Commentary on the administration of veterans' entitlements by DVA was
present in the bulk of submissions received for the inquiry. This chapter will consider
DVA's role in administration and examine the progress of recent reform. It will
outline some of the common issues raised during the inquiry including staffing
issues and delays. Finally, it will examine the use of the Compensation for
Detriment Caused by Defective Administration (CDDA) scheme in relation to DVA.
Department of Veterans' Affairs
DVA is the primary agency responsible for policy development and
implementation of programs intended to assist veterans and their families. DVA
also provides advice, administrative support and staff to the Repatriation
Commission and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (MRCC)
which have responsibilities under the VEA and MRCA respectively. DVA will
administer $10.9 billion of funding in the 2017-18 financial year. The
total departmental annual appropriation for 2016-17 was $375 million
In June 2016, Department of Veteran's Affairs (DVA) estimated there were
329,200 living veterans, down from the estimate of 382,800 in June 2012.
As at 31 March 2017, there were 293,874 DVA clients.
Projections of beneficiaries in receipt of pensions, allowances or health care
indicate a declining number of veterans and dependents. Total veterans
receiving these benefits are forecast to fall from 165,760 in December 2016
(actual) to 154,000 in June 2020 and 129,100 in June 2030. Total dependents are
forecast to fall from 131,296 in December 2016 (actual) to 101,600 in June 2020
and 58,300 in June 2030.
DVA's annual report for 2015-16 noted while overall VEA beneficiary
numbers have declined over the past four years, the numbers of SRCA and MRCA
beneficiaries have been rising:
Over the past four years there has been a 98 per cent
increase in the number of MRCA veterans with an accepted disability. The number
of MRCA veterans who have received a permanent impairment payment has increased
from 2,246 to 7,659 (241 per cent). Despite the significant growth in numbers
of MRCA clients, the numbers of new clients from the VEA, MRCA or SRCA will not
significantly impact upon the overall downward trend in client numbers. 
The growing number of MRCA clients has implications for DVA's
administrative burden. While VEA clients usually have a relatively stable
relationship with DVA, MRCA and SRCA clients can have a more episodic
relationships, in that they may apply and be assessed for a lump sum payment,
be reimbursed for medical costs, and come in and out of income replacement.
Table. DVA clients, expenditure
and health cards
||Compensation and support expenditure
Broader issues regarding the appropriate responsibilities of DVA in
delivering services to veterans were raised by some submitters. For example,
Mr Arthur Ventham, Chair of the NSVSC, observed that some 'service delivery
agencies have been absorbed into the Department of Human Services (DHS)'. He
observed that '[e]ven in the past few months we have seen the closure of one or
more DVA Country Offices and its operations now being handled by Centrelink'.
Mr Ventham urged the committee to recommend DVA remain as a stand-alone department
and to allocate sufficient funding to ensure that it continues to provide
support to the veteran community.
Similarly, the RSL described future reform of DVA as 'not well
illuminated'. It was 'concerned that the long term future of the DVA may be
solely as a policy-development rump, while the bulk of its service delivery
functions, and indeed expertise in the management of veterans support is
absorbed into the DHS'.
The TPI Federation highlighted that veterans and their families were
only a small portion of the Australian population. Other departments and agencies
'know little, if anything, of the Veteran's issues or entitlements and much
needed consideration of their conditions'.
Accordingly, it considered that it was 'imperative that all DVA clients
continue to have DVA as their ally'. Instead of requiring veterans to deal with
other departments, 'DVA should have the facility to contact these other departments,
get the requirements for any issue, then go back to the DVA client with a
Others had contrasting views. Mr Ben Johnson, a former senior public
servant, noted that DHS currently has responsibility for efficiently managing government
payment to families, welfare recipients and others. He pointed out it could be argued
that 'DHS can provide much more efficient payment mechanisms for
veterans/ex-service personnel rather than them having to deal with the
inefficiency of DVA attempting to manage payments to veterans'. Such a consolidation
of payment functions across government would be consistent with the previous Australian
Public Service (APS) Whole Of Government (WoG) Blue Print for Reform. Mr
Johnson stated that 'WoG payment reforms would enable resources to be better directed
to support efficient payments to veterans, ex-service personnel and their
families rather than continuing to fund DVA for administering inefficient
costly payments on dated data systems'.
DVA be required to work with DHS to deploy a 'Tell Us Once'
client integrated service model in 2017 for all veterans and ex-service
personnel to ensure that personal data and claims details do not have to be
re-submitted to DVA on multiple occasions or lodged for different purposes
under different Acts.
Some such as Mr Peter Reece, a former senior DVA official, argued for
Defence to take greater long-term responsibility for injured veterans. He
stated 'they break them, they should fix them':
Defence as the employer needs to retain full responsibility
for the entire treatment/rehabilitation and retraining/redeployment process.
They should no longer be able to so readily pass the parcel to DVA. DVA should
have no responsibility for ex Defence personnel, except perhaps for
compensation assessment and payment down the track as an epilogue, not a prologue.
However, I go further and suggest there should be no need for DVA at all if a
modern civilian type compensation system was installed – but the screams can
already be heard for any suggestion that defence should have all ADF personnel
managed by COMCARE...but why not?
RSL DefenceCare also argued it was time to consider 'radical change to
remove the stress associated with DVA claims'. It suggested:
Many government services are outsourced and there is no
reason why assessment and approval of claims could not be undertaken by
non-government professional organisations. If we continue to follow the same
practices, we will continue to see the same results....With the rise of professional
organisations like RSL DefenceCare, there should be a number of organisations
capable of tendering for the provision of this type of service.
Progress of reforms
In 2013 the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) conducted a
Capability Review of DVA. It found that 'the environment in which DVA operates
has changed at a much faster pace than the speed with which the department has
allowed itself to change':
The older client base continues to decline while the new
younger client base has different expectations. The fiscal pressure facing
government today coincides with public expectations of efficiently run
government agencies. The concept of shared services—where scale economies are
achieved with consistent and increased service levels— is widely spread in the
public and private sectors.
The ASPC review team concluded that DVA faced 'significant challenges to
enhance its capability and mobilise its workforce so it can transform into an
efficient and effective modern public sector organisation meeting government and
community expectations'. It identified three key areas of 'needing urgent
attention' for DVA to transform:
operating structure, governance arrangements and information and
communications technology (ICT);
approach to clients, culture and staffing; and
efforts to formulate effective strategy, establish priorities and
DVA acknowledged that the 'support required by Australia's veterans is
changing: pre-1999 veterans and their dependants continue to age; younger
veterans who have served in operations from Timor to the present have different
needs, with a greater requirement for tailored and ongoing support services;
and finally, in this digital age, veterans expect service delivery to be as seamless
as possible, intuitive and coordinated'.
