$112 million was allocated to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) as part of its ongoing commitment to improve services for veterans through the Veteran Centric Reform (VCR) program, as outlined in the 2018-19 Budget.
The funding came in addition to the $166.6 million earmarked in the 2017-18 budget after DVA’s operations and infrastructure were considered “no longer fit for purpose…and [lacking] the information sharing and data analysis necessary to meet veterans’ expectations of a quality service.”
In a report released by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) in June 2018, key weaknesses in DVA’s business systems and processes were highlighted for reform under the VCR program.
A high priority challenge for DVA has been the overhaul of core service delivery functions which rely on the use of more than 200 ageing information technology software systems, according to the report. The ageing systems hindered process efficiency for some of the department’s core services, including its principal claims processes.
With the injection of new federal funding under VCR, DVA commenced its digitisation program which had migrated approximately 33 million paper-based client records into digital storage as of July 2018, at a rate of approximately one million pages per week, according to DVA’s Submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Compensation and Rehabilitation for Veterans in July 2018.
Engagement with its client base has also been a priority for the department since the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) observed a key area of difference between older and younger veterans was the preferred method of interacting with the department. Existing legacy paper-based systems were identified as a primary “pain point” for the department, with the majority of veterans under the age of 45 willing to interact with DVA digitally.
This has been addressed through the department’s new online MyService platform, launched in early 2017. “MyService [was] the outcome of a joint initiative between DVA and the Department of Human Services (DHS)…as a key part of DVA’s transformation agenda, and has helped align DVA ‘s veteran-facing services with human centred design concepts.”
User-centred design has been at the core of the development and continuous improvement of the MyService platform, according to a spokesperson for DVA. “Since the launch of the online platform in 2016, DVA has engaged more than 500 clients, staff and members of the veteran community while developing MyService.”
The online platform is the first government digital service to help people fast-track through legal eligibility conditions by leveraging an authoritative digital source of legal rule, according to a DHS’ Submission on the Digital Delivery of Government Services. The platform uses a completely open-source Application Programming Interface, developed by GovLawTech, which automatically extracts legal requirements and metadata, keeping DVA up to date when legal requirements change.
The portal is available to all current and former members of the Australia Defence Force. As at June 2018, over 5000 registered users have lodged claims through MyService.
The Whole-of-Department digital transformation is expected to continue with a suite of fresh initiatives on the horizon to be led by newly appointed Chief Information Officer Charles McHardie, including the improved dental and allied health digital reform package due for release over the forward estimates.
The reform package “rebalances” DVA’s arrangement for purchasing dental and allied health services, with the aim “to strengthen the quality of care for DVA cardholders by increasing general practitioner (GP) engagement and assessment.”
The package has four main elements: technical adjustments to fee schedules; a new treatment cycle initiative; trials of new funding models; and, scheduled upgrades to meet future needs.
Telepathology is a key development under the proposed changes, targeting DVA’s engagement with new technologies for online counselling and treatment.
Planning and development of the new technical design changes are expected to cost around $1.1 million in 2018-19, with net savings of around $18.2 million per year from 2019-20 to 2021-22.
The trial of new funding models, due to start in early 2021, will have a total cost of approximately $1.8 million over two years, on top of planned upgrades to the dental and allied health fee schedules at a total cost of around $11.1 million.
“Over the forward estimates, this initiative will result in a total net savings of $40.7 million.”
DVA to be dismantled?
A draft report by the Productivity Commission published on December 14, suggested DVA be dismantled in favour of a new Veterans Services Commission.
The body “would be an independent authority, with a board of directors or commissioners,” according to Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald. The core focus would be on outcomes, operating in a similar model to many workers compensation schemes currently in operation across Australia.
The Department of Defence is being called on to take more responsibility for the welfare of veterans as part of this new proposal; however, backlash to the new commissioning body rejects this notion, stating those who have left the military do not want to be back under Defence control.
The proposal comes in light of apparent poor performance by DVA – mainly due to the complexity of the current system, which the Productivity Commission believes should be drastically simplified for the sake of veterans and their families.
Nevertheless, the draft report acknowledges the early signs of success under the VCR program, and believes the continued rollout of this platform should proceed as planned.