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Defence and Veteran Legal Services Newsletter—Issue 3 August 2022

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A message from our Director

This month marks one year since the establishment of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide hearings. From Canberra to Townsville, we have witnessed bravery, insight, and a commitment to making change from veterans, serving defence members and others in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) community who have come forward at public hearings to share their stories. Further hearings are planned in Hobart, Darwin and Wagga this year. Commission Chair Nick Kaldas has spoken often about the power witnesses have in shaping the questions that are put to senior officials in future hearings, and the Commission’s eventual findings.

We talk a lot about mateship in the defence community, and over these last few months I have reflected on what a powerful display of mateship it is to stand up and share difficult experiences for the benefit of those who serve with you or come after you. It is a privilege for all of us in the Defence and Veterans Legal Service (DAVLS) to stand alongside witnesses and support them to share their stories, keeping them in control and helping them be heard.

The Royal Commission wants to hear from all members of the defence community about any matter that undermines or supports ADF members, veterans and family wellbeing. Commissioners want to hear from family members in particular – an acknowledgement that for every serving ADF member there will often be a family supporting them and making sacrifices alongside them.

Jasmine Stanton

On the line – taking your calls, helping to share your stories

We provided information, advice, referrals and help with submissions and private sessions, and referrals to more than 600 callers through to 30 June 2022 through our free DAVLS helpline on 1800 33 1800, and call volumes continue to rise.

Our dedicated legal team can help members of the defence and veteran community access a range of protections when they engage with the Royal Commission and, where relevant, support them to make anonymous or confidential submissions. This may be important for witnesses who are concerned about the impact of giving evidence on their defence career, or that of a loved one. We can help you stay in control of your story through the life of the Royal Commission and beyond, including by providing advice about ‘freedom of information’ provisions and protecting your information after the Royal Commission concludes.

You can explore your options with us and hear more about the protections available in a confidential advice session. Getting advice from DAVLS does not commit you to take any action but can help you decide if and how you want to engage with the Royal Commission.

Here to help. Here for you.

Your story can help others. We are here to make it as easy as possible to share your experiences with the Royal Commission.

We are independent of the Royal Commission and from ADF and DVA. We are free, confidential, and available to anyone who wants to engage with this Royal Commission. Any information you give us is confidential and not shared without your permission. Everyone is welcome to have a support person join them in our consultations. 

Want to learn more about the work we do?

  • Tune in to episode 129 of Military Life for a fantastic look at what the Royal Commission is all about and how DAVLS can connect you with trauma-informed staff to support you to share your story.
  • Our client ‘Lachlan’ spoke with Triple J’s Hack program about why it is so important for younger veterans’ voices to be heard.  (Lachlan’s piece runs from the beginning to 11 minutes 30.)

If you would like to discuss your options, call us on 1800 33 1800.

Caller comments

Arthur told us:

My lawyer has been very helpful and a wonderful support person. She is also going to assist me with a formal submission to the Royal Commission. She even made the effort to visit me in the Newcastle Legal Aid office to prepare my private session notes and suggestions. Saved me from having to see her in Sydney. I am suggesting to all my Vet mates to contact the DAVLS if they need any assistance to communicate with the RC. I can't recommend your service highly enough.

and...

Doug told us:

I would like to thank DAVLS for helping me put together my submission. I was contacted by a representative of the Royal Commission the day after I submitted it. She said my submission will be exactly the type of thing that the Commission should be getting, that it was clear, and well-structured with just enough balance between facts and emotions. That would indicate that with your help, I got exactly the effect I was looking for.

DAVLS in your community

Our lawyers are working with local ex-service and veteran support organisations across the country, delivering community presentations and attending community events. You can catch up on a recent webinar on our website. If you would like DAVLS to deliver a presentation or attend an event in your community, either in person or virtually, contact DAVLS Engagement Officer Nicholas Warren at DAVLS@legalaid.nsw.gov.au.