In response to these challenges DVA stated that it was in the process of
transforming its operations 'to put veterans at the centre of everything it
does'. As part of this process the 2016-17 Budget for DVA included $24.8
million over two years to develop a second pass business case for Veteran
Centric Reform which focused on simplifying and streamlining business processes
and replacing legacy information and communication technology (ICT) systems.
This was following by a 'significant investment' in the 2017-18 Budget for
the first stage of Veteran Centric Reform to allow DVA to 'provide easier
access to services and to streamline and help early decision making for claims'.
The aim of this reform was to give the veteran community 'a greater standard of
service through reform of business processes and culture, identification and
implementation of government-endorsed best practice service options and
targeted ICT redevelopment'. Veteran Centric Reform would be supported by funding
'to implement a suite of proactive interventions to deliver targeted assistance'.
These interventions included:
analysing the services veterans access through the Department, from car
bookings through to health and rehabilitation services, to gain more meaningful
insights into the needs of our clients
identifying common themes across client groups and proactively changing
support arrangements to meet their needs
applying behavioural economics approaches across our business to ensure
the programs we provide are best practice
conducting a trial that will see medical treatment provided from the
time a claim is submitted, rather than from the date a claim is approved.
The Government response to the NMHC report acknowledged the 'finding
that many DVA clients have reported negative experiences' with DVA. It stated:
DVA exists to serve our veterans and its clients. That is why
in this year's Budget, the Government provided $166.6 million to implement the
first stage of Veteran Centric Reform which is the most comprehensive upgrade
to DVA systems, processes and technology ever undertaken.
DVA's reforms will focus on:
Enhanced veteran experience - implementing an improved, easy access to
veteran services, regardless of channel
Contemporary and modernised processes - our processes will be digital
wherever possible, with fewer steps and shorter timeframes
Foundational ICT- updating ICT platforms to mitigate critical ICT risks
for all business areas
Data driven approach - providing services to clients through proactive
interventions and behavioural economics to deliver targeted assistance that
will support veterans to lead healthy and productive lives.
DVA outlined that it was also pursing improvements to claim processing
through 'Lighthouse project'. This had the 'twin aims of improving Military
Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 liability processing' and
demonstrating DVA can deliver changes in line with the Australian Government's
Digital Service Standard methodology and work collaboratively with public
Mr Simon Lewis, the Secretary of DVA, told the committee:
It will build on our success in implementing the digital
transition agency's digital service standard into our project methodology
through the Lighthouse project. This project redesigned the Military
Rehabilitation Compensation Act, the MRCA, liability claims process with
improved processing times for some claims reducing from 120 days to four days.
These changes were achieving results in relation to reduced processing
times. For example, Mr Orme from DVA described one initiative:
The figure, when we first introduced non-liability health
care, was approximately 53 days to deal with the non-liability claim. We got
that down to 18, I believe, and currently we are running at 1.5 days per claim.
That is a good example of the changed processes, the increase in training, the
way we are doing our business differently and the way we are focusing on
getting only the information that we need...
Investment in updated ICT was a key focus of reform. The ASPC Capability
Review in 2013 found:
[T]here are some 200 individual ICT systems operating in the
department with a dated desktop. Typically a client facing employee or assessor
may need to open three or four separate applications, none of which 'talk to
the other', in order to deal with a single client request or claim.
Furthermore, staff or assessors may need to access additional separate
applications (likely through another staff member) to determine if a client had
a transport booking, or to check a client's eligibility for glasses or dental
In the absence of a single client number or reference point,
it is impossible for staff to see the full range of services that may be given
to, or purchased for, an individual at any one point in time. This is somewhat
ironic given the commitment of individual staff to their clients. Indeed, the
array of disparate and ageing systems works against developing an integrated
view of the client and is inconsistent with the principles of good client service.
It creates a considerable number of legacy challenges for the department and
tends to reinforce existing processes rather than encouraging more
comprehensive process re-engineering to deliver more effective and efficient
The committee's report into the mental health of ADF members and
veterans in 2016 recommended DVA be adequately funded to achieve full
digitisation of its records and modernisation of its ICT systems by 2020,
including the introduction of a single coherent system to process and manage
claims. This recommendation was agreed in principle by the Australian
Government which acknowledged that many of DVA's critical ICT current systems
are out of date and in substantial need of modernisation.
Using existing resource allocations, DVA has already
commenced a journey of digital transition with regard to paper records, which
will take a number of years. In the last two years, DVA has also been reviewing
its compensation claims processes and structures. Some streamlining of
processes and organisational changes are bringing in improved performance. In
addition, valuable work has been completed in analysing existing business processes
and identifying future business processes.
The urgent nature of this investment in ICT was underlined during the
inquiry. For example, Mr Lewis, the Secretary of DVA, told the committee that
'the reality is that [DVA] have over 150 quite antiquated systems, over half of
which the Finance department regards as being at—is it 'very high', or 'catastrophic'—risk
The 2015-16 Budget included $23.9 million for DVA to commence a two-year
program, known as the Improving Processing Systems (IPS) Program, to redesign
and redevelop key rehabilitation and compensation (R&C) systems.
IPS is designed to improve the short-term capability and
sustainability of critical ICT business applications that underpin compensation
and rehabilitation processing systems, which have been assessed as having a
high likelihood of catastrophic failure and are experiencing increasingly more
DVA noted that the 'recent digitisation of correspondence and files, and
planned implementation of a new claims processing system, will reduce DVA's
dependency on paper'. Claims processing will be improved as staff 'will readily
have access to the relevant electronic information and evidence'.
Some of this investment has leveraged Department of Human Services (DHS)
ICT capabilities and has been driven by broader government reform agendas in
relation to welfare payment infrastructure. DHS has been provided with $68
million to develop new ICT capability for the DVA as part of Veteran Centric
The Government response to the NMHC report highlighted a key initiative was the
joint DVA and DHS 'MyService', an online service that allows clients who
enlisted in the ADF after 30 June 2004 to submit a request for entitlements
under MRCA online. It stated:
Through MyService, the initial liability processing time for
some claims has reduced from the key performance indicator of 120 days to only
four days...While MyService only supports a small segment of the ADF and veteran
population, it was developed to show that DVA can rapidly transform client
services – now DVA and DHS are looking at ways to expand the service to help a
wider range of clients. This includes exploring ways to use MyService for
claims under the [VEA] and the [SRCA], as well as looking into the automatic
acceptance of certain physical conditions based on the expected impacts of
meeting the ADF’s rigorous physical training requirements. These initiatives will
assist DVA to process claims in a timely fashion...
