The Committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on Social Policy and Protection of Veterans’' Rights held public consultations on “International Experience of the Organization and Functioning of the Veteran Patronage Service.” The event was held within the framework of the implementation of the Committee’s work plan for the period of the 10th session of the 9th convocation and with the assistance of the USAID Program “RADA: Next Generation.”

More than 120 persons participated in the broad discussion focusing on the international experience of supporting and accompanying veterans – the components of the future Unified Cross-Cutting State Policy for Veterans, as well as on the specifics of patronage support for demobilized military personnel in Ukraine. The event was attended by MPs of Ukraine, representatives of international organizations and embassies, central executive bodies, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Commissioner for Human Rights, members of the scientific community and NGOs.

Taking the opportunity, the initiator and moderator of the public consultations, Committee member Taras Tarasenko congratulated the representatives of the United States on the recently passed national holiday, Veterans Day, which is celebrated annually on November 11, the anniversary of the end of the First World War.

 “As shown by to the experience of foreign countries and domestic practice, full integration of demobilized combatants into civilian life, assistance in conflict-free return to their families and society is possible only if a comprehensive and systematic approach is used,” said Mr. Tarasenko in his opening address. “The state is actively working to provide war veterans and their families with effective support tools, socio-psychological and medical rehabilitation and adaptation, free training and retraining, support for veteran business initiatives, etc.”

The speaker noted that the Ukrainian veteran of the Russian-Ukrainian war is not only a model of heroic opposition and Victory over powerful military aggression, but also a strategic resource for the reconstruction, economic development and security of Ukraine. In this connection, Mr. Tarasenko informed the audience about the registration of the Draft Law “On Veteran Entrepreneurship,” registration No. 10258, developed for the purpose of creating favorable conditions for starting and developing veteran entrepreneurship, increasing its competitiveness, solving the problems of reintegration of war veterans into civilian life and promoting the sustainable development of Ukraine as a whole.

In her turn, Halyna Tretiakova, Head of the Committee, focused on the main novelties of the draft Law “On State Veteran Patronage Service,” registration No. 9423, which are intended to ensure the effective adaptation of a demobilized serviceperson to civilian life, namely:

the patronage service is created not for an indefinite period, but for the time of adaptation of citizens transitioning from military service to civilian life (for 5 years);

implementation of the state-volunteer partnership (in particular, support for the volunteer movement with funds from the Budget);

an individual approach to a male/female veteran and to their unique needs (creation of case management);

the remuneration of a patronage employee is not fixed and is paid on the basis of project management, according to the services provided to a specific individual;

the emphasis is on the work of the front offices for communication with veterans (Center for Provision of Administrative Services – CPAS, Pension Fund of Ukraine, primary care doctor, DIIA, State Employment Center), elaborating the practice of visiting male and female veterans to provide services/facilitate the realization of needs and opportunities.

Mention was made of the need to create free access for veterans to the information they need; clear procedures for the realization of their rights and needs and the standard of providing patronage support services for veterans as they transition to civilian life. The speaker emphasized, among other things, the need for the coordination of veteran policies of individual Ministries and the correspondence of these policies to the needs of the target audience, because paternalism of state policy, fragmentation, inconsistency with other policies and lack of systematic policies are the worst things that the state can offer to the future veterans of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Therefore, according to the Head of the Committee Halyna Tretiakova, as of today, the pressing issues that are yet to be resolved by the Government include developing and approving the Unified Cross-Cutting State Policy for Veterans, studying the needs of veterans (according to the impact of war experience) and ensuring targeted satisfaction of these needs, which are unique to each individual. This was repeatedly noted by the Committee and the NGOs “Principle,” the Veteran Hub, “The Juridical Hundred,” “Space of Opportunities” and “Women Veteran Movement,” which at the beginning of November 2023 presented the Concept of State Veteran Policy to the MPs that are members of the Committee.

“The Unified Cross-Cutting State Policy for Veterans should be recognized and approved at the level of the President of Ukraine and the National Security and Defense Council, which is emphasized by NGOs, and should include the policies of individual Ministries, the Government's action plan with a planning horizon of
3-5 years. There should be a correlation with the Ministry of Finance for medium-term planning,” Ms. Tretiakova summarized.

