Legislative changes to support the wellbeing of veterans and their families

Minister for Veterans Ron Mark has welcomed the First Reading of a Bill that will make legislative changes to further improve the veterans’ support system. 

The Veterans’ Support Amendment Bill No 2, which will amend the Veterans’ Support Act 2014, passed First Reading today. The bill addresses a number of the recommendations of a 2018 report into the operation of the Act by Professor Ron Paterson.

“The changes being made will have an immediate impact on the wellbeing of our veterans and their families,” said Ron Mark.

Increased access to mental health services is being proposed, along with more support for the families of veterans. The amendment bill will also be an opportunity to make the Act fairer.

“Occasionally deployments can’t be made public for security reasons–– and not being able to gazette these deployments, as the Act requires, means those taking part don’t qualify for services and support from Veterans’ Affairs,” said Ron Mark.

“The amendment would give the responsible Minister discretion, for security or operational reasons, to declare operations to be qualifying operational service without requiring that they be gazetted.

“This announcement, together with the new funding provided across the three previous Budgets, as well as actions already taken by Veterans’ Affairs to improve their processes, show significant progress has been made to improve the veteran support system and to implement the recommendations of the Paterson report.

“The veterans of New Zealand have been waiting a long time for the improvements Professor Paterson called for to be brought into effect. They do not deserve to wait any longer, and it is my intent that the Bill is passed prior to the end of this Parliamentary term.

“For that reason, the Bill will have a short period at Select Committee, and will be reported back to the House by 21 July 2020.

“I encourage those interested in the veterans’ support system to engage with the Social Services and Community Committee as it considers the Bill,” said Ron Mark.

Note:

An update on progress towards implementing the recommendations of the Paterson report can be found here:

https://www.veteransaffairs.mil.nz/about-veterans-affairs/our-programmes/the-paterson-report/ and https://www.veteransaffairs.mil.nz/about-veterans-affairs/our-programmes/the-paterson-report/recommendations-from-the-paterson-report/

 What amendments to the Veterans’ Support Act 2014 are being proposed?

The provisions in the Veterans Support Amendment Bill No 2 will:

  • enable Veterans’ Affairs to fund mental health services for veterans with acute needs before eligibility has been established;
  • enable treatment and rehabilitation services provided by Veterans’ Affairs to continue when a veteran is imprisoned until they have been transferred to the Corrections system;
  • extend some services to families, for example counselling, where this is necessary for the veteran’s well-being;
  • modernise definitions in the Act, such as the term “child”, which will change to better reflect the make-up of modern families;
  • extend the Children’s Bursary to cover situations where the veteran and child live overseas; and to extend the definition of recognised tertiary institutions; 
  • abolish the five-year restriction on childcare assistance;
  • enable Veterans’ Independence Programme household support services to continue for 12 months when a veteran goes into care, so as to assist their spouse or partner;
  • make it easier for surviving spouses or partners to access pensions and be reimbursed for funeral costs when a veteran dies;
  • standardise a grace period of 28 days following the death of a veteran,  to minimise chances of debt building up if payment of an entitlement is not immediately stopped;
  • better recognise psychological illness conditions that are attributed to, or aggravated by a veteran’s service;
  • give Veterans’ Affairs discretion to recognise injuries, illness, or death should they have occurred when a veteran was briefly absent without leave, or committing a minor offence;
  • enable Veterans’ Affairs to continue providing a spouse, partner, or family with a veteran’s entitlements if the veteran is imprisoned, until other arrangements can be made;
  • increase flexibility for decision-making timeframes;
  • provide the responsible Minister with discretion, for security or operational reasons, to declare operations to be qualifying operational service without the requirement to publish a notice in the Gazette; and
  • align the process for setting Veteran’s Pension rates with the process for setting other Veterans’ Support entitlements.