Common issues raised
DVA's most recent client satisfaction survey indicated that while older
veterans or families who have an enduring relationship with DVA are largely
satisfied, contemporary veterans and families were less satisfied. 83 per cent
of veterans were satisfied with DVA overall, 6 percentage points below the
result of the last survey in 2014. However, only 49 per cent of veterans who
were under 45 years of age were satisfied and 31 per cent were dissatisfied.
The committee also received an independent survey prepared by a veteran,
Mr Angus Sim, which was conducted online and received almost 600
responses. The responses to the survey illustrated the range of problems
veterans report experiencing with DVA. The survey also indicated that younger
veterans, often with claims under SRCA and MRCA, were the least satisfied with
their experiences. In particular, many indicated that in dealing with staff in
DVA 'the process and treatment by the DVA' had resulted their accepted
conditions getting worse.
A number of common issues have been raised in submissions from
individual veterans, advocates for veterans, lawyers and ESOs regarding their
interactions with DVA and the administration of the military compensation
schemes. These included:
administrative and staffing issues;
delays in claim determinations;
medical assessments by contracted practitioners;
communication issues; and
adversarial approaches to claims.
Administrative and staffing issues
Several administration and staffing issues were raised including:
the level of staffing;
the quality and training of staff;
the spread of DVA functions; and
inefficient administrative practices.
Level of staffing
Some submitters pointed to reducing staffing as a challenge for DVA in
fulfilling its administrative functions. DVA currently has around 200 delegate
claim assessors dealing with approximately 30,000 claims per year. The average
case load for each delegate was 90 cases.
Sympathy was expressed for the work pressure on DVA staff in processing claims.
For example, Dr Nick Ford commented that from his experience 'DVA case managers
carry a massive case load of 100 to 180 cases, have little clinical training
and are generally focused on only process and compensation issues'.
Staffing in DVA has trended down in the last decade from 2,369 in
2006-07 to 1,986 in 2015-16. The DVA portfolio budget statement for 2017-18
estimated an average staffing level of 1,853.
Some, such as Mr Peter Thornton, pointed to a lack of staff as the cause of
poor administrative outcomes. He recommended DVA be excluded from the
efficiency dividend and frontline staff increased.
Mr Thornton stated:
If the reader is searching for possible reasons as to why DVA
claims processing has been lack-lustre over time, or that client engagement
might have been seemingly tense at times, then look no further than poor
staffing policies by Governments, which arbitrarily imposed 'Efficiency
Dividends' and punitive staffing cuts on the DVA...
Others highlighted a lack of continuity in staff responsible for
The TPI Federation noted that many DVA staff are temporary and had little
background knowledge of veterans' issues.
Mr Ken Parnell who assists veterans as part of the William Kibby VC Veterans
Shed in South Australia described his 'biggest problem' as the changing of
staff at DVA. He stated:
It is people leaving. A lot are retiring. A lot of the
knowledge has retired recently, even in this state. Over the last four years of
nine I have noticed a lot of contractors coming in. They are employing staff
under contract. They have put them onto three- or six-month contracts. They
begin to learn their job, and then they are gone; they are not re-employed. 
In a response to a question on notice, DVA outlined that in 2015-16, 'the
retention rate for APS5 claims delegates in the Rehabilitation and Compensation
group was approximately 93 per cent'. The reasons for staff separating during
the financial year were; retirement, transfer or promotion within the
Australian Public Service, resignation or end of employment contract.
APSC statistics indicate that overall the retention rate of ongoing employees
at DVA in 2015-16 was 89.4 per cent.
One area which had recently received an increased level of staffing was
case coordination. DVA highlighted that the 2015-16 Budget had provided $9.6
million over four years to deliver a measure to increase the number of case coordinators
and establishing the Coordinated Client Support (CSS) service model.
Case coordinators are provided for clients with complex needs
who have caused or may be in danger of causing harm to themselves or to others.
Case coordinators help at-risk clients with complex needs to navigate through
DVA services and benefits to minimise the risk of self-harm. Coordinators
provide a primary point of contact for clients and help them and their families
to access other psychosocial needs outside the Department.
Mr Craig Orme from DVA told the committee:
Under our case coordination system, we had 33 additional FTE
provided to the department, which we brought on board last year. They provide
increased case coordination for clients who have complex issues—it could be
health; it could be a range of other social issues or difficulties—to ensure we
provide better support. 
DVA considered the program had 'been successful in its implementation to
date, receiving more than 800 referrals in 2016, and currently supporting more
than 700 clients with complex needs...'. This included a number of clients
identified as requiring support through their separation from the ADF on
medical or administrative grounds.
Several submitters regarded the additional coordinated client support staff as
a positive development. For example, the Partners of Veterans Association of
Australia endorsed the funding over four years of the Coordinated Client
Support (CCS) service model. It stated:
The appointment of additional Case Coordinators from early
this year is markedly improving the Department's support of veterans at risk of
self-harming and who have complex cases that necessitate multi-agency
coordination. We note that the Department has changed the claim registration
process to facilitate the early identification of cases that require
coordination. We also note the wide range of ways in which veterans can be
referred for case coordination.
Quality and training
A number of submissions from veterans recounted negative experiences or
inappropriate conduct in dealing with DVA staff members. For example, Ms Tracie
Cooke was a sergeant with the Australian Army. She outlined she had a number of
common health conditions for veterans including tinnitus and hearing loss. She
I spoke to a supervisor one day because the bloke who rang me
was so rude he was saying HELLO HELLO yelling it and then said yep what do you
want. I thought they were there to do a job, but the supervisor said oh they
have been under stress too many claims they look after about 50 people each...
Avenues to redress problems with DVA staff members were often perceived
as inadequate. The Victims Of Abuse In The Australian Defence Force Association
considered that the 'mechanisms for dealing with complaints against employees
who have an uncaring attitude or contractors who do not fully understand the
Acts are limited' and involve DVA 'sitting in judgement on itself'.
