Veterans’ Covenant, Veteran Card, Lapel Pin and ADF Reserves

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The Defence Reserves Association (DRA), which represents the interests of all Australian Defence Force (ADF) Reservists, together with other Veterans’ organisations including the Defence Force Welfare Association, has for many years advocated for a Veterans’ Covenant to recognise the unique nature of military service. In October 2019 legislation passed Federal Parliament, introducing the Australian Defence Veterans’ Covenant.

During their advocacy, the DRA and other Veterans’ organisations, did not seek any wider recognition of veterans beyond the development and issue of a Veterans’ Covenant.

Nonetheless, the Federal Government, through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA), decided to issue a wider recognition package including Lapel Pin, Oath and supporting Veteran Card to any member or former member of the ADF who had completed one day’s continuous full-time service. With some limited exceptions, a different Lapel Pin, but no Veteran Card is being provided by DVA to ADF Reservists who have not had a period of full-time service.

The decision to introduce a different Lapel Pin and no Veteran Card to ADF Reservists who have had no period of full-time service was taken without the considered consultation such a decision warrants. At no time was the DRA consulted or asked for its opinion.

In administering the Veterans’ Covenant, DVA divided its eligible veteran client base into one of two categories, Veteran or Reservist. The Department of Defence then has to confirm whether the Reservist has completed any period of full-time service. There are eight categories of eligibility for Covenant-associated items including the Veteran Card, four of which apply to Reservists, thus adding unnecessary administrative complexity to the scheme.
The Veteran Card is available to some Reservists, including those with at least one day continuous full-time service.

Reservists ineligible for a Veteran Card, including many long-serving Reservists, are denied the opportunity to access the business benefits associated with the Veteran Card, promoted by DVA and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs.

It is difficult to imagine how a more discriminatory, unfair and administratively costly scheme of service recognition of Defence Reservists could have been devised. The DRA considers that issuing a different Lapel Pin to Defence Reservists, and without a Veteran Card, is also both divisive and contrary to the aims of a totally integrated ADF.

For at least the past five years, the Service Chiefs have actively pursued the promotion of a 'Total Force' concept, appreciating the significant additional capability provided by their respective Reserve components in support of ADF operations. The Service Chiefs promote the structure of their Service as having full time and part time components and openly acknowledge that without the contribution of the part time component, they would not be capable of delivering the outcomes demanded by Government. The part time component has become critical to ensuring the delivery of ADF operational capability.

The current DVA eligibility categories of veterans have undermined the position of the Service Chiefs and have left many Reservists questioning where they stand. Reservists do not want a separate 'Reserve' Lapel Pin. They do not wish to be differentiated or highlighted as 'something different' within the Total Force, where they proudly serve and contribute in a significant way to ADF capability.

The nature of part-time service provides the Service Chief with the option of employing a Reservist on either: a full-time service contract or by using Reserve Service Days (RSDs). On many occasions in the past, particularly where the task required a relatively short period of engagement, Reservists were employed utilising RSDs rather than being placed on full-time service. Typical of such tasks were short term domestic security operations, border protection operations and provision of aid to the civil community.

For many years, Reserve soldiers of the Regional Force Surveillance Units have regularly conducted operational patrols across northern Australia, serving not on full-time service but instead on RSDs. In other circumstances, Reservists have been widely employed in ADF units utilising RSDs, to cover the release of full-time personnel to undertake operational service. These Reservists undertook the same tasks and delivered the same output as the full-time personnel they replaced.

In establishing the eligibility for Reservists to apply for all components of the Veterans’ Covenant, DVA has acknowledged that those Reservists who ‘have engaged in Disaster Relief Service, Border Protection Service, or involved in a serious service-related training accident’ are eligible. This concession of sorts does not adequately cover the wide gambit of ADF service undertaken and provided by Reservists who have served, and continue to serve in the ADF. This is an unacceptable situation.

Many ADF Reservists have extensive periods of service, other than full-time service, and are disappointed that their service appears to be undervalued by the Federal Government.

The Defence Reserves Association strongly contends that this matter can be resolved by simply accepting that all those who serve, or have served in any part of the ADF, without condition, warrant the title ‘Veteran’. All Veterans would then be entitled to receive the same Veterans’ Covenant items, including the Veteran Card and common Lapel Pin, thereby reducing the costs of administration for both DVA and the Department of Defence. The Veteran Card and associated notation of eligibility would, as a minimum, provide Reservists with access to the touted business benefits associated with the Veteran Card.

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