The occupational therapy profession had its roots in treating wounded veterans returning home from the First World War, who had to be assisted to relearn and perform the functions of everyday living. Owing to the demands of military service, both physical and mental, a sizeable proportion of Australian veterans require the services of an occupational therapist (clinicians who help our veterans participate in meaningful and productive activities). The number of veterans requiring the services of an occupational therapist grows as our veterans age. A notable and growing cohort of veterans is those exiting the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in their 30s, who might need a lifetime of mental health care.
While occupational therapists derive enormous professional satisfaction from working with veterans and war widows, their work has become increasingly difficult to sustain. This is because remuneration for such work has, in effect, been frozen for nearly twenty years by successive Australian governments. Rather than addressing these concerns, the 2018-19 federal budget included funding cuts of more than $40 million from allied health services over the following four years.
Those experienced occupational therapists still doing veterans work, do so at a loss; they only keep doing it out of loyalty to longstanding clients and by cross subsidies from other work. If the exodus of experienced occupational therapists from The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) work is to be staunched, the federal government must act now to ensure the provision of occupational therapy services is, at the very least, sustainable.
It should be a source of national shame that clinicians with longstanding relationships with wounded, disabled and ageing veterans are having to cut these ties because the Australian Government is unwilling to provide fair compensation for their services. And it is unconscionable that the 2018-19 budget requires those clinicians still doing this work, but at a loss, to endure at least a further three years without a real increase in pay.
From 1 October 2019, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) has introduced a new treatment cycle for those veterans and war widows being cared for by allied health professionals.The new cycle requires a client to get a new referral from their GP after twelve sessions with an allied health professional, or twelve months, whichever comes first. Learn more about the treatment cycle here.
- OTA continues to advocate for fair pay for OTs working with DVA clients.
- OTA continues to engage with government and other key stakeholders to educate and advocate for the role of OTs in providing support and assisting recovery for veterans.
OTA has launched a standalone website, OTs for Veterans, to raise awareness of the issue of unjust remuneration, and to involve OTs, veterans and their carers in our campaign to ensure fair pay for OTs working with veterans and veterans’ family members. As our campaign states, this is not the way a grateful nation treats the people who treat its veterans.
Graphic element designed for the ongoing OTs for Veterans campaign.
Michael Barrett met with Senator Hon Eric Abetz, Chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, to discuss the inadequate fees paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs to occupational therapists working with veterans and war widows. This issue was subsequently raised by Senator Abetz in Senate Estimates hearings.
OTA representatives participated in the Phoenix Centenary of Anzac Centre networking event held on 26 November 2019 that explored opportunities for active engagement and collaboration across professional bodies and special interest groups for better veteran mental health outcomes.
Relevant Submissions and Correspondence
How You Can Help
Go to our OTs for Veterans standalone website, and write to your federal MP to voice your support for OTs and the veteran clients to whom they provide services.
OTA welcomes feedback about your experiences working with veterans. OTA takes this feedback to government and key stakeholders to advocate for better outcomes for OTs, and their clients.