While DVA employs a large number of members with military experience, some
DVA delegates were considered to lack an appropriate understanding of the
realities of military service and this impacted compensation claims by
For example, Mr Rod Thompson, an advocate, provided a number of examples from
his experience where DVA staff had fundamentally misunderstood the military
context when injuries to veterans occurred. He noted 'daily misunderstandings
of the veterans' military service cause many claims to be rejected initiating a
long, costly and damaging appeals process costing both the veteran and the DVA
financially and emotionally'.
Inadequate understanding of the legislative framework and incapacity to
understand medical reports and evidence were also identified amongst DVA staff.
For example, Dr Catriona Bruce and others highlighted that non-medically-trained
DVA delegates are required to extract information from medical assessments to make
a determinations which 'leads to inaccurate assessments, and significant stress
and long-term consequences for the individual'.
Additional training for DVA staff was frequently proposed. For example,
RANZCP recommended that the training of DVA staff could be improved with regard
veteran-specific mental health issues;
appropriate use of sensitive language; and
the realities of clinical practice.
While some submitters expressed criticism of DVA staff, many also
highlighted their personal experiences with high-quality DVA staff members. For
example, Mr Johnson clarified that he did not wish to 'denigrate all staff in
DVA' in his submission noting that there were 'many highly professional,
committed and diligent APS officers working tirelessly to effect changes from
Spread of administrative functions
The placement of administrative functions relating to claims in
different areas was also criticised.
For example, Mr John Burrows, an advocate, considered that '[t]he recent change
in the responsibilities of DVA State Offices and relocation of topical points
of contact has created confusion and considerable disruption amongst the
veteran community'. He noted:
Prior to these changes, each state DVA Offices was a 'one stop
shop' for all matters DVA and were in many regards easily accessible and locally
focussed. Now many of those responsibilities and the support once locally available
to Veteran communities and their families have now been relocated to DVA
Offices in other States.
Similarly, Mr Brian Briggs from Slater and Gordon Lawyers commented:
The splitting of functions geographically without appropriate
IT support means DVA staff lack appreciation of the total picture regarding a
Veteran's case. This further adds to delays in processing, duplication in
actions required to resolve claims and additional frustration and stress for
Files continue to be shipped all over the country; one
section may deal with liability before another considers incapacity and then
another rehabilitation or treatment.
Permanent impairment and compensation will be looked at by
entirely separate teams. This entire bureaucratic file shuffling and passing on
of an injured members' claim, causes significant delays. The frustration of my
clients at this inefficiency and ineptitude is overwhelming.
RSL (Tasmania) reported that its advocates had noticed an increasing
lack of coordination between different life-stages of a claim since the
reallocation of tasks between DVA offices in each state. It stated that while 'clustering
claim functions into single silo sites may have been intended to introduce
consistency of decisions, it has resulted in inefficiencies between claims
stages, increases costs and increases frustration in veterans'.
Where a claim is made under MRCA or SRCA, liability for the
claim is determined in either Melbourne or Sydney. Once liability is
determined, Needs Assessment is performed in Adelaide, and then Incapacity
payments or Permanent Impairment payments are assessed in Perth. In the past,
where the Needs Assessment identified a need for both incapacity payments and
permanent impairment claims, there was a degree of coordination between these
phases of the claim in that specialist reports requested by the incapacity team
were of a nature that addressed the needs of the permanent impairment team as
well. Increasingly, this is not the case...
Inefficient administrative practices
Many stakeholders involved in interactions with DVA including veterans,
advocates and health providers highlighted confusing administrative practices
and the negative impacts of cumbersome forms and paperwork. Mr Arthur Ventham
illustrated these issues by noting that 'twelve years after the most recent Act
was brought in, there is still no single claim form for veterans to fill out if
their service cuts across multiple acts'.
DVA needs to simplify the overall MRCA and SRCA claims
process. The complexity of MRCA and the extended investigations into the range
of entitlements (Permanent Impairment, Incapacity and Rehabilitation) must be
simplified to become less confusing so it is more easily understood by those it
is designed to assist, particularly when they are suffering from a mental health
Similarly, Dr Jonathan Lane stated:
[I]n in terms of claims for compensation or liability, there
is an enormous amount of paperwork and administration involved in submitting a
claim, along with the burden of proof required for this. Each individual injury
or problem requires a separate claim form, regardless of whether they are
related injuries. Each claim may be many, many pages long. That claim may then
be assessed by somebody with only superficial knowledge of the issues involved,
and hence rejected, as the claim was not clear, or not understood by the
assessing psychiatrist. These problems are exacerbated by the claimants not understanding
what is going on with themselves at the time, and the fact that they are quite obviously
unwell when undergoing this process.
A key complaint in relation to DVA's administration related to lengthy
delays in the processing of claims. The DVA client satisfaction survey noted
that veterans under 45 years were much more likely to have submitted a claim to
DVA in the last 12 months (37 per cent) compared to older veterans. There were
stark differences between older and contemporary veterans in terms of
satisfaction with the time taken to process a claim or application. While 65
per cent of veterans 65 years and over were satisfied, only 56 per cent of
those aged 45-65 years and 39 percent of those aged under 45 years were
The toll of administrative delays on claimants was repeatedly made
clear. For example, the committee spoke to Mr Guy Bowering, who
despite having a relatively clear cut condition and accurate records waited
three and a half years for his claims to be finalised. He noted that he knew of
veterans for whom the process was too hard and withdrew their claims.
The joint submission from Dr Catriona Bruce and others noted that delayed claim
processes leave the individuals 'in a form of limbo which directly and
negatively affects mental health' and can also cause 'severe financial distress
to individuals, which is a causative factor for suicide'.
DVA provided information on claims under the three schemes and the average
time taken to process (TTTP). The average TTTP VEA compensation cases in 2015-16
was 72 days, the same as in 2014-15, against a target of 75 days.
DVA indicated that, as at 6 February 2017, the oldest liability claim under the
VEA was 440 days old. The delay in finalising this claim was due to the time
taken to obtain medical evidence, from the applicant's treating general
practitioner and treating psychiatrist, for the multiple conditions claimed
across all three Acts.
In 2015-16, 5,920 compensation conditions were determined under the
SRCA, with an acceptance rate of 60.9 per cent, and the mean time taken to
process SRCA liability cases was 118 days.
The average TTTP in 2014-15 was 140 days with a target of 120 days.
