Budget Review 2022–23 Index
Budget 2022–23 includes a small number of measures in the
Veterans’ Affairs Portfolio that fund commemorative activities, veterans’
wellbeing programs and health care. Most significant is additional resourcing
for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) for compensation and income
support claims processing.
‘A national disgrace’: Minister’s
threat to resign over claim processing funding
The Budget includes a measure providing $22.8 million over
two years for DVA to ‘boost its processing of claims for rehabilitation,
compensation and income support’ (Budget
measures: budget paper no. 2: 2022–23, p. 175).
On 26 March 2022, the Saturday before the Budget, the
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel Andrew Gee called a press
conference at which he stated that he had been about to resign as minister because
the funding he requested to clear a backlog of compensation claims was not being
provided in the Budget. The Minister stated that he had requested $96 million to
fund an ‘action plan’ to fix the claim backlog but had been told that only
$22.8 million would be provided for 90 temporary staff. The Minister stated
that after telling the Deputy Prime Minister that he was about to resign that
morning, there was ‘quite a bit of activity’ and he was told the requested
funding would be forthcoming.
Asked the same day why it took the Minister’s threat to
resign for the full funding request to be granted, the
Prime Minister stated: ‘what the Budget has funded is the initial work,
some of the program that he’s outlined, and there’ll be further investment that
is made after the Budget, which will come from the contingency reserve’.
Claim processing times and backlog
Issues with DVA’s claims processes are longstanding. For
2013 Australian Public Service Commission review of DVA’s capability raised
multiple issues with DVA’s claims processing system and contained multiple
recommendations for improvement, stating:
Notably and for a long time compensation claims processing
has not met time-taken-to-process targets and while this issue receives the
greatest amount of scrutiny at EMG [Executive Management Group] and elsewhere,
the results are inconsequential. DVA has recently devoted resources to address
the ongoing failure to resolve this issue. Nevertheless, it remains an ongoing
and unresolved issue which by now should have triggered more substantive alternative
thinking… (p. 40).
Multiple parliamentary reports (for example, in 2016 and 2017)
have discussed the negative impact the claims process could have on the mental
health of claimants; as did the Productivity
Commission in 2019 and reports commissioned by DVA (including a 2018
report from the Phoenix Foundation and a
2019 report by Professor Alex Collie on the mental health impacts of the
compensation claim process).
In the 2021–22 Budget, the Government provided $164.6
million over 2 years to ‘support departmental operations and processing of
measures: budget paper no. 2: 2021–22, p. 194). This was part of a
package of measures for DVA including funding for ICT consolidation, data
sharing and analytics, and follows years of additional funding for the
implementation of the Veteran Centric Reform Program—a major reform of DVA’s
service delivery and ICT systems (see discussion in the Budget
review 2018–19 and the Budget
Despite the 2021–22 Budget funding, the claims processing
backlog worsened in the 6 months to the end of 2021. The total number of claims
‘on-hand’—meaning in progress or awaiting allocation to a delegate for processing—has
continued to increase. As
at June 2019 (p. 5), there were 25,496 claims on hand (excluding
claims for income support such as the Service Pension) under the 3 legislative
schemes: the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 (VEA), the Safety,
Rehabilitation and Compensation Act (Defence-related claims) Act 1988 (DRCA)
and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 (MRCA). This
had increased to 56,633 by
June 2021. DVA
officials told Senate Estimates in February 2022 that there were 65,030
claims on hand as of December 2021 (p. 96).
Regarding the backlog of claims, Minister
Some veterans have been waiting years to get their claims
processed and finalised. This is simply not good enough. In fact, it is a
national disgrace. Because behind those 60,000 claims are people, and they are
not just any people, they’re people, Australians who put their lives on the
line for our country. And many of them are hurting, and many of them are
As the number of claims on hand has increased, so too has
the time taken to process claims. Table 1 sets out the number of claims which were
more than 12 months old, by category and whether the claim had been allocated
to a delegate to make a determination or was awaiting allocation, in December
2020 and December 2021.
