The Abbott government has established a key prime ministerial advisory council to deal with post traumatic stress and other mental issues confronting thousands of Australian war veterans.
Minister for Veterans Affairs Michael Ronaldson announced in Adelaide today that the high-level body would be chaired by former navy chief, retired Vice Admiral Russ Crane, and would include as deputy chair Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith, who has taken a strong personal interest in mental health issues.
Ryan Stokes will represent the business community.
Veterans groups have warned that thousands of the nearly 30,000 Australian men and women who have served so far in Afghanistan are suffering, or are likely to confront, mental health issues.
Senator Ronaldson announced that the existing prime ministerial advisory council which provided feedback to the government on issues facing the ex-service community was being reconstituted to focus on veterans’ mental health.
The new Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on Veterans’ Mental Health would consider high level and strategic issues, looking to identify gaps in available services and innovative approaches to address them.
“It will provide advice to the Prime Minister and myself about future directions for veterans’
mental health policy,” Senator Ronaldson said.
Two separate committees would advise on issues facing young veterans of recent campaigns and the shrinking number of surviving veterans of past wars, he said.
Senator Ronaldson said the Department of Veterans Affairs spent $166 million per year on mental health services for veterans and their families.
“Mental health support, however, is not simply confined to the amount of money we spend,” Senator Ronaldson told veterans in Glenelg for the 2014 national conference of the
National Servicemen’s Association of Australia.
“Your contribution to Australia’s defence preparedness will never be forgotten,” Senator Ronaldson told the veterans.
He said that as the nation approached the Anzac Centenary, it was vital that the lessons of the suffering of veterans left untreated after World War 1 were not repeated.
Senator Ronaldson said he and DVA secretary Simon Lewis agreed that taking more than 160 days to process veterans’ requests for help was much too long.
“By reducing processing times, we can reduce the anxiety faced by veterans, and families, waiting for claims to be determined.”
This article first appeared on The Australian on 13 March, 2014.