Press Conference, Melbourne

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The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

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Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

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17 August 2022

SUBJECTS: RESTORE Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder therapy for veterans; Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide

DOUGLAS SCOTT, OPEN ARMS REGIONAL DIRECTOR: Welcome all to Open Arms in Melbourne, Victoria, a really important service that's offered by the Federal government. Importantly, it was uh, I just want to highlight that it was established by Vietnam veterans, and I want to highlight that because tomorrow is the major celebration of, commemoration of commemorations. So, no doubt we'll see you at the Shrine tomorrow. So, look, without further ado, I want to throw to our Assistant Minister for Veterans' Affairs, the Honourable Matt Thistlethwaite, to talk about a really important program that has been run in conjunction with DVA, Department of Defence, and Phoenix Australia.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR VETERANS’ AFFAIRS: Thanks, Doug. Thanks for joining us, everyone. I want to thank Doug and his team here at Open Arms for the wonderful work that you do in supporting our veterans community. We're here today to launch a very important initiative RESTORE, Rapid Exposure Supporting Trauma Recovery. This is a partnership between Phoenix Australia, and DVA, to improve counselling outcomes for veterans experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We know that PTSD is a huge issue for the veteran community in Australia and these trial findings that we're releasing today indicate that a new form of therapy, a much compressed form of therapy, is getting outcomes that are just as good as the longer form. But more importantly, participants are four times more likely to stay in the program and complete the program rather than dropping out. The standard form of PTSD therapy lasts 10 weeks, participants engage in one therapy, one session per week. This new form that we're launching today is a rapid exposure therapy, whereby participants participate over 10 days over two weeks. That increases the exposure to that therapy, and the results are just as good and fewer people are dropping out.

The important thing about this is it's the largest random trial of PTSD therapy in Australia's history and I want to thank the team at Phoenix, and at DVA, for providing this important research and undertaking this important research, which we know is going to be really important in the future in getting better outcomes for veterans. But at the end of the day, this is about improving therapy outcomes for veterans facing PTSD and it offers choice, it offers more options for veterans that are undertaking therapy. So, veterans will now have the option of undertaking the 10 week program, or the more compressed two week program, where we know the results are just as effective. But more importantly, people are more likely to stay in the program and get better results. And at the end of the day, that's what this is all about, providing better outcomes in a shorter timeframe for our veterans who have served our nation and deserve that respect and deserve those programs. I'll now hand over to Associate Professor Lisa Dell, who will make a few comments, then we're happy to take some questions about this program and about other issues. So over to you, Lisa.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR LISA DELL, PHOENIX AUSTRALIA: Thank you, thanks for the opportunity to talk today. So, this PTSD treatment trial is the largest treatment trial in Australia for veterans and military members who have PTSD, and it's really important that we start to think about how to get the treatments working for the veterans rather than veterans working for treatment. So, finding unique and novel ways to deliver evidence based care is really at the top of our minds. So, understanding how we can engage individuals into seeking psychological therapy that is evidence based and keeping them in the therapy until we're getting the results that we need. And the RESTORE trial in partnership between Phoenix Australia, DVA, Defence, and Open Arms has done just that. So, we had individuals come into our trial who have had PTSD for up to 45 years, and they received symptom benefits, so they benefited from the research that we've done. So we've looked at a compressed or a mass format of prolonged exposure therapy, which is one of our gold standard interventions for PTSD and we compared that to its implementation in its usual form and what we were able to see was benefit for the vast majority of individuals who came into the trial, not only did everybody benefit, but we also saw a 50% reduction in PTSD diagnosis in individuals who participated in our research, really important to understand is that whilst this was a randomised controlled trial run by the University of Melbourne, it wasn't done in a clinical research setting, this was rolled out in the real service system for veterans and military members across Australia. So, individuals were able to go to their usual place of care, such as Open Arms, and receive this therapy. So, the translational impact of this work was already being done throughout the research. And we're now able to move straight forward and Open Arms is able to provide this therapy to veterans as early as tomorrow if they need it. Thank you.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Thank you, anyone have any questions?

JOURNALIST: How long was the study run, has the trial been running for long?

DELL: Certainly, so we've been running for about five years. So quite a long trial we've just finished up and we've just been able to have a look at our 12-month outcome data. So, one of the core questions around running these compressed or massed forms of therapy is whether or not the gains can be maintained at that longer time point. So, can something that's done in such a brief period of time really benefit the individual in the long term? And we've just had a look at that data and been able to see that yes, indeed, those gains are maintained over that long time.

JOURNALIST: Forgive my ignorance, but it seems pretty self explanatory that if you did it in a much shorter more concerted timeframe, that it would work better. Why does it need a five year trial?

DELL: The five year trial was to enable enough individuals to come into the trial across Australia. So that was just by design. We just needed that length of time for the individuals to come in. What was the real question, though, was whether if we are doing something in two weeks, does that memory consolidation does that benefit stay? So that was the real question that we had, and we needed the time to be able to do those follow ups with the individuals who participated?

JOURNALIST: Why did it run over 10 weeks? Is that the theory that you need to do it weekly over 10 weeks to consolidate?

DELL: Yes, but prolonged exposure therapy, that's the implementation in its standard form. So once a week over 10 weeks is usual therapy. So, what we are trying to understand is once a day over 10 days, could that work just as well.

JOURNALIST: How many people were doing the 10 week program and how much do you expect this to increase participation?

DELL: Certainly. So, in our trial, we had 50% in each of our conditions. So, we had about 60 to 70 individuals doing the massed and about the same doing the standard and when the individuals are coming into the trial, they didn't have a choice just by rigour of the design. But we did talk to individuals, and some preferred the massed and others preferred the standard. So, there is a place for both forms of therapy going forward. Some people prefer a longer duration, and others prefer a shorter duration. And that really speaks to empowering people with choice and something that we know around psychological therapy is that choice matters and individuals who can choose the type of therapy that they wish to receive are more likely to be engaged in that therapy, stick with it, and see it through. So having flexibility and having choice is really important and that's something that we've demonstrated with our work.

JOURNALIST: I just have some questions on another matter.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Any more questions on this? Or are we finished?

JOURNALIST: Do you intend to roll it out? To stick with the shorter timeframes?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: The importance of these findings is that it improves the effectiveness of the treatment, and it provides choice to veterans and that's what's important. And that's why this will be supported by the Government and it will be rolled out to Defence Force personnel and to the veterans community in the future. This is world leading research for the veterans’ community and I'm very proud that it's taking place here in Australia and that we can offer these choices now to veterans that have served our nation.

JOURNALIST: Are we doing better inside the Defence Force, in terms of preventing it getting to the point of having PTSD?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, of course, we got a Royal Commission going on at the moment and they've released some interim findings. We know we need to do more. And we know we need to do better to support our serving Defence Force personnel and our veterans. The Royal Commission has made a number of recommendations that the Government is getting on with implementing for instance, we're doing our best to reduce the wait list and the backlog for DVA claims processing. We're removing the staffing cap on the Department of Veterans' Affairs, we'll employ an additional 500 direct employees to reduce that cap over time. But studies like this are important because they improve the effectiveness of treatments for veterans. But they're also an evolving process, as well. So, we're not going to rest on our laurels with this, the briefings that I had with Phoenix and Open Arms this morning, they're going to use this trial now as a basis for continued research and for continued improvements in the delivery of treatment to veterans. Okay, other issues?

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