Table 1 Claims older than
12 months by category and whether allocated to a delegate
|Claims on hand being considered and allocated to a
delegate older than 12 months
|| VEA Disability
|| MRCA initial
|| MRCA permanent
|| DRCA initial
|| DRCA permanent
|1 Dec 2020
|1 Dec 2021
|Claims on hand being considered and yet to be allocated
to a delegate older than 12 months
|1 Dec 2020
|1 Dec 2021
Source: Senate Foreign Affairs,
Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Answers to Questions on Notice, Supplementary
Budget Estimates 2021–22, Veterans Affairs Portfolio, Question
DVA evidence presented to the Royal Commission shows the
median processing time for claims across the 3 schemes climbing above the
department’s processing time targets since mid-2019 (Figure 1).
Figure 1 DVA median claim
processing time, monthly rolling 2-year trend to August 2021
Source: Royal Commission into
Defence and Veteran Suicide, ‘Exhibit - 11-01.05 - DVA.0002.0001.0224 - Weekly
Performance Report’, n.d.
Factors associated with the backlog
In evidence to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran
officials described (pp. 5‑1341–1343) some of the factors they
believed were behind the growing backlog in claims under the MRCA:
the tempo of recent military operations, particularly in the
the Veteran Centric Reform program which has made it easier for veterans
to access DVA assistance—in particular the MyService online portal which has
made the client-facing side of the claims process easier to use
the veteran recognition program launched in November 2019—this
allows veterans to access discounts and concessions but has seen increased
traffic to MyService as veterans register for the recognition program,
increasing their awareness of other DVA supports
the complex nature of the 3 legislative schemes, which cover
different but sometimes overlapping periods of service—according to the
officials the complexity of the legislative frameworks delayed improvements in
staffing resources at DVA.
The first 3 factors have led to a significant increase in
claim numbers in recent years. The complex nature of the legislative schemes
underpinning veterans’ compensation is a well-known issue and numerous reviews
and reports have found this contributes to difficulties for claimants and DVA.
and Public Sector Union has pointed to DVA’s extensive use of labour hire rather
than permanent public servants as a factor behind the backlog. DVA officials
told the Royal Commission that prior to the 2021 budget measure, there had not
been supplementary funding available for public servants and they were required
to use contractors. One
DVA official asked to comment at the Royal Commission on the resourcing of
the department suggested the issue was short-term funding arrangements rather
than the use of contractors:
Whilst contractors of themselves are not an issue in terms of
being delegates or their role, rolling short-term funding where you’ll be
seeking supplementation on a regular—or, sorry, semiregular basis doesn’t
provide for good labour hire contracting because you are not able to give them
certainty, and the time it takes to train a delegate to be effective isn’t
suited to a model where you are getting funding that goes up and down and it’s essentially
annual. (p. 5-1346).
Both the 2021–22 and 2022–23 claims processing budget
measures allocated additional funding over 2-year periods.
No significant legislative reform
in the 46th Parliament
The 2017 report of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and
Trade Committee, The
Constant Battle: suicide by veterans, recommended the Government make a
reference to the Productivity Commission (PC) ‘to simplify the legislative
framework of compensation and rehabilitation for service members and veterans’
(p. xiii). The Government accepted this recommendation. The PC provided its final
report to the Government in June 2019. The PC’s recommendations were for a
move from 3 to 2 schemes: a modified MRCA incorporating the DRCA, and a
modified VEA primarily covering older veterans (pp. 39–42). Over time, there
would be a transition to a single scheme. Claims would only be permitted under one
scheme, however, younger veterans covered by the VEA would be given a one-off
opportunity to switch to the modified MRCA scheme. The PC proposed harmonising
and simplifying the existing legislative schemes in the short term (1–3 years)
with the 2-scheme system to be in place by 2025 (p. 42). It also recommended
harmonising the way initial liability is assessed under the 3 Acts (p. 51).
