Media Report - Costs of War Soar as Returned Afghanistan Vets Fall to Disability

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Costs of War Soar as Returned Afghanistan Vets Fall to Disability

By: Andrew Trounson, The Australian 9 June 2015

The number of Afghanistan veterans being accepted for disability support is soaring as the physical and mental costs of the war hit the home, sparking a warning better interventions are needed to limit the long-term human and economic cost.

The number of Afghanistan veterans with an accepted disability has almost trebled in three years to 3444 and is up a third in just the past 12 months, according to figures posted by Veterans Affairs last week.

Instances of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are up a staggering 300 per cent since 2012 to 1040, and have increased 45 per cent in the past year. Accepted claims for PTSD are growing at a rate of about 300 new cases every year.

While the level of disability varies, the number of Afghanistan veterans qualifying for "gold" cards, which for this young cohort will be those judged to be totally and permanently impaired by their injuries and conditions, now amounts to 474, up from 331 a year ago.

More than 26,000 Australian military personnel served in Afghanistan and the Middle East from 2001 to 2014, of which 41 were killed and 262 wounded.

The biggest single accepted complaint among Afghanistan veterans is hearing loss and tinnitus (1682) followed by PTSD.

Accepted claims for back injuries amount to 634, ahead of depression at 554. Claims for alcohol dependency or abuse amount to 289.

Philip Clarke, a professor of health economics at Melbourne University, said the fast-rising instances of PTSD suggested more and better treatments were needed to help veterans recover.

The length of future deployments could be re-examined given his research on Vietnam veterans that found rates of disability were highly correlated with length of service. "Clearly, the challenge is for the community to look at ways to mitigate the long-term impact on returned soldiers of the war," Professor Clarke told The Australian. He said the community did not appreciate that the post-war cost of caring for veterans would exceed the cost of deployments, and more effort should be put into minimising the human and economic costs.

He notes the pension for an Afghanistan veteran totally and permanently disabled at age 30 will cost the government about $1.7 million, excluding healthcare costs. Healthcare costs for gold card members are running at $21,700 a year per veteran, which includes World War II veterans.

About 13 per cent of Afghanistan veterans are on some disability support, compared with about 5 per cent who served in the East Timor deployment that goes back to 1999. Professor Clarke said if Vietnam was any guide then many more Afghanistan veterans would end up on disability support. Among Vietnam veterans, where 61,000 Australians served, more than 70 per cent are now on support.

"The figures show there is going to be a significant and ongoing human cost, but also a significant and ongoing cost to the community which will need to be funded," Professor Clarke said.

Media Release - Improving Primary Care Mental Health Treatment for Veterans

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Minister for Veterans' Affairs 

Thursday, 11 December 2014 VA101

The Abbott Government is strengthening the support available to general practitioners to identify and treat Australia's veterans with mental health issues with the release today of a new online training program.

Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson, has launched a unique online training program for GPs that provides an overview of the mental health issues faced by veterans and will assist GPs in more effectively identifying issues early.

Called Working with Veterans with Mental Health Problems, the one hour accredited training module was developed for the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) by the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health (ACPMH) and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and is available to GPs through the RACGP gplearning website.

The new online training program seeks to provide GPs with a better understanding of mental health issues affecting veterans including their military experience and its impact on families, the special assessment and treatment considerations for veterans, and the services and resources currently available for veterans and their families.

Combined with the new Australian Defence Force (ADF) post-discharge GP health assessment, the Government is supporting GPs in identifying any early signs of mental and/or physical health problems among veterans. All former serving ADF personnel, including those who have served in the permanent or reserve forces, can access this once-off comprehensive health assessment from their GP, with a Medicare rebate available.

Further facilitating effective treatment of veterans is the addition of a veteran and ADF indicator on the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) to allow current and former ADF personnel to self-identify.

This will greatly assist health care practitioners to identify patients who may have entitlements to DVA or other Commonwealth funded health services.

RACGP President, Dr Frank R Jones said it is vital for GPs to possess a good understanding of military and veteran experiences to aid in building a positive relationship with a veteran that promotes optimal health outcomes.

"The Working with Veterans with Mental Health Problems activity focuses on practical strategies to assist GPs to effectively engage with veterans and provide early and effective treatment for mental health issues and related problems," Dr Jones said.

Senator Ronaldson said that primary care was an important entry point to identify both physical and mental health issues amongst ex-serving ADF personnel and the Government was providing general practitioners with the tools to do so effectively.

"The mental health and wellbeing of our service personnel is an issue the Government takes very seriously. We are committed to working closely with veterans, health professionals and the wider community to ensure all generations of service personnel have access to effective treatment when they need it," Senator Ronaldson said.

Working with Veterans with Mental Health Problems is available to RACGP members through the RACGP's gplearning website. For more information on the ADF Post-Discharge GP Health Assessment, go to DVA's At Ease Professional website.

Media inquiries: Minister Ronaldson: Jordi Procel 02 6277 7820 or 0448 232 908
Department of Veterans' Affairs Media: 02 6289 6203

DVA - Veterans' Mental Health Strategy 2013-2023

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What the Australian Department of Veteran Affairs says it is going to do in the next 10 years for its clients regarding Mental Health. - Read it here

ADSO recommends you visit the Australian Families of the Military Research Foundation (AFOM) which was set up by current and past serving military personnel and their families. It's aim is to provide funds for research that are not encumbered by political and/or Departmental outcomes. One of its objectives is to encourage and promote research, education and the advancement of health and well-being of military partners and families. Here is a fine example of Gail MacDonell's dedication to establish the Foundation to ensure that military families are not left behind in the recognition of their need for care. Thank you Gail and your Directors.

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