In his turn, Anatolii Ostapenko, Head of the Committee’s Subcommittee on Social Protection of Veterans’ Rights, emphasized the need to revise the current legislation on the policy for veterans and military personnel, their social protection, which was adopted back in the early 1990s. “The status of Participant in Combat Actions (PCA) should not be in the legislation on veterans; it should be in the law on military personnel. We ought to clearly say who will provide assistance to veterans. We ought to say in a clear and easy-to-understand way, with certain deadlines, when, how and with what funds the veterans and the families of our veterans will be supported in the first place. Certainly, we should not forget about the Heavenly Hundred, the volunteers and all those who defended our homeland,” Mr. Ostapenko noted. Iryna Nikorak, Head of the Committee’s Subcommittee on Rehabilitation of Veterans, is confident that state policy should be based on free access of veterans to services (medical and social services, rehabilitation, prosthetics, psychological support, etc.), creation of a wide range of opportunities for Ukrainian veterans on the labor market, promotion of their active participation in public and political processes. “It is necessary to carry out an audit and revisit the existing services, replacing uniform benefits for all with a system of targeted benefits, which will be guaranteed in accordance with the real needs of a veteran,” Ms. Nikorak stated with confidence. “By the way, military personnel abroad plan their return to civilian life before leaving the service, and consultants help them with this. International experience shows that social adaptation should begin long before potential demobilization.” The MP of Ukraine drew attention to the lack of a response from the Ministry of Veterans Affairs of Ukraine to her inquiry regarding the creation of an all-Ukrainian Register of Potential Service Providers for Veterans, which is needed not only by veterans, but also by their family members.

INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE

The experience of Croatia in caring for war veterans was presented to the participants in the public consultations by Marjana Tkalec, Head of the Sector of Caring for Croatian Veterans of the Patriotic War and Preservation of the Values of the Patriotic War at the Ministry of Croatian Veterans’ Affairs. First of all, the system of care for veterans provided for assistance to the wounded (in the form of medical rehabilitation), to families who lost a soldier (or have a wounded or missing soldier). Attention was drawn to the importance of the proximity of assistance for veterans to their place of residence (Croatia has 21 centers for psychosocial assistance, in each province) and its adjustment to the individual needs of a person; organization of visits to veterans and their families to provide on-site assistance; monitoring the health status of veterans through systematic preventive examinations. “At the same time, the assistance should be long-term, rule-based, with regard to the degree of harm suffered, coordinated, and multidisciplinary,” Ms. Tkalec noted. The experience of Croatia shows that it is important to focus on the veteran’s potential, because self-fulfillment on the labor market has a positive psychological effect (the individual expands the network of his/her social contacts, starts to feel important and needed). The state helps veterans create veterans’ unions and cooperatives – for the implementation of business ideas. “Currently, together with the EU, we are creating 4 veteran centers in Croatia, which provide comprehensive care for veterans in a single place, including psychosocial support, rehabilitation, care, various types of educational activities, as well as recreation. Here, veterans can engage in artistic and cultural activities,” said the representative of the Ministry of Croatian Veterans’ Affairs.

Matthew Johnson, Adviser on Stabilization and Veterans’ Issues at the US Embassy in Ukraine, spoke about the projects of the United States to support Ukrainian veterans. In particular, Mr. Johnson told the audience about the sharing of American experience with Ukrainian medical workers who help veterans overcome stress after PTSD and amputations, as well as in the process of rehabilitation and prosthetics. Mr. Johnson emphasized the important role of civil society in locally satisfying the needs of veterans, which serves as a great support for the Government, “therefore it is important that the voice of civil society be heard when developing programs with the US Government.” Attention was drawn to the need for digitalization of services for veterans, organization of call centers and electronic appeals. This will help the veterans to understand the methods and opportunities for adapting to civilian life.

