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Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Budget Measures) Bill 2000
Date Introduced: 29 June 2000
House: House of Representatives
Portfolio: Veterans' Affairs
Commencement: Changes relating to the extension of services commence on Royal Assent, those relating to the calculation of payments commence on 1 July 2001 and the remaining amendments commence on 1 January 2001.
The Bill will:
- extend the counselling and psychological assessment services available to spouses, ex-spouses and children of veterans
- extend the Veterans' Children Education Service to veterans' children who are 'in need'
- alter the income test treatment of ABSTUDY as a result of changes made to that payment
- extend the benefits available to certain veterans who served in South-East Asia, and
- alter the method for the calculation of periodic payments to veterans.
As there is no central theme to the Bill the background to the various measures will be discussed below.
Extension of Services for Spouses, Ex-spouses and Children of Vietnam Veterans
The Morbidity of Vietnam Veterans study, the results of which were released in December 1998 and subsequently subject to a validation study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, found that, among other matters:
- Some 40% of veterans who responded thought that their partners or ex-partners suffered health problems, either physical or psychological, as a result of the veteran's service in Vietnam (this result is from the initial study). The study also found that the children of Vietnam veterans have a significantly higher risk of suicide than the general community (this conclusion has been confirmed by a validation study(1)).
The Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service (VVCS) provides assistance for the partners and children of veterans, from age 10 to 25. According to the Department of Veterans' Affairs' 1998-99 Annual Report:
All VVCS centres conduct group programs for women or partners and the children of veterans. These programs were designed to address the high level of psychological distress that veterans reported in their families. The women's programs were designed to promote coping and communication skills as well as an understanding of war-related stress. The programs for children of veterans (from 10 - 25 years) were designed to promote similar understanding and skills, with a particular emphasis on the development of self-esteem.(2)
In the 2000-01 Budget it was announced that $32.3 million would be provided over four years in response to the findings of the Morbidity of Vietnam Veterans study with measures addressed to partners and children to include:
- free psychiatric assessment for veterans' partners (who are currently eligible only for counselling services)
- access to counselling services for ex-partners to continue for four years after the end of the relationship, and
- increasing the age limit to 35 years (currently 25) for veterans' children's free access to counselling and psychiatric assessment (currently only counselling is provided).
Section 88A of the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 (VEA) allows the Repatriation Commission (the Commission) to determine that specific veterans are entitled to certain services. Item 1 of Schedule 1 will substitute a new section 88A into the VEA which will also allow the Commission to determine that a person who is or was a dependant of a veteran will be eligible for certain services. In association with this amendment a new section 92 will be substituted into the VEA which will allow the Commission, with the Minister's approval, to arrange counselling services for people who were dependants of a veteran and psychiatric assessments for dependants and former dependants as specified in new section 88A (item 2).
Veterans' Children Education Scheme (VCES)
VCES provides assistance, including financial assistance, for the children of deceased, blinded and totally and permanently incapacitated veterans and benefits under the scheme are generally similar to those available under the Youth Allowance. As at 30 June 1999, 4 499 children were assisted under the scheme.(3)
It was announced in the 2000-01 Budget that assistance under the scheme would be extended to ineligible children 'in need'. The conditions to be satisfied to be 'in need' were not expanded on.
Amendments contained in Schedule 2 of the Bill will allow the Commission to determine a class of people to be included in the definition of 'eligible child' for VCES. People will be able to apply for a determination that they are a member of the class and the Commission is to determine if they are. Such a decision may be subject to review by both the Commission and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
Unlike other income support payments, ABSTUDY payments are included in the calculation of a partner's income for purposes of the income test used to determine the level of payments for a person eligible for veterans' entitlements. AUSTUDY and social security payments are currently excluded from the calculation.
Prior to 1 January 2000, ABSTUDY payments could include a dependant spouse allowance (DSA) which was not available in respect of social security payments (under both the social security system and ABSTUDY dependant spouses are now required to obtain a benefit in their own right(4)). It was announced in the 2000-01 Budget that as the payments available under ABSTUDY and the social security system had been brought into line with regard to the DSA, ABSTUDY payments would also be excluded from the income test. A similar measure excluding ABSTUDY in relation to social security payments is included in the Family and Community Services (2000 Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2000.
Currently, veterans' service pensions, invalidity pension, partner service pension and income support supplement are not payable where the person is in receipt of another service pension or a social security pension or benefit. The Bill proposes to include ABSTUDY in this list (any ABSTUDY receipts would currently be included in the income test).
Item 1 of Schedule 3 will include ABSTUDY payments in the definition of excluded amounts for the purpose of the income test.
