Veterans – not just another ageing demographic

I am of a generation that still enjoys reading the actual Saturday morning papers (not the web version) over a coffee and toast. The past Saturday morning was no different, but a couple of articles got me thinking…

On 25 April this year, Australia, along with our close neighbours New Zealand, will commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli.  It will be an emotional time for many and a time for all of us to remember the futility and waste that is war.

I also read again the concern expressed by many, of the financial burden that will be faced by the government and taxpayers going forward as a result of our ageing population; the increasing number of baby boomers who will be eligible for a part age pension, and the growing number of people who will require aged care both in their own home and in a residential age care facility.

Now, you are probably asking, what is the connection?

Let me explain.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) is responsible for the commemorative ANZAC Day celebrations and for payment of the Service Pension, the War Widow Pension, the War Disability Pension, the Orphan Pension, plus numerous allowances and the issuance of a number of health benefits cards of various colours i.e. White, Red and Gold, to Australia’s ex-service personnel and their dependants.

Even though there is a similarity with the assets and income test of a person applying for an age pension through Centrelink, the other very important criteria for any eligibility can be linked to a person’s “qualifying service — generally, that is, has served in operations against the enemy while in danger from hostile forces of the enemy”.

A number of the payments from DVA are not subject to any income and assets test at all, and as well as being tax free, they are exempt from the income testing when assessing a person’s means tested fee for the purposes of aged care. The Service Pension is, in fact, payable to a person five years earlier than the age pension.

Now, I am sure no-one is going to have an issue with the payments that are payable to veterans, or any of the other benefits that apply to and their dependents.

In June 2014, DVA was responsible for a total of 329,295 beneficiaries.  A substantial number I am sure we all agree, however in June 2005 this number was 472,227 and the projected number in June 2024 is expected to be 208,200.

It is ironic that with an ageing population, DVA benefits is one of the few areas where the government will see a reduction in spending. To put this into some sort of perspective, 17,916 veterans from World War 2 are still in receipt of a service pension. Their average age is 91.3.  There are 31,969 veterans from the Vietnam War in receipt of a service pension and their average age is 68.7.

There will be no new applicants from World War 2, or the Vietnam War who will become eligible for a payment from DVA in the coming years, their numbers will continue to decrease as they age.

It is with a great deal of sadness that I think of the ageing and passing of these wonderful people.

But I also think, being the optimist that I am, that the declining number of Veterans indicate that we are learning and appreciating the damage that a war can cause and reflecting on this before anyone pushes a button or signs a declaration, but then again after reading the balance of the paper I could be wrong and classified as a little naïve…I hope not.

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