Veterans' and VETERANS' Family Counselling Service - VVCS (Now OPEN ARMS)



1973                            Australian Forces withdrawn from South Vietnam.


Dec 1979                    Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia (VVAA) formed in response to protests that the Government, the Repatriation Act and the Department of Veterans Affairs were inadequately catering for the special disabilities and treatment needs of Vietnam veterans.


1980                            Increasing publicity of Vietnam veterans' health and emotional problems proved difficult to handle within normal departmental arrangements.


Request from VVAA for a grant‑in‑aid to set up a special counselling service.


13 Jan 1981                CABINET DECISION: That Vietnam veterans should be provided with a limited counselling service to facilitate access to community services including Repatriation services where appropriate and practicable.  Minister's press statement dated 14/1/81 stated that the new counselling service was established because it was recognised that some Vietnam veterans had problems that cannot be adequately handled within normal departmental arrangements.


14 Jan 1981                Free hospital treatment offered to Vietnam veterans. Press release also mentioned a proposed counselling service.


1981                            Interim counselling arrangements made for Vietnam veterans by Social Workers within the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Rejected by VVAA as an extension of Veterans' Affairs.


12‑23 Feb 1981          "Things to do for Vietnam veterans" ‑ departmental brainstorm.


June 1981                   Senator A J Messner, Minister for Veterans' Affairs visits the Veteran  Administration in the USA.


July 1981                    Submission to Cabinet for the establishment of a counselling service for Vietnam veterans and their families. After consultation with the RSL, establishment of a separate counselling service for Vietnam Veterans (VVCS) with high professional standards was announced. The VVCS to be monitored by a National Advisory Committee reporting directly to the Minister.


Sept 1981                   Setting up of the National Advisory Committee on the VVCS under the chairmanship of Major General A Morrison AO DSO MBE (Ex‑Services member of the Repatriation Commission.


Oct 1981                     Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment inquiry set up to report on "Pesticides and the Health of Australian Vietnam Veterans" (reported November 1982). Report rejected by the VVAA as biased. Call for a Royal Commission.


21 Jan 1982                The first VVCS Centre opened in Adelaide.


15 Feb 1982               Government announces more Vietnam veteran initiatives ‑ press release included:


        VVCS referral for specialised counselling

        VVCS referral of wives and children to Repatriation General Hospitals for emergency treatment

        non‑insured Vietnam veterans emergency treatment in country hospitals ‑ costs to the Department of Veterans' Affairs

        variations to studies of Vietnam veterans' health.


15 Feb 1982                   Sydney VVCS centre opened.


14 April 1982                 Perth VVCS centre opened.


19 May 1982                 Hobart VVCS centre opened.


11 June 1982                 Darwin VVCS centre opened.


23 June 1982                 Melbourne VVCS centre opened.


21 July 1982                 Brisbane VVCS centre opened.


1982                                                           Repatriation Amendment Bill presented to Parliament.


Feb 1983                     Setting up of the independent Committee of Review and Evaluation of the VVCS under the chairmanship of Professor Ian Waterhouse.


                                    Australian Labor Party platform ‑ to extend the VVCS.


March 1983                Labor Government elected. New Minister for Veterans' Affairs Senator the Hon A T Gietzelt.


14 June 1983              Canberra VVCS centre opened.


July 1983                    Royal Commission on the Use and Effects of Chemical Agents on the Australian Personnel in Vietnam set up to inquire into all aspects of Vietnam veterans' fears and difficulties, under the chairmanship of Mr Justice Evatt.


Sept 1983                    Waterhouse Committee interim recommendations accepted extension of the VVCS for at least another three years.


21 Oct 1983                Townsville VVCS centre opened.


Oct‑Nov 1983             Two further VVCS centres opened.


22 Aug 1984               Waterhouse Report Part 1 tabled in Parliament. 39 of the 40

recommendations accepted. Tabling statement included a restructuring of the NAC to ensure independent accountability of the VVCS to the Minister, under the chairmanship of Mr Les Harvey.


9 April 1985                New counsellor structure approved by the Public Service Board. New structure staffed on temporary/acting basis.


July 1985                    Report on the Evatt Royal Commission published, including recommendations on chemical exposure and its possible health effects, mental health and the VVCS.


