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Some questions and answers

We would like to thank everyone who has provided a submission and/or participated in the public hearings on our draft report — A Better Way to Support Veterans. Your insights and reactions to our draft recommendations have helped us better understand how the veteran support system is currently working and how it could be improved. However, during the public hearings it also became clear that are some misunderstandings around some of our draft recommendations.

We have provided the following questions and answers to help inquiry participants better understand the Commission's draft recommendations. Most of the issues raised in these questions are discussed in more detail in the report itself, so we suggest you also look at the full report to see the detail.

The term 'veteran' often has a special meaning for those who have served in the Australian Defence Force. What definition has the Productivity Commission used for the term 'veteran'?

In 2017, a Roundtable of Australian Veterans' Ministers agreed that a veteran would be defined as anyone who has served at least one day in the Australian Defence Force. The Commission has used this definition of 'veteran' agreed to by Australian governments.

Is the Commission recommending that the supports provided under the veterans support scheme be brought in line with civilian workers' compensation schemes?

No, we have not recommended that the supports provided to veterans and their families be brought in line with civilian workers' compensation schemes (and we acknowledge that a core feature of the veterans' scheme is that it is 'beneficial'). In fact, a number of our recommendations would mean more, not less, support for veterans and their families.

What the Commission is recommending is that the veteran support system be redesigned so that it has the best-practice features of workers' compensation and contemporary social insurance schemes. Taking on the best-practice features of these schemes will mean a greater focus on wellness and minimising the impact of harm from service, a more veteran-centred approach to rehabilitation, transition support and health care, and a system that achieves better outcomes based on data and evidence.

Is the Productivity Commission recommending taking away a dedicated Minister for Veterans' Affairs?

No. What we have recommended in our draft report is that the current dual Ministry be formalised into a single, permanent Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans. The Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans would be responsible for the wellbeing of both serving and ex-serving members. This change is important for a lifetime approach to supporting veterans and their families.

Is the Commission recommending that there not be a stand alone agency dedicated to supporting veterans?

Quite the opposite. The Productivity Commission is recommending that a Veteran Services Commission (VSC) be set up to administer the veteran support system, including managing all compensation claims and providing or commissioning services for veterans and their families. The VSC would be an independent statutory agency with autonomous responsibility for the performance of the system, and it will be solely dedicated to improving the wellbeing of veterans and their families, taking a whole-of-life-approach.

Will the Commission's recommended Veteran Services Commission (VSC) sit within the Department of Defence?

No. The VSC is an independent statutory agency. It would have a Chief Executive Officer and its own independent board of Commissioners. And while we are recommending that the VSC be in the Defence portfolio (as the Department of Veterans' Affairs is now), it would not be in the Department of Defence. The VSC would report to a Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans.

Is the Commission's report about cutting benefits and saving money?

No. If fully implemented, the Commission's proposed veteran support system would cost more, not less. However, it will be more efficiently administered and result in better outcomes for veterans and their families.

The Productivity Commission is proposing that a premium be applied to Defence. Does this mean that individual Australian Defence Force (ADF) members would have to pay a premium?

The proposed premium would be levied on Defence for compensation, rehabilitation and treatment of uniformed ADF personnel. Defence would pay the premium, just as it already pays a premium for non-uniformed personnel. It would not be levied on individual ADF members.

Is the Commission recommending removing the Gold Card? Will anyone who currently has a Gold Card lose it under the Commission's draft recommendations?

The answer is no to both these questions. What we are recommending is that eligibility for the card should not be expanded to any new categories of veterans or dependants who are not currently eligible for such a Card.

No current Gold Card holder or person who is entitled to a Gold Card under current legislation would be affected.

Is the Commission recommending less spending on health care for veterans and their families?

The Commission is not recommending that less be spent on health care for veterans and their families. Our recommendations are about getting better health outcomes for veterans with the current health care funding. An important focus is improving access to, and outcomes from, mental health services and supports.

Will the Commission's recommendations undermine recent progress by the Veteran Centric Reform (VCR) program?

The Commission supports the continued rollout of the VCR program and notes some key early successes, such as the MyService platform. However, even when fully implemented, the VCR program will not address the fundamental problems with the veteran support system, including poor oversight of client supports, the lack of focus on lifetime wellbeing and the disjointed structure. As such, the Commission has recommended that the main proposed changes (including most of the governance and funding reforms and the move to two schemes) occur after the VCR program is completed, to minimise interruption of its rollout and avoid undermining its progress.

When reference is made to veterans and their families, who is included in the term families?

The Commission understands that the veteran community includes a broad group of people beyond those who have served in the ADF. Families generally refer to veterans partners and children, widow(ers) of deceased veterans and their dependents, and parents and siblings of veterans.

Our final report will be delivered to the Australian Government at the end of June 2019.