DVA indicated that, as at 6 February 2017, the oldest liability claim was a
SRCA claim which was 536 days old. The delay in finalising this claim was due
to the time taken to obtain medical evidence from the applicant's treating
general practitioner and treating specialist. The claim was subsequently
In 2015-16, 14,527 compensation conditions were determined under the
MRCA, with an acceptance rate of 71.4 per cent, and the mean time taken to
process MRCA liability cases was 117 days.
The average time taken for 2014-15 was 109 days with a target of 120 days.
DVA indicated that, as at 6 February 2017, the oldest liability claim under the
MRCA is 484 days old. This relates to a claim for compensation following death.
The delay in finalising this claim is due to the coroner's investigation not
yet reaching a conclusion on the cause of death. This claim will be finalised
once the Coroner's Court has made a decision on the cause of death.
However DVA and others submitters emphasised that delays can also be the
result of processes occuring at other agencies. For example, Mr Rod Thompson,
an advocate noted that the 'Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation...are running
at least 9 months behind in processing assessments'.
Mr Lewis, the Secretary of DVA, stated that some veterans with medical
discharges could be 'waiting a lot of time for the CSC to make its
determination, and the DVA cannot start to make its determination until it
knows the outcome of the CSC'. He noted that meetings were occurring between
CSC, DVA and Defence 'trying to work out ways to get the system to work much
better in relation to someone who will be going through the medical discharge
process with a view to getting the CSC determination and then hopefully the DVA
determination, and ideally all of that before the point of discharge'.
The 2017-18 Budget included funding of $13.5 million for one year to alleviate
pressure on claims processing staff and to reduce the backlog associated with
DVA budget documents acknowledged that 'increased claims processing workload
has placed significant pressures on the [DVA's] ability to effectively deliver
services to veterans'. The measure will enable DVA to maintain the necessary
workforce and resources to help meet increased workloads and reduce the claim
Various proposed solutions were suggested to address the backlog in
claims. Some proposed a DVA taskforce or dedicated section to expedite assessment
and processing of all outstanding claims.
Others suggested new processing benchmarks and service level standards to
ensure more timely processing of claims. For example, DiggersRest@Quailsridge,
a small ESO, suggested 'DVA should have a set time frame to process these
claims and be held accountable should they not process the claim on time. In
particular, veterans should get automatic approval of claims if they are not processed
within the time period.
Mr Brian Briggs, from Slater and Gordon Lawyers proposed the
introduction of 90 day time limits on:
decisions in relation to acceptance or refusal of liability for
decisions in relation to compensation; and
reconsideration of original determinations.
Under this proposal, if decision is not made within the specified time
frame, the claim should be deemed to have been rejected and the claimant able
to apply for reconsideration or review. Mr Briggs argued that several other
overseas jurisdictions incorporated time limits into their claims processes for
veterans and this had led to increased efficiency and better outcomes. He noted
that DVA has previously refused to incorporate such amendments.
Notably, the NMHC report recommended:
As DVA has mapped the process between lodging a DVA claim,
acceptance of a claim, and first payment being made, and established key
performance indicators for the time to decision and payment, it should
implement a default position, in the event that a decision is not made within
the stipulated timeframe, to pay a claimant until such time as a definitive
decision is made. This provides an impetus for DVA to ensure that claims are
processed in a timely fashion and that claimants are not unreasonably
disadvantaged by delays in DVA administrative processes.
However, the Government response stated:
While the Government is committed to reducing Time Taken to
Process claims and improvements have already been made in recent years, the
Government does not support a default position in the event a decision is not
made within a stipulated timeframe. Legislated timeframes for the processing of
initial liability claims under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation
Act 2004 were the subject of the Review of Statutory Timeframes report
tabled in Parliament in June 2014. The report recommended against the introduction
of legislated timeframes because they increased the risk of poor, incomplete or
incorrect outcomes for claimants.
In any case, a number of major initiatives through the
Veteran Centric Reform project will result in reduced time taken to process
Veterans can access treatment for any mental health condition
without the need for a compensation claim through Non-Liability Health Care
ADSO noted that the review of statutory timeframes had identified a
range of factors which contributed to delays. These included:
the investigative nature of the claims process;
the time between incident and lodgement of a claim;
the complexity of claims;
the receipt of incomplete claims; and
the involvement of external parties, such as the Department of
Defence (Defence) and medical providers, in the claims process.
However, the ADSO highlighted that there were positive improvements in
processing times arising from recent reforms which had streamlined claims
processing under both the VEA and MRCA. It reiterated the importance of further
appropriations to DVA to enable further Lighthouse Project reforms to improve claims
Serious complaints were raised regarding the quality, appropriateness
and fairness of medical assessments required by DVA in the claims process. DVA
outlined that its departmental guidelines state that a report from a treating
specialist is preferred, however it noted that it may use external,
non-treating medical practitioners (often a medico-legal firm) to seek an
independent report in some cases. These medico-legal companies are selected on
a case by case basis and there is no schedule of fees or contract and payment
is on a case by case basis. These medico-legal firms were used in situations where:
the client does not have a treating specialist or, more rarely, where
the delegate is dissatisfied with the treating doctor's response e.g. there is
insufficient information is provided with the claim and it is necessary
to ask the client to undergo a medical examination e.g. to determine the level
of impairment, the deterioration and/or the permanency of the condition;
the treating specialist cannot or will not provide the required
information; or cannot provide it in a timely manner;
a subsequent report still does not meet the diagnostic criteria;
a report is deficient in some aspect and a report from a further medical
professional is required for the purpose specified in the referral.
However, RSL Tasmania reported that its advocates were finding DVA's
policies were 'often not adhered to'. It stated that '[i]n many cases, a
claimant has a treating specialist, and these details have been provided to the
delegate, but the treating specialist is not used and, instead, an MLCOA
specialist is used'. It outlined a number of issues with the use of independent
specialists. In particular:
A further difficulty with using independent specialists in
preference over treating specialists is that claimants may not be comfortable
speaking with an independent in some circumstances. This is particularly the
case when dealing with mental health claims where trust between the patient and
the specialist is an essential element in both accurate diagnosis and treatment...Treating
specialists have had time to overcome this and have a much clearer picture of
the claimant's mental health than can be provided by an independent in a
relatively short, single consultation.