19 Aug 1985               CABINET DECISION No. 6527:     "No link". Not committed to implementing any individual recommendations at this stage.


Aug 1985                    Interviews for appointments of all counsellors to the new establishment.


Sept 1985                    Final report of Waterhouse Committee. Four further recommendations accepted.


Nov 1985                    Minister's direction that VVCS staff and funding to be under the control of the National Director, VVCS in a National Office.


May 1986                   First legislative base for the VVCS provided by the passage of the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 (VEA), Part V, Section 92.


June 1986                   New Policy Proposal ‑ "Extension of the VVCS Counselling Services to Country Veterans". Recommended but not funded.


July 1986                    Trial project started in Cairns ‑ the use of local professional practitioners at departmental expense.


Emergency accommodation centre (Angus House) in Brisbane funded as a joint venture.


Average staffing level of 32 provided to the VVCS, although actually staffed at 37.


Sept 1986                    Australian Labor Party platform ‑ maintain the expansion of the VVCS.


March 1987                New Policy Proposal ‑ "Counselling Services in Remote Country Areas for Vietnam Veterans".


Commission DecisionThis proposal did not have a high priority.  Requested a review of VVCS operations in order to assess whether VVCS staffing of 39 could be justified, or whether outreach to country areas could be made without an increase of staff.


24 March 1987           First Assistant Secretary, (Health Services Planning) addressed the NAC on the subject of a review of VVCS staffing levels.


Aug 1987                    Departmental Review of Staffing and Activities submitted to Commission, NAC and Minister. Total of 41 staff recommended before extension to extra country counselling.


Oct 1987                     Vietnam Veterans' Welcome Home Parade, Sydney.


12 Oct 1987                Notification by the Department that VVCS average staffing level would be stabilised at 35. 41 "to hold the fort" pending consideration of the Review in the context of the budgetary process.


Nov 1987                    Trial project in Launceston approved ‑ VVCS counsellor outposted from Hobart centre for outreach purposes.


Senator the Hon A T Gietzelt retired. New Minister for Veterans' Affairs the Hon Ben Humphreys.


Dec 1987                    Major General W B (Digger) James AO MBE MC appointed as Chairman of the NAC.


1 Jan 1988                  VVAA letter to the Prime Minister alleging deterioration in the independence of the VVCS.


Jan 1988                     Launceston VVCS regional centre opened.


Mar 1988                    Public inquiry set up by the House of Representatives' Standing Committee on Community Affairs into the provision of counselling and ancillary services for Vietnam veterans.


31 March 1988           Submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee by DVA, NAC and VVCS counsellors.


22 April 1988              Commission Response to the 1987 Review of Staffing and Activities, recommending in a Cabinet Submission that the staffing level of the VVCS should be 35 plus 6 for a country counselling outreach project.


3 May 1988              CABINET DECISION No. 11022:   on submission number S 698 ‑Response to the Evatt ("Agent Orange") Royal Commission report and the Hogg report.


        Evatt Royal Commission main conclusions on chemicals and health endorsed

        VVCS services for country veterans to be increased

        resource costs to be absorbed within DVA budget

        Recommendations of the Evatt Royal Commission not accepted were the automatic acceptance of claims, changes to the VEA and a wider role for the VVCS (rebut Agent Orange "myth" etc).


11 May 1988              Proposed Improved VVCS Outreach Services Strategic Plan approved by the NAC.


19 May 1988              Government Response to the Evatt Royal Commission and Hogg Report announced. The major conclusions of the Royal Commission were endorsed.


        chemical exposure is not likely to have caused long term effects or birth defects

        increased VVCS services for country counselling ‑ 6 extra staff for this purpose

        joint venture seeding grants for half‑way homes for veterans ‑ $400,000 over two years

        assistance for a Vietnam veteran monument

        DVA data base on mortality to be maintained

        National Health and Medical Research Committee (NH&MRC)

        epidemiological study on cancer associated with Dapsone funded.


27 Sept 1988               Improved VVCS outreach services project approved by the Minister.


Oct 1988                     Report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Community Affairs Inquiry into counselling and ancillary services for Vietnam veterans "After the March ".