In its interim
response to the PC’s report included in the 2020–21 Budget, the Government
did not commit to the recommendations around legislative reform or harmonising
of the initial liability assessment. In its Update
to the Government response to the Productivity Commission report as at 14 May
2021, these recommendations were ‘under consideration’ and the ‘next
steps’ were for a ‘legislation reform roadmap that will be developed’. It is
unclear when this roadmap will be completed and DVA officials would not commit
to a particular completion date when asked
at the Royal Commission (p. 22–2035). In the ‘Claims
processing deep dive: 15 July 2021’ presented as evidence to the Royal
Commission, one of the actions DVA listed under ‘What needs to be done?’ was:
‘Simplification of the legislation—minor amendments could achieve significant
processing simplifications’ (p. 13).
No significant legislation to harmonise or reform the veterans’
compensation schemes has been introduced in the 46th Parliament.
Other budget measures
Funding for commemorations
Budget 2022–23 includes $26.6 million over 4 years for a
number of commemorative projects including: $6.0 million for commemorative
activities for the 50th anniversary of the end of Australia’s participation in
the Vietnam War (which formally
ended in 1973); $5.1 million to rebuild the visitors’ pavilion in the
Sandakan Memorial Park in Malaysia; $4.9 million to construct a Remembrance
Trail on the site of a former Australian field hospital on the Greek Island of
Lemnos; and $0.4 million in 2022–23 for Legacy Australia’s 100th anniversary (Budget
paper no. 2: 2022–23, p. 175).
Family Support Package
The Budget includes
$36.8 million for the previously announced changes to the Family Support
Package, for which legislation
has already been introduced, building on a measure in the 2021–22 Budget (Budget
paper no. 2: 2022–23, p. 176). The changes increase the value of
supports available to the families of eligible veterans and provide more
flexibility in the use of these supports.
Making the Psychiatric Assistance
Dog Program permanent
dogs to Australian veterans began as
a research trial in 2018 to determine the effectiveness of psychiatric
assistance dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. In September 2019,
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester announced that a program to provide
assistance dogs would be established alongside the research trial. Under the
program, private providers would match eligible veterans with assistance dogs
and provide training at DVA’s expense. DVA
funds accommodation costs during the training, a 6-monthly welfare check
and an annual Public Access Test as well as reimbursing vet costs,
vaccinations, dog food, pet insurance and reasonable costs of upkeep.
answer to a question on notice, DVA reported that as at November 2021, 50
veterans had received assistance dogs and there were around 228 veterans with
‘active applications’. DVA had also received 109 enquiries from veterans about
This budget measure
provides $22.0 million over 4 years to permanently extend the program and to extend
support to veterans who had privately sourced assistance dogs but would
otherwise be eligible for the program (Budget
paper no. 2: 2022–23, p. 176).
The Budget includes 2 significant veterans’ health care
paper no.2: 2022–23, p. 177).
The first will increase the base fees paid to Veteran Home
Care providers for delivering domestic assistance and personal care services at
an estimated cost of $70.5 million over 4 years. Hourly
rates for domestic assistance will increase by 25.38%, personal care
(standard) by 20.53%, and personal care (exceptional) by 16.7%. The increases
are temporary and will apply from 1 July 2022 to 30 June 2026 with
future rates to be considered as part of a review of veterans’ care and support
The second measure will extend a trial program providing
provisional access to medical treatment for certain conditions while a veteran
is waiting for their compensation claim to be assessed. The
trial was due to cease on 30 June 2022 but will be extended for 2 years at
a cost of $33.6 million. The trial
program funds medical treatment where a veteran has claimed for 1 of 20
specified conditions under the DRCA or MRCA. Veterans do not have to repay the
costs of any treatment received if their claim is unsuccessful.
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