Many veterans reported difficulties in accessing appointments for medico-legal
assessments and objected to another opinion being sought when one was available
from their own treating specialist. ADSO considered there was evidence that 'too
many Independent Medical Examiners and Approved Rehabilitation Program
Providers approach their contracted responsibilities as though veterans are
compensation insurance claimants from the general community – with all the associated
One veteran described attending appointments arranged by DVA as 'extremely
stressful for veterans and families'. They commented:
There is no patient Dr relationship, nor period of
observation to facilitate a balanced or fair assessment. There is no reason
that the Department should not accept the assessment of the GP or specialist,
provided by the veteran, with whom the veteran has established some trust
within a clinical relationship.
Ms Michelle Roberts related her husband's experience:
My husband was sent to a MCLOA Dr in December 2014. We drove
3 hours on a Saturday with our children for the appointment. We had
trouble finding the place so rang to say he was going to be 15 minutes late.
Even so, the doctor told him off when he arrived. The doctor refused to look at
any medical documents my husband had brought with him, instead relying on only
the x-rays Defence had provided. The extent of my husband's injuries is not
able to be seen in x-ray. The whole appointment lasted 15 minutes...
The TPI Federation questioned the cost of legal work and health reports
when a veterans' condition is obviously Defence caused, and is referred to in
the Defence medical documents.
It observed that DVA has acknowledged that there are less than 1.5 per cent of
claims that are disingenuous. In this context, the TPI Federation suggested
that DVA should change its approach to accept a claim for compensation and
medical health and allow the few disingenuous claims to be followed up by DVA's
fraud section. This would mean that the vast majority of clients 'need not be
put through the wringer to prove a case with very expensive medical reports
and, at times, legal reports'. It recommended DVA accept veterans face-value
and 'not treat them as potential fraudsters'.
Dr Andrew Khoo agreed that there are examples of inappropriate medico-legal
assessments of veterans:
[T]here is a belief that the treating psychiatrist will
consciously or unconsciously overadvocate for their patient in a way that will
skew their opinion in terms of how sick that person is. That is why they want
to get an independent view. You cannot get the same picture about what is going
on with someone at that time, how they are going to respond to treatment and
what their prognosis is in the future, if you have not been regularly seeing
that person in a longitudinal fashion. You are going to get a much more
definitive and a much more reliable, valid picture of a person's medical
position at that time and their prognosis in the future, if you get their
treating psychiatrist to write the report rather than an independent that might
see them, like you say, for 45 minutes and then make all those broad
He noted that these independent medical examinations could destabilise
patients by causing them to repeatedly talk through difficult circumstances,
promoting distrust, adding delays to claim processing and 'personalising the
diagnostic position of the independent medical examination...seeing [the patient]
as a liar or someone who is fabricating a story'.
Similarly, Dr Jonathan Lane, a psychiatrist, also questioned the value of short
assessments for mental health conditions:
A person actually often will appear better than what they
really are in that one-off assessment because they do not have the chance to be
able to display the range of symptoms they have got, the severity of the
symptoms and the duration of those symptoms...It is traumatising for the person,
and it is actually underrepresenting their true level of debility, mostly.
However, there were contrasting positions. Mr Peter Reece recommended
'all medical assessments for permanent disability be conducted by expert
contracted medicos, not by veterans' own GP's. He considered more 'rigour' was
required 'especially in mental health assessments'.
The Government response to the NMHC report noted that '[i]n order to
access services from CSC and DVA, members are often required to undergo further
medical assessments and provide additional medical information'. It
acknowledged that '[t]his can cause frustration for separating members when
they feel they have to undergo multiple medical assessments for the same
conditions and provide the same information a number of times'.
Defence, DVA and CSC are working together to improve the
health examination process at the time of separation from the ADF. A Single
Medical Assessment Process (SMAP) will be more member-centric, reduce the
requirement for multiple medical assessments where possible, and avoid the
requirement for the member to submit the same information more than once.
Several veterans highlighted issues they had experienced relating to
incorrect payments being made by DVA.
Mr Michael Quinn, an advocate, commented:
The department states that because there is less than a 3%
over payment problem that this does not require attention. The problem is that
if you fall within the 3% you can end up owing the department tens of thousands
of dollars. This [is] unacceptable if you are waged capped at 75% of a Privates
wage. The mistakes tend to reoccur to the same veteran and provide a great deal
The main problems seem to occur when providing offsetting
calculation between ComSuper and Incapacity payments. This problem is
exasperated even further when the Tax is being calculated. It is very difficult
to find someone within the department to find the error and even when all
criteria are met for the debt to be written off it very rarely occurs. The
issue of overpayments needs investigating in it own right. There are no efforts
being made to fix the problem. An over payment issue can remain with the
veteran for 2 or 3 years. In some cases the repayment will take decades.
Where two or more agencies were involved in incorrect payments the
potential problems for the veterans appeared to be amplified. For example, the
TPI Federation outlined an issue where a 'non-operational DVA client who HAS to
deal with Centrelink is advised by them that there is an overpayment':
This needs to be repaid via the Centrelink Disability
Pension. Because there was an overpayment with this payment then the [Defence
Force Income Support Allowance (DFISA)] from DVA also has an overpayment. This
has to be recovered from the DFISA payment. If a DVA client wants to query this
overpayment, then Centrelink advise that DVA should be contacted and then DVA
advise that Centrelink should be contacted. There is never a resolution. Again,
DVA should be controlling all DVA client's payments. With this type of
confusion there is much to worry about with those DVA clients who have mental
Mr Brian Briggs from Slater and Gordon Lawyers considered that incapacity
payments in particular were not well managed by DVA. He noted that the 'ANAO
provides that in 2014, the DVA reported that over 20 per cent of payments were
made in error or were instances of overpayment'.
DVA outlined that it was legislatively bound to administer debts and
overpayments across the three legislative schemes and that if clients were paid
more than they are lawfully entitled to receive, those monies were recoverable
debts. It noted:
The majority of overpayments are for relatively small amounts
and occur when clients do not meet their obligations to advise DVA of changes
in their circumstances or, they no longer meet the specific eligibility
requirements for a certain benefit. Changes in a client's circumstances can
mean that they are entitled to either a higher or lower benefit. When an
overpayment occurs, a repayment plan is developed based on the client's
capacity to repay the debt.
Aged clients who experience large pension reductions and have
no representative are contacted by telephone before receiving written advice
from the Department. There are also guidelines for staff to follow for
contacting clients with mental health conditions who have overpayments.
