Better services urgently needed for our veterans

Our military compensation scheme serves a valuable role in helping veterans who have been injured in the line of duty, but the scheme can also be very complex and is in urgent need of reform to ensure it properly assists our veterans and their families.

Recently Maurice Blackburn made a submission to the Australian National Audit Office, who are reviewing the efficiency of veteran services delivered by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA). This submission outlines a series of reforms we believe could help to improve the delivery of services to veterans.

The problem

For many veterans, unreasonable delays in the administration and assessment of compensation claims is a key issue, particularly for those suffering with serious injuries and financial hardship.

These delays can have tragic consequences. A key example of this is the death of Jesse Bird, who died in June 2017 at age 32.

After struggling with mental illness following a deployment to Afghanistan, Jesse lodged multiple claims for incapacity payments with the DVA. These claims were not adequately processed. The RSL advocated for urgency in his case, as indeed did Jesse’s family on a number of occasions, due to his significant financial distress. Jesse himself also personally requested immediate assistance for fear of becoming another statistic.

Tragically Jesse took his own life in June 2017. He hung himself with army issued rope and tackle, and surrounded himself with letters from the DVA. It was only after Jesse’s death that the DVA at last made a determination on his incapacity payments – more than 630 days after the department had first received a claim from Jesse.

Maurice Blackburn continues to assist Jesse Bird’s family in advocating for a better system to ensure that future veterans are not put at risk as a result of excessive delays in the processing of claims.

The solution

Delays in the processing of claims are currently tolerated by the DVA because there are no legal requirements for DVA to provide veterans with a decision within a specified time frame. This lack of accountability is at odds with most state workers’ compensation schemes, all of which have clear timeframes for making a claim decision.

We believe a statutory timeframe is urgently required for the processing of DVA claims, and as part of our submission have called for a 30-day processing period to be legislated, that makes clear this timeframe must be adhered to unless special circumstances exist that warrant a delay.

Given the serious impacts that poor processes and services within the DVA can have on veterans, we also believe that all DVA delegates and claims managers must be adequately trained to process all types of claims, and also identify red flags in a veteran’s mental health to respond accordingly.

We also believe that a complete review of the military compensation scheme is urgently needed – historically, there have been a series of piecemeal reviews of different parts of the scheme, when what is needed as soon as possible is an overarching look at the scheme and the administration as a whole.

Read our full submission to the Australian National Audit Office inquiry.

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Georgina Plunkett-Scott

Maurice Blackburn Brisbane
Georgia Plunkett-Scott is a personal injuries Senior Associate based in Maurice Blackburn's Brisbane office and the National Practice Group leader of our Comcare and Federal Workers’ Compensation department. “I have personal experience with injury and disability which has instilled in me a deep desire to ...

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