Retired British Army officer, Colonel Richard Justin Kemp, spoke about the support for UK veterans based on a public-private partnership. According to Mr. Kemp, veterans of the United Kingdom are provided with medical and psychological support; assistance in the field of education and re-employment; compensation is paid to the injured (depending on the severity of the injury) and pension support is provided to all retired military personnel (veterans’ pensions are tax-exempt); support is provided to the families of fallen combatants (compensation is offered to families based on the tax deductions of the family members who died). Mention was made of the activities of charitable organizations raising funds to support veterans (including educational opportunities) and families of veterans who died in action. In the words of Mr. Kemp, the activities of such funds contribute to maintaining a sense of unity in communities.

Khrystyna Bidonko, Program Manager of the USAID Program “RADA: Next Generation,” spoke about social support for veterans after demobilization in NATO member countries, in particular in the United States, Poland, Croatia, Great Britain and Estonia. Mention was made of the existence of an online self-help portal in the USA which contains a lot of guidance and useful self-help materials for the transition from military service to civilian life; the development of government smartphone apps to address PTSD, anxiety, etc. Of interest is the experience of the functioning of hotlines for veteran’s “meeting places,” as well as an online chat for veterans seeking support from other veterans. The United States pays great attention to full federal support for the families of deceased veterans in burial and memorial services.

The specifics of veteran support in Poland (which is generally similar to that in in Ukraine) include a lifetime right to additional annual leave for 5 calendar days; right to free use of municipal gymnasiums; subsidies for education, which include payment not only for receiving education, but also for travel to the educational institution and accommodation at the place of study.

In Croatia, a veteran is granted the right to develop land for free; and the time spent in the war is counted towards double insurance period. In Estonia, a veteran citizen may attend the chaplain for religious instruction, worship, marriage registration, pastoral care and confession. The Estonian government also funds visits to spa procedures for military personnel (veterans) and their families within three months after the return from a mission (to support their morale). Funds from the sale of a charity item for fundraising – a brooch in the form of a blue flower – are directed to support the families of veterans.

A specific feature of the UK veteran policy is that a structural unit within the UK Ministry of Defense provides a full range of support (cash, medical, social) to those who have left the service and are transitioning to civilian life.

Representatives of the central executive bodies of Ukraine presented to the participants of the public consultations their elaborations in the field of support for veterans of the Russian-Ukrainian war.

Acting State Secretary of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs of Ukraine Andrii Pavlovskyi told the audience about the work on digitalization and digitization of processes in the interests of veterans, as well as projects of peer-to-peer adaptation of veterans in the civilian life of the Ministry. Anna Svidrak, Deputy Director of the Department of Labor and Employment – Head of the Branch for Population Employment and Enterprise Relocation of the Ministry of Economy of Ukraine, spoke about educational projects as well as grant programs to support veteran businesses in the context of the Government’s e-Work program. In particular, according to her, at present it is possible to become a specialist in one of 95 labor professions in the centers of vocational education and training. Besides, more than 365 advanced educational programs are offered. “An education seeker receiving vocational training at an educational institution located outside the place of registration or the place of stay or a person accompanying a person with a 1st group war disability will be compensated even for travel expenses to the place of vocational training and back,” Ms. Svidrak said. “If there is a need for accommodation, then the cost of such accommodation can also be compensated.”

In her turn, Uliana Tokarieva, Deputy Minister of Social Policy of Ukraine, spoke about the challenges facing the Ministry in the fields of restoring family ties (lots of requests for family counseling of veterans’ families); provision of a high level of social and psychological services; introduction of digital solutions for receiving requests for services and monitoring the quality of services provided; development of new types of social services (the development of a social adaptation service in communities is underway at the moment); care and return to active life of unmarried male/female veterans with disabilities who have no housing. It is worth noting that a large number of veterans are currently undergoing training in social work at the expense of the state.

In their speeches, representatives of the civil society of Ukraine touched upon their experience in working with veterans and proposed components of the country’s future (approved) veteran policy.

Uliana Bakh, Project Director at IREX Ukraine, spoke about cooperation with the Ministry of Veterans Affairs, the Ministry of Social Policy, the Ministry of Economy and the Ukrainian Veterans Foundation in the development of an electronic register of veterans and a digital psychological screening tool; training of social workers in the specifics of working with veterans; training of veterans and their families regarding the potential of the Own Business program. A psychological support hotline and civil society projects are supported; expert support is provided in the area of development of legislative initiatives.