27 recommendations, including:


        National Director (VVCS) to be a statutory office

        continuation of VVCS for the next 10 to 15 years

        total of 60 staff for VVCS, (including 5 at National Officer and a base staff of 39 before country outreach project requirements)


3 Oct 1989                  Departmental submission to the Minister on the "After the March" report presented to the NAC for review. The NAC made 19 recommendations for amendment, including:


        the VVCS should not be organisationally linked with other departmental health services provided to veterans, but remain a discreet service

        utilisation needs as a measure of demand should be balanced by reference to the assessed needs of the Vietnam veterans

        NAC advice on all policy matters


4 Oct 1989                  Government Response to the "After the March " report tabled in Parliament by the Minister. All recommendations accepted with the exception of:


        Statutory office ‑ an amendment to the VEA proposed instead

        purchase or lease of an aircraft

        VVCS staff complement of 60. A complement of 49 was proposed, to be reconsidered once the new staff had settled down


Nov 1989                    NH&MRC funded Epidemiological Study on the Mealth and Psychological Status of Vietnam Veterans by Sydney University in conjunction with VVCS commenced with training of VVCS counsellors.


14 March 1990           An NAC review of DVA outreach activities found a difference between DVA outreach in coordination of community services for veterans and VVCS outreach which deals not only with veterans but also with their families, and primarily provides ongoing counselling services for both groups as well as referral to community services.


Oct 1990                     Departmental instruction ‑ National Director, VVCS to report directly to Commissioner Ralph in future, while the VVCS to remain within the Health Program.


16 Nov 1990               Albury/Wodonga VVCS regional centre opened by Commissioner Ralph.


Jan 1991                     Letter of complaint from National President of the VVAA to Prime        Minister regarding lack of government commitment to "After the March" report announcements of October 1989, particularly 1990‑91 cuts in VVCS staffing levels from 49 to 47 and delay in introducing VEA legislation for the VVCS and NAC.


3 Oct 1992                  Opening of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial in Canberra.


24 March 1993           New Minister for Veterans' Affairs Senator the Hon John Faulkner.


Aug 1993                    The Minister for Veterans' Affairs announced as budget initiatives, funding for the enhancement of the country outreach program and the establishment of a National after hours telephone counselling service.


25 March 1994           New Minister for Veterans' Affairs the Hon Con Sciacca.


18 April 1994              Dr Neville O'Connor appointed as Chairman of the NAC following the resignation of Major General W B James AO MBE MC.


May 1994                   The Minister for Veterans' Affairs announced the introduction of the Younger Veterans Package, an initiative included in the 1994‑95 budget.  The package is to provide S20.6m over four years.  The package included a number of inter‑linked but stand alone components. These were:


        an increase in joint ventures to be expanded to assist younger veterans

        a mortality study of younger veterans to be conducted by Dr Keith Horsley (DVA Benefits Program)

        a counselling and readjustment component which required extra resources for VVCS centres

        PTSD centres, including a National PTSD Centre to prepare treatment protocols and standards, coordinate and evaluate programs and conduct research

        a National Steering Committee and a Clinical Reference Committee on PTSD

        PTSD Assessment Units in each State for inpatient and outpatient treatment and management


1 July 1994                 The National after hours telephone crisis counselling service ‑ "Vetline" was established. This replaced a number of pilot programs previously tested in a number of States.


6 Oct 1994                  Southport VVCS regional centre opened.


21 Nov 1994               Lismore VVCS regional centre opened.


6 Dec 1994                 The Minister for Veterans' Affairs announced to the NAC that while he was unsure of the outcomes of the restructure of the Department, the VVCS would maintain its individual status. The Minister also said that he saw the NAC as his watchdog to recognise and comment on problems impacting on the VVCS.


Jan 1995                     The report of the Clinical Evaluation of the VVCS was released. The report contained 31 recommendations.


Jan 1995                     The Repatriation Commission replied to the Clinical Evaluation of the VVCS strongly endorsing the views expressed in the Review. The Commission instructed that the recommendations in the Review are to be fully implemented.