We can answer your questions about engaging with the Royal Commission, what is involved and how it can benefit you and others in a friendly, relaxed environment. Depending on your event, we can also include opportunities for confidential, one-on-one discussions.

We have been attending all Royal Commission hearings and staffing an information stall at the hearing venues. These have been a valuable point of connection with interested members of the Defence and veteran community and an opportunity for information exchange with members of the Royal Commission team.

We are working closely with support organisations across Australia to spread the word about the specialist services we provide – you know your community and your community’s needs. Through this work, we have identified some groups who may face additional barriers when it comes to engaging with this Royal Commission:

  • Defence families – We are staffing stalls at family fun days, giving presentations to families through wellbeing centres and events, speaking about the value of families’ experiences  and delivering presentations in the community that highlight the important role family members can play in shaping the Royal Commission’s recommendations and legacy.
  • First Nations people – Through close consultation with First Nations communities, we have developed a range of resources including posters and brochures targeted to First Nations people.
  • Veterans in prison – We have developed posters for display in correctional facilities and are working to ensure people in prison can access our services wherever they are in Australia, including by offering a separate phone line for prisoner contact to ensure calls are answered as soon as possible and to allow a quality service to be delivered in the limited time prisoners have for phone calls. Follow-up services will be delivered via audio-visual connections.
DAVLS Lawyers Yolanda and Jacinta address Legacy conference in Hexham NSW.
Penrith Family Fun Day during a break in the rain.
Celebrating the opening of the new Wellbeing Centre in Wagga Wagga.

Future hearings and dates for your diary

The Royal Commission has held public hearings in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Townsville. The next hearings are scheduled to take place in Hobart at the Wrest Point Hotel from 1 August 2022.

Further hearings will take place in Darwin from 17 October 2022, and Wagga Wagga from 28 November 2022. The Royal Commission has indicated it will hold hearings in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane in 2023, with the schedule subject to confirmation. Hearing details are provided on the Royal Commission website when confirmed.

Key dates to be aware of:

  • 11 August 2022 – interim report due.
  • 28 April 2023 – deadline to register for a private session (sessions run until December 2023).
  • 13 October 2023 – submissions close.
  • 17 June 2024 – final report due.

Late breaking: Hobart hearings commencement delayed to 10am Tuesday 2nd August.

Census data

The release of the 2021 Census data on Defence service has delivered the most accurate count of the serving and ex-serving Defence community to date. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) note in their release that:

  • More than half a million Australians (581,139) have served, or are currently serving, in the ADF.
  • There are 84,865 current serving members and 496,276 former serving members.
  • One in twenty (5.3 per cent) of Australian households reported at least one person who had served or is serving in the ADF.
  • 3,159 (3.7 per cent) of currently serving Australian Defence Force members, and 11,610 (2.3 per cent) of previously served, identify as having Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin.

We have produced a heat map from the aggregated serving and ex-serving communities by local government area. You will see concentrations around military bases and mining areas.

Heat map of Australia, showing the distribution of serving and ex-serving members of the Defence Forces

 This map is consistent with the 2016 ESO mapping project that found:

  • On discharge, ADF personnel tend to locate close to their last posting base.
  • As they age, veterans tend to spread out in the same pattern as the general population – to the coast, to the warm and to cheaper housing areas.
  • Many recently discharged veterans get jobs in the mining sector.
  • Many regional locations have significant concentrations of veterans.

Seventy two percent of the Defence community live in the eastern states of Queensland, NSW and Victoria. Finer detailed mapping will be available later in the year, with the ABS release of their geography packs.

These data sets are going to be incredibly valuable for DAVLS and all ESO and support organisations in targeting our services.

Resources

Many of our resources are available for download from our website. We are also happy to send out supplies for you to share.

We have additional promotional materials if you can help us get information out about our free services

To order free resources, including posters, brochures, wallet cards and factsheets, or inquire about promotion, please contact us at DAVLS@legalaid.nsw.gov.au.

Crisis support

For immediate help in a crisis, please contact one of the following services:

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