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Proposal for a Hubs Network

Introduction

What is to become of the 16 Veterans' and Families' Hubs?

Will there simply be 16 additions to the ~10,000 organisations around Australia claiming to have veterans as one of their beneficiaries? Or is there an opportunity for DVA to own a network of hubs that give it the capability and capacity to shape and influence the veteran wellbeing ecosystem in the disparate regions across Australia within which the hubs reside?

There is a growing sense that there is significant potential in the Hubs network:

  • that support the entire veteran community (including through the local ESOs which each support a subset of the veteran community demographic);

  • that have legitimate authority to interact with other government departments (Federal (the departments most relevant to veteran wellbeing have local/regional offices: eg. Defence, Health and Employment), state and local) and ESOs and providers at the regional level; 

  • that can work together under one authority to ensure the movement of veterans and families around Australia, especially while transitioning from their last ADF base to their preferred location upon landing in the civil community post-separation. 

  • that function as community centres, which have proven to improve the health and wellbeing of communities by an average of $2 for every dollar spent (Australian Social Values Bank data).

This is a command-and-control problem. DVA is the only Commonwealth Department that attempts to affect the veteran community's wellbeing from Canberra. 600,000 veterans and 10,000 organisations supporting the veteran community is too much for one big Department with no local intelligence or influence in the regions. With Hubs in 16 locations around Australia, DVA could have a most beneficial impact on the disparate regional areas. They risk becoming nothing more than an additional 16 ESOs.

A Transition Oversight Panel in Canberra has members from DVA, Defence, and Health. Defence has 16 ADF Transition Centres, Health has 31 Primary Health Networks, and DVA has no regional offices (VAN and VSO provide services to individuals) to influence, shape, coordinate, and collaborate on regional solutions. 

Improving veterans' lives is just a matter of local knowledge and regional engagement
 

Regional approaches tailor solutions to local needs, empowering communities and fostering a diversity of ideas, compared to a one-size-fits-all central approach focusing on efficiency over effectiveness. What is the potential for the Veterans and Families Hubs over DVA’s current approach?

There is no shortage of government programs that could support the veteran communities around Australia, but that has not prevented the problems that have brought our nation to a Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide. The problem is that these programs are generally uncoordinated between governments and departments and have gaps that make addressing the needs of many veterans and families too difficult, especially in so many disparate regions where the density of veterans and support is markedly different.

This is made worse by veterans' lack of experience navigating the bureaucracy to access support, which exacerbates their mental health struggles. These difficulties faced by veterans have proven to manifest in other significant societal problems, such as alcohol and drug abuse, incarceration, homelessness, and suicide.

The effect is wasted lives and wasted government resources.

Supporting the aligning of government programs by regions is essential. This is especially true in the interests of the disparate veteran community in regions around Australia where veterans and families live and work. Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), or a reinvigorated Repatriation Commission, must take a leading and proactive role in overseeing the health and wellbeing of veterans. It can do this by establishing regional hubs like most other government departments. These hubs would serve as focal points within defined areas to understand the veteran community needs in those areas and provide regional-specific advice to coordinate efforts of government agencies, non-profit organisations, including ESOs, and community groups to address the unique and specific challenges veterans and their families face. With the Departments of Defence, Veterans Affairs and Health working together in Canberra, DVA’s eyes and ears on the ground would be the hubs. This would counterpart Defence’s 16 ADF Transition Centres and the Department of Health’s 31 Primary Health Networks in regions across Australia. Working together at the national and regional levels would significantly improve the effectiveness of support specific to the veteran community.

The two most crucial roles of the hubs would be:

 

  • to thoroughly understand the veteran and ESO landscape in their defined area to support shaping the programs and opportunities within it with national guidance from DVA and in the interests of the local veteran community; and

  • to be part of a network of hubs across Australia coordinated by DVA to support veterans' movement, especially during transition out of the ADF.