Items 2 to 5 will exclude people who receive an ABSTUDY living allowance as a full-time student from eligibility for service pensions, invalidity pension, partner service pension and income support supplement.
Service Entitlements in Respect of South-East Asian Service
Following representations from individuals and service representative groups over a considerable period in relation to possible anomalies for people who served in certain operations in South East Asia, an independent review was announced by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs on 5 May 1999. The anomalies concern the denial of certain benefits and medals for veterans due to the way in which their service has been classified.
The review was conducted by Major General Mohr and reported on 9 February 2000. In relation to eligibility for benefits, the review's recommendations included that:
- service in the RAN with the Far East Strategic Reserve during the Malayan Emergency 1955-60 be upgraded from operational service to qualifying service, which will make veteran's eligible for the service pension
- service on the Thai-Malay border between 1 August 1960 and 27 May 1963 be upgraded to 'warlike' service so that veterans have qualifying service
- service at RAAF Ubon in Thailand between 25 June 1965 and 31 August 1968 be upgraded to 'warlike' service
- service for various groups in Vietnam, such as Civilian Surgical and Medical Teams and certain merchant mariners, be upgraded to enable them to receive benefits, and
- certain groups be deemed to have been allotted for service and so eligible for benefits.(5)
The response to the review was announced as part of the 2000-01 Budget at an estimated cost of approximately $32 million in a full year.(6) It was announced that qualifying service, and so eligibility for the service pension, would be extended to approximately 2 600 veterans, comprising:
- Members of the RAN who served with the Far East Strategic Reserve during the Malayan Emergency
- RAN radio operators who served at Kranji Wireless Station and RAF Base Seletar in Singapore between 11 May and 31 July, 1960
- ADF members who served on the Thai Malay border immediately after the Malayan Emergency, between 1 August, 1960 and 27 May, 1963
- Australian Army and RAAF personnel who served on the Malay Peninsula and in Singapore during the Indonesian Confrontation
- ADF members seconded to the Royal Malaysian Armed Forces during the Confrontation
- personnel who served at RAAF Base Ubon in Thailand between 26 June, 1965, and 31 August, 1968, and
- merchant mariners who served with RAN personnel on HMAS Jeparit and Boonaroo during the Vietnam War.(7)
Schedule 4 will amend definitions of operational service and qualifying service contained in sections 6 and 7A and Schedule 2 of the VEA to give effect to the decisions relating to service in North-East Thailand (including Ubon), Singapore and Malaya between 1 August 1960 and 27 May 1963, the Thai-Malay border between 1 August 1960 and 27 May 1963, service during the Borneo Rebellion between 8 December 1962 and 16 August 1964 and service in Mayaysia, Singapore, Brunei and adjacent waters during the Indonesian Confrontation (8 December 1962 to 30 September 1967).
Calculation of Payments
Currently, a person's status for payment during a payment period, generally a fortnight, is determined on their situation on the day of assessment. It was announced in the 2000-01 Budget that the method of calculating eligibility for a certain level of payment would be based on the number of days during the period that the person was entitled to that level of benefits. The measure is estimated to cost approximately $900 000 in 2000-01 and save $2.2 million in 2001-02, $2.5 million in 2002-3 and $2.8 million in 2003-4.(8)
Section 19 of the VEA deals with the determination of claims and applications. Item 6 of Schedule 5 will amend section 19 to provide that the Commissioner must assess the rate/s that a pension is payable from time to time during an assessment period.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare , Suicide in Vietnam Vietnam Veterans' Children, July 2000.
- Department of Veterans' Affairs, Annual Report 1998-99, p. 83. http://www.dva.gov.au/media/aboutus/annual99/Annrpt99.htm
- Department of Veterans' Affairs, Annual Report 1998-99, p. 55-6. http://www.dva.gov.au/media/aboutus/annual99/Annrpt99.htm
- For further information refer to the Digest for the Family and Community Services (2000 Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2000. http://wopablue/library/pubs/bd/2000-01/01BD016.htm
- Review of Service Entitlement Anomalies in Respect of South-East Asian Service 1955-75, February 2000, pp. xiii to xxxiv.
- Department of Veterans' Affairs, Portfolio Budget Statement 2000-01, p. 28. http://www.dva.gov.au/media/publicat/pbs/pbs2000.htm
- Department of Veterans' Affairs, Media Release, 9 may 2000. http://minister.dva.gov.au/media/media/2000/may/sth_east_asia.htm
- Ibid., p. 29.
28 August 2000
Bills Digest Service
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