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Rehabilitation help for veterans upgraded

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Tablet computers and other technologies have been added to the schedule of equipment available to veterans to help in their rehabilitation from illness and injury.

As the health needs of returning servicemen and women become an increasing focus of Government policy given the recent wind-down of Australia’s involvement in several overseas conflicts, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) has announced the results of a comprehensive review of its Rehabilitation Appliances Program (RAP), including the National Schedule of Equipment and National Guidelines.

The review, conducted by four health professionals and senior RAP staff, recommended changes to significantly streamline the operation of the Program and to update it to meet “the divergent needs of different veteran cohorts, and technological advancements in rehabilitation aids and appliances”, the Department said.

The changing health needs of veterans was the focus of a policy session at the AMA National Conference in May, which heard that not only were soldiers now surviving multiple catastrophic physical injuries that would once have been fatal, many were also returning from service with significant mental health problems.

The DVA said that, in addition to streamlining the RAP program, it had created a new category for technological aids to assist with cognition, memory and dementia, and had added tablet computers and speech pathology apps to the National Schedule of Equipment.

The changes follow the establishment of a $5 million Transition and Wellbeing Research Programme, which will include a study into the mental health and wellbeing of both active and retired ADF personnel, a project examining the effect of combat experiences on personnel deployed in the Middle East between 2010 and 2012, and an investigation of the effect of military service on the families of current and former ADF personnel.

The research program is seen as timely given that since 1999 the ADF been through an extended period of high operational tempo during which more than 45,000 personnel had seen active service overseas including Afghanistan, Iraq, other areas of the Middle East, South Sudan, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea.

AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler, who chaired the veteran health policy discussion at the AMA National Conference, said it was clear that while the country was getting many things right in the care it provided to its troops and veterans, there was room for improvement.

“We must do everything we can to support those who return with service-related injuries,” A/Professor Owler said. “The research to be funded by the Government is important because it will allow us to identify emerging health issues and better inform the future delivery of health services.”

In addition to the research program, the Government has announced that, from 1 July, a new Medicare Benefits Schedule item will be provided for GPs who use a screening tool in assessing the health of former ADF members for up to five years after discharge, a move long suggested by the AMA.

Adrian Rollins