Recovery is always within the client's capacity so they are not adversely
affected. Clients are able to contact DVA if they have difficulties in repaying
While most overpayments are recovered, in certain
circumstances some are waived or written off.
DVA listed a range of processes and strategies used to ensure that its clients
were receiving correct entitlements. These included:
a booklet for new income support pension clients and periodic
letters to inform and remind them regarding their rights, benefits and legal
publication of DVA factsheets concerning client obligations in
regard to specific circumstances or issues; and
an extensive Quality Assurance Program which monitors the quality
and consistency of decisions and determinations made.
DVA stated that '[t]o complement these strategies, there are
departmentally driven control activities in place which include departmental
initiated reviews (e.g. enhanced compliance reviews, periodical payment or
medical reviews), identity checking and data-matching programs with other
Government agencies (e.g. death data matching)'.
Availability of information and
One advocate, Mr John Burrow, described unrealistic expectations in the
military community regarding the availability of some benefits as well as a '
systemic failure within the DVA organisation...that many veterans, families and
dependants do not understand what is available, who can help, identifying what's
needed and obtaining the appropriate support to meet those needs'. He noted
that there are very few sources willing or able to provide information on
eligibility or 'a detailed description of entitlements and available benefits
and then define the complexities of accepting various benefits and support'.
Similarly, the RSL considered that 'DVA needs to significantly improve
how it explains the overall MRCA and SRCA claims process'. It stated:
The complexity of MRCA and the extended investigations into
the range of entitlements (Permanent Impairment, Incapacity and Rehabilitation)
are extremely opaque and therefore not able to be easily understood by those it
is designed to assist, particularly when they are suffering from a mental
A submission from a veteran who requested to be anonymous commented that
a '[v]eteran whom may be suffering from a myriad of problems let alone mental
illness can have great difficulties trying to find what they may be entitled to
on the DVA website'. He suggested information 'needs to be placed in layman's
terms and perhaps certain scenarios and flow charts put in place'. He stated:
DVA needs to make this process easier for a veteran to
decipher because they look at the website and think 'This is all too hard its
doing my head in!' And don't get the help they are entitled to receive.
It was apparent during the inquiry that many contemporary veterans
prefer to seek and discuss available support services on social media or email
groups. For example, witnesses and submitters often referred to discussion on
closed online discussion groups. ADSO underscored the need for awareness
programs, pointing out that knowledge of available support services in the
veteran community could not be assumed:
ADSO monitors a significant number of social media sites frequented
by younger veterans and their families. That exercise reveals that few are
aware of the information available on either the Defence Community Organisation
website or in DVA's Factsheets.
However, a name withheld submission noted that many DVA clients received
helpful advice from various closed Facebook groups. To reflect this he suggested
the 'official DVA Facebook page needs some serious expansion, and more open and
honest 2-way discussion'.
Mr Max Ball also argued that DVA's communications and stakeholder
engagement areas were not being proactive in monitoring and addressing issues
raised in the veteran community. He illustrated this concern with an example of
a widely circulated allegation against a DVA service. He stated:
My immediate concerns over this allegation included that this
email itself could cause stress amongst some veterans, that it should be
investigated immediately and that the department should respond with alacrity
to the veteran community on this matter, not with 'spin', but in a way that
reflects public relations skills as compared to communication skills.
RSL Tasmania highlighted a spectrum of DVA communication issues relating
to clients and advocates. These included:
excluding advocates from communications regarding veteran clients,
particularly complex assessment surveys;
leaving advocates to communicate adverse determinations to
'difficult' claimants; and
poor quality determination letters containing 'little by way of
The quality of correspondence was also highlighted by the TPI Federation
which described some DVA correspondence as 'confusing, ambiguous and too
legalistic'. It considered that this was an area to be addressed urgently. At
the hearing, Ms Pat McCabe, President of the TPI Federation, indicated that DVA
may be looking at the issue as part of the Project Lighthouse initiatives.
A common problem appeared to be DVA not registering or consistently using
the advocates or lawyers nominated by veterans as their authorised
representatives. For example, DFWA (Qld) cited repeated cases of delays in
processing applications 'due exclusively to DVA contacting the Veteran direct
and not using the Veteran's Authorised Representative (AR)'. It commented that
it 'appears that DVA staff lacked visibility of the Veteran file due to its
physical location interstate and inadequate IT support'.
Examples of unreasonable, insensitive or inflexible approaches by DVA in
communicating with veterans were also given in evidence. For example, Mr Peter
Larter told the committee about a veteran he was assisting who had a diagnosis
that was linked to service, but who had submitted his claim under the wrong
He can put a claim in under the VEA, but actually the injury
in the diagnosis was under the MRCA. The letter that he receives back—I know
this verbatim I have seen it that many times—goes along the lines of, 'Your
condition of PTSD is not related to service.' That is almost in the first
paragraph and that is the decision. How do you think that member feels right
Adversarial approach to claims
A number of submitters and witnesses argued that DVA had developed an
adversarial approach to claims by veterans.
This stance towards claims was considered inappropriate given the beneficial
nature of the legislation for veterans being administered.
Often veterans described DVA as acting like an 'insurance company' in
relation to claims by veterans with internal pressure on DVA staff to downgrade
the severity of conditions.
RSL Tasmania thought that 'many of the delegates within the DVA who consider
liability for claims lodged [under SRCA and MRCA]...approach the claims from a
perspective similar to that used by assessors of insurance companies, and
assess claims with a view to avoiding liability, rather than applying the
principles underpinning beneficial legislation'.
Mr Raymond Kemp stated that his belief was that 'the vast majority of DVA
delegates try their best reject the claim at the primary level'.
The adversarial approach leads to unnecessary stress on the
veteran and also unnecessary costs to both the department and veteran. The VEA
is meant to be beneficial legislation, however delegates go out of their way to
be difficult...It seems to me minor disabilities are accepted without any
problem; however, the more serious ones are normally rejected at the primary
Mr Kemp recommended that 'if a claim is to be rejected then a face to
face arbitration session should be held between the delegate, his senior, the
client and his advocate'. He noted that this should save money 'if the claim is
then settled at that point'.
Mr Rod Thompson thought this was a change departmental behaviour:
The DVA since approximately 2010 have taken an adversarial
approach to veterans across all areas of departmental responsibility purely to
save money and limit liability, implementing policy designed only to delay and
deny liability and compensation. When the issues are raised by complaint or through
ESORT or other established channels the matters are dismissed, buried or in
some cases handed to outsourced Law Firms with expertise in corporate damage
control to snow over some very questionable behaviour by the Department.