21 March 1995           The NAC discussed the recommendations of the Clinical valuation of the VVCS and submitted the following recommendations to the Minister:


        that eligibility for services include family members and veterans of Australia's allies and that the interpretation of eligibility as "family" should be left to the counsellor

        that closer supervision be arranged to ensure the high standard of clinical practice recommended in the Report, especially during a new counsellor's probationary period

        that details of all group programs be exchanged between VVCS centres to facilitate standards and implementation

        that the primary focus of services be therapeutic counselling that can incorporate case management as part of the continuity of client care


Jan 1996                     The report of the Evaluation of Vetline by Dr Richard Bryant and Professor Kevin McConchey was released. The report contained a number of recommendations described in terms of:





        monitoring; and

        future evaluation.


The major recommendation was that Vetline continue to operate as a national after hours telephone counselling service.


March 1996                New Minister for Veterans' Affairs the Hon Bruce Scott MP.


April 1996                   VVCS commenced operations at Maroochydore on the Sunshine Coast.


Aug 1996                    Official opening of the new VAN/VVCS office for the Albury/Wodonga region at relocated premises in Wodonga.


Oct 1996                     Newcastle VVCS regional centre commenced operations.


1 July 1997                 The name of the National After Hours Telephone Crisis Line changed from "Vetline" to "Veterans Line". The Salvation Army was contracted to operate Veterans Line for three years.


Aug 1997                    Official opening of the new VAN/VVCS office at Maroochydore.


Sept 1997                    The report of the Community Health Accreditation and Standards Program review of the VVCS was released.


9 Oct 1997                  Official opening of the VVCS office at Newcastle.


23 Feb 1998                The Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service Enterprise Agreement 1997‑98 was certified by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. Benefits and arrangements were back dated to 13 November 1997.


March 1998                The Minister for Veterans' Affairs released the report ‑ "Mortality of Vietnam Veterans: the Veteran Cohort Study", a self reporting survey which has investigated the mortality experience of the 59,000 Australian males who served in the Vietnam War.


August 1998               A review and restructure of administrative positions within the Service was completed, approved and implemented.


Oct 1998                     A restructure of professional positions including the establishment of Deputy Director and Clinical Coordinator positions and the formation of a National Executive Group management committee was completed, approved and implemented.


Feb 1999                     Following the successful establishment of Heartsafe healthy lifestyle and fitness programs in Queensland, the program was extended nationally.


Throughout 1999 the VVCS assisted DVA to develop a comprehensive response to the Vietnam Veterans Health Study.


2 Nov 1999                 The Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service Enterprise Agreement 1999 - 2001 was certified by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.  Benefits and arrangements were back dated to 1 September 1999.


17 Apr 2000                Memorandum of Understanding between the VVCS and the Australian Defence Force (ADF) on the provision of counselling services to ADF members was signed.


Throughout 2000 there was increasing involvement with the ADF through the Defence Links Project.


May 2000                   The Government allocated $32.4m over four years in the budget to expand VVCS activities as a response to the Vietnam Veterans Health Study.  Initiatives included:


        development and implementation of the Sons and Daughters Project

        full funding of the national Heart Health Program

        expansion of other VVCS group programs including residential lifestyle courses and other psycho‑educational programs


1 July 2000                 The Salvation Army successfully tendered to retain operation of Veterans Line for the next three years.


Oct 2000                     The NAC was restructured to include a representative of partners of veterans and representatives from the ADF and the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health.


Oct 2000                     Mr Brian McKenzie OAM appointed as chairman of the NAC following the retirement of Dr Neville O' Connor.


Dec 2000                    Introduction of the Alcohol Management Program in response to YV Health Study aimed at reducing alcohol related abuse in the veteran community.


Jan 2001                     Change to the Veterans Entitlement Act 1986 to extend eligibility to adult sons and daughters of Vietnam veterans.


26 Nov 2001               New Minister for Veterans' Affairs, the Hon Danna Vale MP.


29 May 2002              The VVCS gains Quality Improvement Council (QIC) accreditation until 8 February 2004 in recognition of meeting the QIC Accreditation Program required for the AHCSS Core and Community and Primary Health Care Services Module.


Nov 2002                    Letter from the National President of the VVAA to the Minister for Veterans Affairs suggesting that a gifting process (pending a name change) for VVCS be implemented (with conditions) and expressing concern with changes to the management structure where Mr Wes Kilham, National Director had been elevated to a position of Branch head and the implications this may have on the independence of the service and a possible ‘conflict of interest’.