 

The benefits would be manifold; the main three are:

 

  • A reduction of the mental health problems of veterans and families, particularly during transition and settling into post-service life, leading to a reduction in other significant societal problems among veterans and families.

  • A reduction in wasted resources, specifically underutilised government programs and services for want of synchronisation with other programs from other governments and departments and focussing on the unique challenges of veterans in the interests of the veteran communities in their areas of responsibility.

  • Improved mobility of veterans and families to areas different from their last service posting and separation by central management of a network of hubs utilising standard models, frameworks, policies, and data collection, storage, and transfer tools.

 

There are 16 Veterans’ and Families’ Hubs emerging now under the supervision of DVA. They would be an excellent place to start.

10 Reasons why Defence can’t do Transition on its own

It is unreasonable to expect Defence to effectively transition serving veterans back into the civilian community without coordinated support on the civilian side of the "Transition Bridge". Here are the top 10.

 

  1. Expectations of the length of service are generally overestimated. Many servicewomen and men believe they signed up to serve their country for a lifetime of service or at least with no consideration for their next job. The reality is that most will serve less than seven years. The transition occurs most often sooner than expected.
     

  2. Too many serving veterans give little thought to transition until they are compelled to leave due to medical or other reasons or complete the form formally announcing their intention to transition. There is often an epiphany moment that brings potential transition into focus. By then, it is typically too late as the serving ADF member has already convinced themselves, their family and their friends that it is necessary and will happen. The time to prepare has gone, and it is now essentially a checklist process to separate.
     

  3. ADF Culture is different from life outside the ADF. Civilian life is relatively complex compared to the structure and order of life while serving in the ADF. An individual’s ability to navigate the many services that might help them to transition and settle into life after transition is particularly challenging. It's even worse if leaving with a mental health condition.
     

  4. Maintaining ADF identity and adapting that identity to the new reality post-transition can be very challenging. An individual’s identity as a member of the ADF is strong. Most veterans have made life-long friends even only after the rigours of recruit training. Connection with mates, peers and others with a shared life experience in the ADF is essential but can be difficult to maintain after transition. Connections to the local civilian community are also necessary. Both provide an inoculation against isolation, loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Many veterans need support to adapt their ADF identity to accommodate their new civilian and workplace community to thrive.
     

  5. The ADF is busy preparing to defend the nation and its people. Support for transition from an individual’s unit is less supportive than those separating expect (confirmed by exit surveys of transitioning veterans), which is at least partially understandable given the operations and training focus of units and commanders. Life in the unit goes on at pace while individuals complete the transition checklist.
     

  6. An individual's immediate chain of command generally lacks experience and knowledge regarding transition. Members of an individual’s unit chain of command commonly feel justifiably unqualified to offer advice on life after transition, especially as most had their last taste of civilian life when they left their parents’ homes and joined the ADF as teenagers.
     

  7. Transition services offered to serving veterans on a ‘needs-basis’ alienate those who perceive they send the wrong signals to colleagues and supervisors if they engage these services. Some secrecy before completing the AC853 is often considered necessary to avoid consternation and ribbing from colleagues for what may only be an attempt to be better prepared for the inevitable transition. The first challenge is convincing those who have joined the ADF to prepare early in their career.
     

  8. Most veterans consider DVA and the ESO community their principal sources of support. In doing so, they often need help accessing services available to the whole community. Examples are Medicare, Centrelink, Workforce Australia, NDIS, and My Aged Care.
     

  9. Most organisations in the ESO Community (especially the smaller ones, which are the most prolific) deal with a specific demographic, have limited functions, and are generally staffed only by volunteers. It is not easy for transitioning veterans, who are often entitled to belong to several ESOs, to find and be supported by an ESO that can help with specific needs.
     

  10. There is no single coordinating authority to support ADF Transition Centres on the civilian side of the "Transition Bridge". No organisation has the responsibility or authority to collaborate with other government agencies and programs, ESOs and supporting organisations, in the interests of the veteran community, in the areas where veterans live and work, to partner with Defence’s 16 ADF Transition Centres.

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