Centre Alliance moves amendment to address mental health services shortfall for veterans

Centre Alliance moves amendment to address mental health services shortfall for veterans

Centre Alliance will move an amendment in the Senate to the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Bill 2019 to improve veterans' access to psychological and psychiatric services.

Photo: Macclesfield RSL President Dennis Oldenhove, left, and Vice-President Mark Stewart-Jones show Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester and Rebekha the ANZAC Memorial Gardens during the Minister's visit in January. The gardens have been established by the RSL sub-branch as a place of peace and contemplation for veterans.

It will do this by making sure the Department of Veterans' Affairs rate of rebate is sufficient to entice psychologists and psychiatrists to provide services to the veteran community and veterans, addressing the current situation where the rebate falls well short of their market rates.

"This will give veterans the same access to services as when they were in the Defence Force. You can’t just cut away services to heroes as they are discharged from the Army, Navy or Air Force," said Centre Alliance Veteran’s Affairs spokesperson Senator Rex Patrick.

"If we really care about veterans and want to avoid the tragedy of suicide, these changes must be made. Veteran suicide is an ever-present and harsh reality for all too many. A recent Productivity Commission into Compensation and Rehabilitation for Veterans found that the suicide rate for all male ex-service personnel is 18 per cent higher than the rate for Australian men and that male ex-service personnel under 30 years of age are twice as likely to die by suicide compared to men of the same age.

"These figures are devastating and must be addressed by legislative action to ensure that veterans have better access to much needed mental health treatment and services." Centre Alliance's amendment is consistent with recommendation 5 of the Senate's ‘The Constant Battle: Suicide by Veterans’ inquiry report.

"We are calling on the Senate to support this amendment so that veterans don't have to fight the constant battle that we never asked them to fight."

Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie said: "This is an important and necessary change."

"The DVA rate has fallen well below a rate that is sustainable for psychologists and psychiatrists to continue to provide services to the veteran community," said Rebekha.

"Currently, DVA pays approximately 135% of the Medicare scheduled fee, however, this still falls short of market rates which have resulted in many psychologists and psychiatrists not providing services to veterans as veterans are unable to contribute via a gap payment.

"This is not a criticism of professionals charging a fee – this is a solution to encourage more psychologists and psychiatrists to provide services to veterans, which in turn will reduce wait times and the number of veterans at risk of taking their own life because of their limited access to mental health professionals.

Centre Alliance has obtained the costings from PBO and while there is a budget impact, it is modest when considering the significant effect it will have on veterans. The amendment is expected to come before the Parliament in September.