Feb 2003                     Mrs Margaret Rehorn reappointed as a member of the NAC for a 2 year period.


Feb 2003                     A review of ‘Veterans Line’ is conducted by a committee comprising Dr Des Perry, Dr Richard Roberts, Ms Chris Sloane and NAC Chair Brian McKenzie


13 Feb 2003                Minister for Veterans' Affairs releases Report of the Review of Veterans' Entitlements conducted by a Committee headed by the Hon. John Clarke QC.  The report put forward the view that:         


        The objective of rehabilitation should be to restore veterans to their optimal level of function, commensurate with their service-related disabilities, in order to provide them with better quality of life, maximised vocational outcomes and reduced dependency on financial disability compensation.


The Committee also:


        recommends that DVA should pursue its efforts to provide and promote rehabilitation services with the same vigour that it applies to the other elements of disability compensation (31.219-211, Recommendations).


        commented positively on the improvements provided through the expansion of VVCS programs (31.102, 31.115).  It noted the favourable comments about the VVCS Heart Health Program and felt that a "limited extension to veterans who have a professionally assessed need for the program and who receive disability compensation at the special rate is warranted." (31.171-172)


        recommends that "DVA should undertake further controlled investigations into the inclusion of spouses in the treatment of veterans and the utility of lifestyle-management courses as a first step in the treatment of trauma related problems within the veteran community."


        Other recommendations:


        There should be a greater focus on socially oriented programs and assistance. (31.174.).


        There are behavioral disadvantages in having an age at which veterans are presumed to be unemployable. (31.200).


        There is a need for rehabilitation medicine expertise in DVA (31.202).


        The inadequacies of the current arrangements include:


-         the lack of early rehabilitation intervention;

-         the focus on seeking pensions to the exclusion of restoring functioning;

-         the voluntary nature of the existing systems;

-         poor knowledge within the veteran community of available rehabilitation. (A full list is at 31.138).


        Veterans receive rehabilitation under two quite different systems, the Military Compensation Scheme, which provided compulsory rehabilitation where appropriate and the DVA system, where rehabilitation is voluntary and is often initiated by the veteran.  Some veterans receive benefits under both schemes. (31.88, 31.203-4)  There should be a once only election for those with dual entitlements to select the scheme under which they wish to receive compensation.


        Impediments to rehabilitation include the difficulty of diagnosing mental health disorders.  "Although DVA has medical advisers who are involved in the examination of some compensation claims, it does not have specialist mental health advisers." (31.156).


March 2003                VVCS commences the process to maintain its QIC accreditation by undergoing a new evaluation process conducted by Quality Management Services.


25 March 2003           Minister for Veterans' Affairs releases report on the Gulf War Study.


April 2003                   Repatriation Commission agrees to the full time implementation of the Crisis Assistance Program's short-term emergency accommodation assistance across Australia.


July 2003                    The NAC introduces site visits to VVCS client groups prior to meetings in order to maintain direct contact with and gather feedback from clients.


1 July 2003                 The Salvation Army (Salvo Care Line) is awarded the contract to operate Veterans Line for a further 3 years ending 30 June 2006.


Sept 2003                    Outreach Program counsellors enter into a revised 3 year agreement to comply with the requirements of The New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act 1999.


Dec 2003                    Professor Richard Bryant appointed as a member of the NAC to replace Dr Brian O'Toole, who had served on the committee since 22 February 1985.


4 Dec 2003                 The Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Bill is introduced to Parliament.


19 Dec 2003               VVCS Enterprise Agreement 2004-05 certified by the Australia Industrial Relations Commission effective from 1 January 2004.


Dec 2003                    The NAC recommends the appointment of a Peacekeeper or Peacemaker to the committee in recognition of the expanded clientele using the service


Oct 2004                     Mr Martin Carr was appointed to the NAC to replace Mr John Purser after 7 years service.


22 Oct 2004                The NAC strongly supports a process of accreditation for the VVCS, but agreed that a better method of achieving it must be investigated.


Oct 2004                     New Minister for Veterans' Affairs, the Hon De-Anne Kelly Vale MP.  New Secretary for Veterans’ Affairs appointed Mr Mark Sullivan.



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