‘Take action to stay well’: Tailored health checks for veterans

Morgan Liotta

16/09/2019 12:02:41 PM

New comprehensive health checks for ex-serving ADF members are designed to help ease the transition to civilian life.

Australian veterans
The scheme has been praised as an incentive for veterans to seek regular health checks and feel they are being supported through tailored care.

‘Veterans have had unique and sometimes highly stressful experiences, and are at increased risk of developing physical and mental health conditions during and after transition to civilian life,’ Dr Loretta Poerio, acting Chief Health Officer at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA), told newsGP.
Due to the often-specific nature of care required for veterans, the DVA is offering two types of tailored health checks for all former members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

  • The One-off Veteran Health Check – can be claimed once at any time, regardless of when the veteran stopped serving. There is a Medicare rebate available and eligible patients may be required to make a gap payment if their GP does not bulk bill.
  • The Annual Veteran Health Check – all veterans with one day of continuous full-time service who left the ADF from 1 July 2019 are eligible to claim every year for the first five years after transition. These checks are fully funded with a DVA Health Card and are available from GPs who accept DVA Veteran Cards.
Dr Poerio praised the scheme as an incentive for veterans to seek regular health checks and feel they are being supported through care tailored to their specific needs.
‘The Veteran Health Checks initiative was specifically developed to support veterans to take action to stay well, raise any health concerns and get treatment early in the transition out of the ADF and into civilian life,’ she said.
Guidance for GPs when they are performing the checks is also available through the DVA’s Veteran Health Check tool.
‘GPs can use [the tool] to help guide the appointment and make sure they get the information they need to find the best treatment options for patients from the veteran community,’ Dr Poerio said.
‘The GP visit is also an opportunity for veterans to share their experience to further assist GPs to gather the information they need to provide support.’
In addition to helping further boost the health and wellbeing of veterans, the addition of the health checks to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) provides an opportunity for GPs to build a better patient profile by identifying and addressing any physical and mental health conditions common in the years following transition from the ADF.
Recent data shows a significant number of contemporary veterans experience homelessness upon leaving the ADF. More than 1200 ex-serving men and women used specialist homelessness services in 2011–17, with 46% experiencing homelessness at the time they first accessed a service.
The most common reasons for accessing homelessness services were accommodation (51%), interpersonal relationships (25%) and financial issues (12%).
Homelessness potentially brings its own set of healthcare issues, highlighting the value of better access to care and early intervention initiatives for this population.
Dr Poerio believes the Veteran Health Checks make it easier for veterans to develop a relationship with a GP.
‘[GPs] can get to know their veteran patient and help develop skills to manage and monitor their own health in the years post-transition,’ she said.
‘Early intervention and targeted referrals from a GP can help veterans in this process and can lead to better health outcomes.’
Dr Poerio is hopeful that the health checks will be fully integrated into general practice for eligible patients, and for ongoing collaboration between the DVA, veteran patients and GPs.
‘It’s good practice for veteran patients to continue to see their GP ever year for a check-up, to proactively manage their health and identify any issues early,’ she said.
‘The DVA recommends that veteran patients tell their GP that they have served in the military so that is can be taken into account during a consultation.’
And, even if they are ‘feeling healthy’, the DVA cites the benefits of developing a relationship with their GP so they can get to know patients and work with them to manage their health over the years.

Department of Veterans’ Affairs DVA Medicare mental health veterans’ health

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