Home' Vetaffairs : Vetaffairs - Summer 2017 Contents 12 — Vetaffairs Summer 2017
Dr Loretta Poerio
Mental Health Adviser
Department of Veterans’ Affairs
Does DVA focus too much
Given the high-profile nature of
events such as those marking
the centenaries of the Battle
of Beersheba and the Battle of
Polygon Wood and the 75th
anniversaries of Kokoda and
the Battle of El Alamein, it
is not surprising that some
believe that DVA spends a
large chunk of its budget on
Global media coverage,
front-page articles in national
newspapers and the attend-
ance of world leaders at these
events add to the perception.
The reality is, however, that
even during the period of
activity marking the Centenary
of Anzac, only 0.8% ($62 mil-
lion) of DVA’s budget is spent
on war graves and commemo-
rations, compared to 2.5% ($437
million) on administration,
43.6% ($4.9 billion) on health
services for veterans and
53.6% ($6.2 billion) on income
support and compensation
(figures correct as at June 2017).
Once the Centenary of Anzac
period concludes in November
2018, the spend on commemo-
rations will drop significantly,
making the contrast in the
above breakdown even greater.
More than two million Aus-
tralian servicemen and women
have served the nation since
Federation. More than 102,000
died as a result of war and the
Government remains com-
mitted to commemorating
their sacrifice in perpetuity,
including through a series of
domestic and international
an integral part of the Depart-
ment’s mission: to support
those who serve, or have
served in defence of our nation
and to commemorate their ser-
vice and sacrifice.
However, the bulk of DVA’s
budget goes to where it is
needed most: directly support-
Note: The $437 million administration figure as per the
2017-18 Portfolio Budget Statement includes $83.4 mil-
lion from new Budget measures and $35.6 million for the
Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme.
From paddleboarding to trampolining,
veterans embrace fun week of fitness
Participants at Mates4Mates’ stand-up paddleboarding day in Queensland.
Around 14,000 veterans and their
families took advantage of the
spring weather to take part in
more than 200 events across Aus-
tralia during Veterans’ Health
Week (VHW) in October.
Participants attended family fun
days as well as trying out sports
such as golf, kayaking, surfing,
cycling, running, yoga, boxing,
bushwalking, swimming with
humpback whales, horse-riding,
adaptive sports, pilates, croquet
and tenpin bowling.
Held 21–29 October this year,
VHW is an annual DVA-sup-
ported community-based event
that encourages current and for-
mer members of the Australian
Defence Force and their families to
focus on their physical, social and
DVA worked with ex-service
organisations and community
groups to coordinate a program
of fun activities that highlighted
the importance of improving and
maintaining health and fitness.
The RSL, the Women Veterans
Network Australia, Mates4Mates
and Men’s Shed Australia were
among the many organisations
that supported the serving and
veteran community to pursue
healthy activity and lifestyle
The theme for VHW 2017 was
‘Physical Activity’, given how fun-
damental it is to a healthy lifestyle
and helping us to stay connected
and live happier and longer lives.
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Dan Tehan was impressed by the
range of VHW events on offer this
‘Veterans’ Health Week encour-
ages former ADF members and
their families to take part in a local
event, get active and meet new
people who share a common expe-
rience,’ Mr Tehan said.
‘It is one of a range of DVA pro-
grams in place to promote the
health and wellbeing of the vet-
The Minister noted that veter-
ans could also access the Heart
Health Program, which aimed to
increase physical health and well-
being through practical exercise,
nutrition and lifestyle manage-
ment support. Veterans may be
eligible to see an exercise physi-
ologist via a referral from a GP to
help develop an exercise plan, or
to participate in DVA’s Rehabilita-
tion Appliances Program, which
provides access to items to help
eligible veterans get back to play-
ing sport and being active.
To see more photographs and
video of veterans in action around
Australia during Veterans’ Health
Week, please visit DVA’s Face-
book page (www.facebook.com/
dvaaus) and scroll back to Octo-
When it always hurts
t would not come as a surprise to many of you that living
with chronic pain can have significant impacts on your
wellbeing. One in five Australians, and up to one in three
Australians over 65, live with chronic pain, and of those,
almost 40 per cent are severely or moderately limited in their
day-to-day lives. Do I have your attention?
We know chronic pain can affect every aspect of life: work,
relationships, family life, social interactions, level of income,
and ultimately emotional wellbeing and mental health. It
is important, therefore, to understand how pain works and
look at what the evidence tells us about what works and
Pain is very important: we could not survive without it.
Pain protects our bodies from injury and aids in the healing
process. The goal of the pain system is to get us out of harm’s
way, however, this signalling is not helpful in chronic pain
and is actually detrimental to our health. Pain exists as part
of a complex, adaptive network incorporating pain percep-
tion and pain modulation systems. Chronic pain has been
described as being either an overactive pain-perception cir-
cuit or an underactive pain-modulation circuit. Factors that
can activate a person’s perception of pain include tension,
belief that pain is causing harm, and inappropriate activ-
ity level. On the other hand, factors that can modulate the
brain’s perception of pain are engaging in interesting activi-
ties, meditation, and positive emotions and thoughts.
Generally, pain is considered chronic when it lasts more than
12 weeks. There is, of course, more than one kind of chronic
pain. We know that Australian adults with severe or very severe
pain also suffer from high rates of psychological distress. This
creates further isolation and reduces quality of life.
A common approach to managing pain is through the use
of codeine and other opioids. However, the use of codeine
is not recommended for the treatment of the majority of
chronic pain conditions because of a rapid development
of tolerance, which reduces effectiveness, and because it is
highly addictive, leading to the risk of abuse and overdose.
There are also common side effects such as nausea, drowsi-
ness and constipation.
If you have been using medication to try and manage
chronic pain, there is some very good news. Active self-man-
agement strategies are currently best practice for managing
chronic pain. So, what does this approach entail? It looks at
the broader context of a person’s life and includes a person’s
biological, social and psychological factors – the biopsy-
chosocial model. It involves education regarding how pain
can persist after the initial injury has healed to ensure the
patient understands how their beliefs, thoughts, behaviours
and social interactions impact on how they experience pain.
Important components of this strategy include exercise pro-
grams, confidence building and goal setting.
This model involves a multidisciplinary approach that
takes into account the interaction of multiple factors with
medical practitioners, psychologists, psychiatrists and
physical therapists working together. Positive wellness
behaviours are established and reinforced, thereby shifting
the illness behaviours that may have previously dominated.
There are many ways of addressing pain, and advances
in neurology, science, pain management and imaging are
all promising a greater range of treatment choices to allow
approaches to be individually tailored to a person’s needs.
Finally, the support and compassion of family, friends and
treating clinicians in working with a person’s experience
of pain so they can re-engage with meaningful activities,
despite their continuing pain, is a key factor in managing
chronic pain conditions.
Veterans can discuss referral to a pain specialist with their GP.
Further useful information on pain is available via the
Pain Management Network (goo.gl/PSsqJJ) and national
advocacy body Pain Australia (www.painaustralia.org.au).
VVCS (www.vvcs.gov.au or 1800 011 046) runs workshops
on a range of topics including pain.
A list of sources used in the preparation of this article is available in the
online version at www.dva.gov.au.
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