Olena Tolkacheva, manager of the patronage service of the Azov regiment, focused her speech on the process of combat trauma treatment in the health care system. She mentioned the need to develop a new package of NHSU services – for the treatment of veterans in the civilian health care system. Ms. Tolkacheva also stated her willingness to share with communities her experience in working with veterans. Kateryna Pryimak, co-founder of the NGO “Women Veteran Movement,” drew attention to the acute problem of the lack of psychological support standards and the limited number of qualified staff who can provide advice to military personnel and veterans. Mention was made of the need to improve the psychological training of combatants. According to the speaker, it proved impossible to establish a dialogue with the Ministry of Veterans Affairs.

In her turn, Natalia Zarytska, founder of the NGO “Women of Steel,” pointed to the inconsistency of the food menu in health care institutions with the needs of military personnel who had been in captivity for a long time. Emphasis was placed on the importance of developing a separate health assessment protocol for such soldiers, along with a separate treatment protocol, as well as on timely detection and treatment of psychological traumas of combatants (to prevent the consequences of such trauma). The leader of the NGO “Women of Steel” confirmed the inefficiency of the activities and a lack of dialogue on the part of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs.

Vadym Petrunin, Director of iHUB, emphasized the unification of sources of disseminating information about all opportunities for veterans. In his words, a veteran and his family spend very much time searching for the information and opportunities they need, just like an organization or institution initiating some or other program for veterans, on disseminating information and establishing contact with the target audience (veterans). According to Mr. Petrunin, the problem can be solved by creating a “single portal” where the veteran will look for opportunities for himself and the organization/institution will post information on its services.

Viktor Filatov, representative of the NGO “Human Rights Protection Group ‘SICH’,” drew attention to the effective experience of public-private, state-grant partnerships in supporting veterans in civilian life (informing, advocacy of rights, housing repair, support in receiving payments, providing emergency psychological assistance). Emphasis was placed on the need to detail the areas of work of the veteran’s assistant and the patronage service, which is planned to be created in Ukraine, to determine the status of such employees and their qualification requirements.

Natalia Dziuba, head of the project “Professional Orientation. Career. Entrepreneurship,” spoke about the prospects for veteran employment and their staff potential. In particular, the services of the project (which is intended to support citizens who have found themselves out of work due to a forced change of residence and need support in finding employment and adapting to the conditions of the region of stay) are sought by veterans and women with children (families of veterans). “There are servicepersons who, while at the battlefront, sign up for the training and practice entrepreneurial activities with mentors,” Ms. Dziuba said. “They choose a profession and field of activity that are new to them. Most of them want to cultivate the land and work with their hands.” There is an interesting trend of amputee veterans uniting into an entrepreneurial network (these are small businesses, for example weaving furniture, repairing sewing machines).

Continuing the topic of adaptation of veterans in the labor market, Iryna Chernyshova, Chair of the Board of the NGO “ASMR Ukraine,” presented the manual “Adaptation of Veterans in an Organization after their Return from the War.” According to her, large employers expect a shortage of labor resources and pin their hopes on servicepersons who will return to active economic activity after demobilization. Currently, teams are preparing to meet the defenders and employers are adapting workplaces to their needs (including the needs of persons with disabilities), arranging organizational conditions that will contribute to the effectiveness of the future cooperation. Organizational and psychological support, mentoring, leadership involvement, discussion and feedback were mentioned among the factors influencing a veteran’s work in an organization – and there are a total of 21 of them.

At the conclusion of the event, taking into account what was said during the public consultations, Committee member Taras Tarasenko summarized that the main components of veteran policy are: physical health; mental health; social health; and economic health. Mr. Tarasenko called on the public to engage in the development of legislative changes – in order to implement the main components of the veteran policy in the interests of the defenders of Ukraine.

The audio recording of the public consultations (with the translation of the speeches of the foreign participants) is available at:       
|https://drive.google.com/file/d/15h8KBDDlDqsjD10v2ZRWZ6VuQuTzW-uR/view?usp=drivesdk

The video recording is here:     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioVY6ma4MaE&t=4890s

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