology and Rehabilitation Branch, who reported on Defence’s pilot peer support project in the area of rehabilitation—the Mate-to-Mate Programme.

Several rounds of group discussions were held for participants to contribute views and insights into the design of a national peer to peer support network.

The complexity of this topic invited broad discussion, but considerable consensus was achieved by participants in a number of areas including:

  • Clarity of the peer support model, including well-defined goals, scope, roles outcome measures and evaluation planning.
  • Collaboration and synergy with existing ESO, mental health/peer services, DVA and the ADF to develop and refine the programme.
  • Deliver consistent and quality training.

DVA will consider these views as it continues work on development of a national peer to peer support network. The Council will continue to take a strong interest in the progress of the implementation of the programme.

 

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Meeting 25 November 2014, Parliament House, Canberra

The Prime Ministerial Advisory Council on Veterans’ Mental Health met for the second time on 25 November 2014.

The Council received briefings on:

  • Emerging research commissioned by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) and/or by the Department of Defence (Defence) relating to mental health for current serving members and former serving members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and their families. The Council made special note of the family and social implications of DVA and Defence research findings, in addition to the clinical relevance.
  • Defence mental health policy and programmes. The Council noted the importance of resilience training in helping members and former members of the ADF to recognise the symptoms of mental health conditions and encouraging them to seek early assistance.

Priority area of focus: Vocational rehabilitation

The Council received an update on the progress of the Veterans’ Employment Assistance Initiative. The initiative was launched by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs as a pilot programme in Southern Queensland on 12 September 2014. The Council noted the benefits of participation in sustainable and suitable civilian employment for former members of the ADF, particularly in relation to the prevention of future mental health issues. The Council considered the possibility of engaging with the corporate sector more broadly on the issue of civilian employment opportunities for transitioning members of the ADF, building on the pilot programme and determined to examine this more thoroughly once more information is available on the progress and outcome of the pilot.

Priority area of focus: A national communication strategy

The Council continued its discussions on this priority area of focus. Discussions reinforced the priority for an active communication strategy to promote a positive view of service and its contribution, and to increase awareness of the available mental health services and the benefits of early intervention. The Council is progressing, as a priority, further development of the objectives and alternative options to inform advice to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs in this key area.

Priority area of focus: Peer support

DVA provided a briefing on final preparations for the Peer to Peer Support Network Forum auspiced by the Council, to be held on 26 November 2014 at the Australian War Memorial. This public forum will bring together a range of organisations and individuals offering support to members and former members of the ADF and their families, with the aim of discussing and informing the design, establishment and promotion of a peer support network.

The Council met with the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson, to provide him with an update on their deliberations at the meeting. The Minister took the opportunity to launch a new YouTube video promoting to members and former members of the ADF that support is available from Defence, DVA and the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation. This video was well received by the Council.

This was the last meeting for Ms Judy Daniel and Dr Graham Killer, prior to retirement. The Chair and members of the Council thanked them for their contribution in establishing the Council and setting the strategic direction.

The Council will meet again on 3 March 2015.

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Inaugural Meeting 24-25 July 2014, Parliament House, Canberra

Summary

The Prime Ministerial Advisory Council on Veterans’ Mental Health met on 24 and 25 July 2014.   The Council comprises the Chair, Vice Admiral Russ Crane AO, CSM, RAN (Ret’d), Deputy Chair, Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC, MG and eight members.

This meeting provided the Council with an overview of issues relating to veterans’ mental health and included briefings on mental and social health, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ service delivery processes and legislation, treatment and management of mental health conditions, and mental health resources for veterans and their families.   The Council also received specific briefings in relation to peer support and vocational rehabilitation.

Following the briefings, the Council spent some time developing a strategic framework for future work.   The key areas of activity discussed included peer support, family support, vocational rehabilitation, engagement with corporate Australia, partnerships with not-for profit organisations, a strategic communication plan, and strategic partnership between the Departments of Veterans’ Affairs and Defence.

The Council identified the following three areas as priorities:

  1. A national communication strategy to promote a positive view of service and its contribution; and to increase awareness of the available mental health services and the benefits of early intervention.  The strategy would target a wide range of audiences including serving and former serving members, families, the community and industry.   It would be aimed at reducing the stigma associated with mental illness and breaking down barriers to seeking assistance.
  2. Peer support, which allows individuals to be suitably matched with peers to receive practical support in managing their mental health and wellbeing, leading to improved quality of life. The Council is interested in auspicing a peer support forum to bring together relevant stakeholders to share information on peer support programmes and canvass ideas about expanding peer support in the veteran and ex-serving community.
  3. Vocational rehabilitation and transition management.   The Council will look at ways in which industry can be engaged to provide greater employment opportunities for former members undertaking vocational rehabilitation.   The Council was briefed by the Minister on current initiatives being undertaken in this regard. The Council will also examine how the transition process from Defence to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs can be improved.

The Council will meet again on 25 November 2014.

Members sitting at a meeting table

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