Friday, 17th April 2020

A Veterans’ Advisory Council (VAC) meeting was held on Thursday 9 April 2020 via the Zoom online meeting platform.

The meeting was chaired by recently appointed VAC Chair, Colonel Susan Neuhaus CSC (Retd).


Colonel Susan Neuhaus CSC (Retd)

 Susan Neuhaus is a distinguished ex-Army officer and highly respected senior surgeon. She has strong networks across Defence, Health, Research, Government and Not-for-Profit sectors and is an experienced Board Director and Chairman. Susan is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. In 2012, Susan was South Australian finalist for Australian of the Year.

Susan is a Consultant Surgeon in private surgical practice. She has also completed an Army career spanning over 20 years, in both the Regular Army and Army Reserve holding command, clinical and administrative appointments. Susan has served in Cambodia, Bougainville and Afghanistan and is a graduate of the Australian Command and Staff College (Res). From 2007-8 she was the Commanding Officer of 3rd Health Support Battalion. Susan was promoted to Colonel in 2009 and served as Clinical Director of the NATO Role 2 health facility in Tarin Kowt Afghanistan. Her military service was recognized with the award of the Conspicuous Service Cross in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2009.

Susan has retrained a strong commitment to the Defence and Veteran sector and as an adjunct Associate Professor through the University of Adelaide. In this role, Susan led a developing national research collaborative investigating the gender specific effects of military service and deployment. She was Principal Investigator of the landmark study: Mothers in the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO): The health impacts of maternal deployment to an area of operations.

Susan has demonstrated strong advocacy and leadership and is widely published. She has provided advice at state and national levels including to the House of Representatives, Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. In 2015 Susan Co-chair of the South Australian Ministerial Advisory Panel for the Veteran PTSD Centre of Excellence. Her publications include the book ‘Not for Glory: a century of service by medical women to the Australian Army and its Allies’ which was recently adapted by The Shift Theatre into the stage play, Hallowed Ground; women doctors at war.

Susan is currently appointed to the Council of the Australian War Memorial Canberra. She is a Patron of the Virtual War Memorial, Australia.


Mr Don Spinks AM, Repatriation Commissioner, DVA

The VAC received a briefing from Mr Don Spinks AM, Repatriation Commissioner, DVA, on the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Compensation and Rehabilitation for Veterans and the National Commissioner for Defence and Veterans’ Suicide Prevention.

Mr Spinks spoke about COVID-19 and referred members to the DVA COVID-19 Fact Sheets emphasising that service delivery to veterans remained a priority for DVA.  He made reference to the 24-hour support service provided by Open Arms on 1800 011 046 and the importance of veterans continuing to engage with GPs either personally or via Telehealth.

The impact of COVID-19 on the aged care sector was acknowledged and Mr Spinks assured members that DVA would be tracking and planning for an appropriate response for that sector.

Mr Spinks spoke about the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Compensation and Rehabilitation for Veterans and advised there had been 69 recommendations, 300 submissions and 12 public hearings. DVA were awaiting a response from the Commonwealth Government. It had been expected that there would be a response in the planned May 2020 Budget, which has now been deferred until October.

Mr Spinks spoke about the establishment of a National Commissioner for Defence and Veterans Suicide Prevention (National Commissioner) and advised that the responsibility rested with the Attorney-General. The last COAG meeting in March expressed full support for the appointment of a National Commissioner to be located at the Repatriation Commission. The establishment of the National Commissioner, the office and the supporting legislation is underway and expected to be finalised during 2020.


COVID-19 Response/Veteran Volunteering

The Chair alerted members to the official links regarding COVID-19 on the DVA website and the DVA Veteran Fact Sheet.

The Chair advised that Volunteering SA & NT, was currently the central SA Government agency handling all registrations of interest in volunteering community support during the pandemic. Members were asked to consider whether the current crisis presented an opportunity for the veteran/defence community to give back to the wider community by way of a co-ordinated veteran volunteer group. The Chair asked members to provide feedback on how this could work in their particular area of interest.

While all members endorsed the concept of volunteering there were issues raised in relation to age, requirements to isolate, skills matching, co-ordination and liaison.

The Chair agreed that liaison with Volunteering SA & NT would be necessary to ensure there was appropriate co-ordination of skills and experience with community need.


Anzac Day 2020

 Mrs Cheryl Cates, President, RSL-SA confirmed the cancellation of Anzac Day activities including the State RSL Anzac Eve Youth Vigil, Dawn Service, Anzac Day March, Cross of Sacrifice Service and Anzac on Torrens. Discussions were still underway regarding the holding of a closed Dawn Service in Adelaide with a small number of dignitaries present. The Australian War Memorial would be holding a private, nationally televised service broadcast by the ABC and streamed online. The RSL was supporting the promotion of ‘Light up the Dawn’ encouraging members of the public to commemorate from home.


Other matters considered by the VAC included:

  • Director of Veterans SA Update – start date 20 April 2020
  • Planning for Veterans Wellbeing Centre
  • Activities of the Defence Consultative Group
  • Torrens Hub Master Plan


The next VAC meeting will be held on Thursday 11 June 2020.  Please contact Paul Sykes at or via telephone: (08) 8226 8552 if you would like any further information.