REACHING OUT: Ian Dainer works as a men's health peer educator for the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
REACHING OUT: Ian Dainer works as a men's health peer educator for the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Rob Williams

Change to way veterans access health care labelled a burden

THERE are fears that changes to the way veterans access health care could deter them from reaching out for help.

Veterans receiving allied health care will be required to obtain a new referral from a GP after every 12 sessions or one year, following the introduction of the Veteran Treatment Cycle initiative.

The changes were brought in this week after being delayed by the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

Veterans who have a Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Gold Card are excluded from the treatment cycle for exercise physiology and physiotherapy services.

Member for Blair and Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Defence Personnel Shayne Neumann said this would place added strain on already vulnerable people.

"This could mean an extra visit to the GP every few weeks for many veterans with high and complex needs, and result in gaps and delays in treatment," he said.

"Veterans will be out of pocket from the cost of increased GP visits and it will particularly disadvantage people living in rural and remote areas.

"The changes are due to a $40 million cut by the Government to allied health care for veterans in the last budget. Since the measure was first announced, there has been almost universal criticism from veterans, health professionals, experts and MPs alike.

"Even the Government's own backbenchers have called out the changes, with Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee Chair and LNP Senator Eric Abetz labelling the new system an unnecessary burden and calling for it to be scrapped."

Vietnam veteran Ian 'Spike' Dainer works as a men's health peer educator with the department, speaking to various groups about the importance of getting help.

"Once (a GP) believes that the referral has a clinical need, I'm not really sure there's a necessity to go back," he said.

"If they're serious about making sure the doctor is much more across the clinical reaction to (allied health care) I guess it makes a bit of sense."

Mr Dainer said he knew how hard it was to get some veterans to seek assistance and believed the changes could present another barrier.

Mr Dainer said an alternative would be to extend the number of sessions in the cycle.

"It's like going at it with a crowbar to get some fellas to even talk to a doctor," he said.

"I think it will deter blokes from going (to get help). Some of them might just find it all a bit too hard and stop going."

Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester said there had been no cuts to veterans' benefits and Mr Neumann was being "irresponsible" with his claims.

"Health benefits to eligible veterans are uncapped and are provided on the basis of medical need," Mr Chester said.

"The treatment cycle is about making sure that veterans who are in need of allied health care have this care regularly reviewed to ensure progress is being made and that no veteran is receiving long-term, ongoing treatment but seeing no improvement to their health.

"Through consultation with peak bodies, a framework has been developed to ensure veterans will not be negatively impacted by the treatment cycle.

"In recognition of the key role of GP in veterans' health care, this framework gives them the discretion to provide approve longer referrals for more than 12 sessions for a small minority of DVA clients, where they consider it to be clinically necessary and the best outcome for the veterans' health.

"The Australian Medical Association has previously recognised the benefits of this approach, saying in June: "The AMA welcomes the changes to the treatment cycle for allied health referrals for veterans. These changes introduced by the DVA promote GP-led team-based care. Planned multidisciplinary team-based care has been demonstrated to improve patient outcomes. The treatment cycle will ensure strong links between GPs and allied health professionals, preventing fragmentation of care and unnecessary duplication of services.

"DVA has contacted peak bodies, allied health providers, and veterans who have used an Allied Health Service in the last 12 months, about the Treatment Cycle Initiative."