Compensation for Detriment Caused by Defective Administration (CDDA)
The CDDA scheme provides a mechanism for compensation where a person has
suffered detriment due to the defective actions or inaction of the Commonwealth
Government. The CDDA Scheme is an administrative, not a legislative scheme. The
responsibility for determining CDDA claims rests with the portfolio Minister
and officers authorised by the Minister. Payments made under the CDDA Scheme
are discretionary. This means there is no automatic entitlement to a payment.
DVA's view was that it had a 'good record and has made significant
improvements over time in dealing with claims under the CDDA Scheme'. During
2015-16, a total of $70,485.74 was paid by the DVA in compensation under the
CDDA Scheme. DVA received 28 claims under the scheme in 2015-16. Of these the
Secretary of DVA found defective administration occurred in seven cases.
The number of claims received by the Department should be put
into context with the overall number of decisions made by DVA. For example,
rehabilitation and compensation delegates make more than 40,000 decisions a
year and income support delegates make more than 50,000 decisions a year.
However, the committee received several submissions, including
confidential submissions, which expressed dissatisfaction with CDDA as a
mechanism to obtain compensation for defective administration by DVA and
A name withheld submission made the point that that rectifying administrative
errors by DVA can involve 'unrecoverable accountancy costs and lost interest
recovery on the underpayments, even if the cause of it all meets the requirements
Further, Mr Alan Ashmore commented:
Veterans who lodge a CDDA claim against DVA have almost no
chance of success because:
The approval of such claims is at the discretion of DVA.
Where DVA reject a CDDA claim and the Veteran has the Commonwealth
Ombudsman decide in the Veterans favour, DVA are not required by law to follow
the Ombudsman's recommendation, and,
Even when there is clear evidence of defective administration DVA will
deny it, but instead will often acknowledge the case could have been better
This means the Veteran has virtually no chance of seeking
justice for what the VRB and other appeal bodies determine are either clear
errors or negligence on the part of DVA, or a combination of both. This makes a
mockery of current and previous Prime Ministers promising to look after
Veterans when they return not to mention the motto on DVA letterhead, 'Saluting
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers noted that the 'overarching principle of the
CDDA scheme is to restore claimants to the position they would have been in
had the defective administration not occurred'. It proposed that when 'assessing
damages to determine the appropriate level of compensation, common law
principles of the assessment of damages ought to be applied'. Further 'there
should be allowance for the payment of legal costs and disbursements to provide
assistance for claimants to prepare their CDDA application at 100% of the
Federal Court of Australia's Scale of Costs'.
Amongst the agencies of the Commonwealth Government, DVA is one of the
oldest and most stable departments. However, the overall impression the
committee received during the inquiry was that DVA administrative capabilities have
been gradually run down over a significant period. Reduced levels of staffing,
the impact of the efficiency dividend and a lack of investment in efficient ICT
has had an increasingly negative impact on the administration of claims by
veterans. Over time piecemeal reform in the portfolio has often resulted in additional
complexity rather than streamlining administration. At the same time, a
gradually changing client base of veterans has imposed additional stresses on
the workload of DVA.
The evidence to the inquiry indicates some urgent areas for administrative
reform identified by Professor Dunt in 2009 and by the APSC Capability Review
in November 2013 have not been adequately addressed. In this context, recent
appropriations by the Australian Government to support major transformative
change are welcome. Important administrative reform is starting to occur, but
the pace does not reflect the importance of the outcomes for veterans and their
Perhaps the most concerning evidence the committee received related to
veterans who gave up their claims in frustration before they had even received
a final determination due to their adverse experiences in the administration of
their claims. A number of veterans (and partners of veterans) explained that
they would not speak or engage with DVA staff again due their negative
Recent improvements by DVA highlight the potential of further reform to
administrative processes. The committee recognises that this transformation
process will require time and substantial resourcing. Accordingly, the committee
urges the Australian Government to continue funding future appropriations to
ensure the next stages of the DVA reform program are undertaken in a timely
In particular, the committee reaffirms its recommendation that DVA be
adequately funded to achieve full digitisation of it records and modernisation
of its ICT systems by 2020, including the introduction of a single coherent
system to process and manage claims.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government continue to support
the 'Veteran Centric Reform' program within the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
The committee considers that the interim measures to assist with claims
processing should be continued and expanded until the benefits of the Veteran
Centric Reform can be fully implemented. In particular, the budget initiatives
to alleviate pressure on claims processing staff and to reduce the backlog
associated with increasing claims and to increase the number of case
coordinators should continue. If significant benefits for clients are derived
from these measures, consideration should be given to expanding them further.
The committee recommends that, while the Veteran Centric Reform program
is being implemented, the Australian Government continue to fund measures to:
alleviate pressure on claims processing staff and to reduce the
backlog of claims; and
increase case coordination staff to assist clients with complex
Maintaining high client service standards is a constant issue in any
department where there is a turnover of staff or where non-ongoing staff are employed.
DVA also faces this challenge. Given the concerns raised regarding the conduct and
expertise of DVA staff in submissions to the inquiry, the committee considers
DVA should re-examine its training programs directed to delegates and those
other staff dealing with veterans making claims for compensation and
The committee recommends that the Department of Veterans' Affairs
conduct a review of its training program to ensure relevant staff:
have an understanding of the realities of military service;
have an understanding of health issues of veterans;
have appropriate communication skills to engage with clients with
mental health conditions; and
have sufficient training to interpret medical assessment and
The committee supports the efforts by DVA, Defence and CSC to implement
a Single Medical Assessment Process to minimise situations where veterans are
required to attend multiple medical appointments. Many veterans were
dissatisfied with their experiences at medio-legal firms. Several objected to
being required to attend appointments with a medical practitioner who was not
their own treating specialist. In the view of the committee, DVA needs to
reassess its use of medico-legal firms to ensure that these assessments being
contracted are appropriate for the conditions of veterans, particularly in the
case of mental health conditions.
The committee recommends that the Department of Veterans' Affairs review
its use of medico-legal firms in relation to the assessment of the conditions
of veterans. In particular, this review should confirm:
assessments undertaken are appropriate to the conditions
that the medical professionals used have undertaken training on treating
veterans and can demonstrate their expertise working amongst this client group;
the need for independent medical assessments where information is
already available from the veteran's own doctor or treating specialist.
DVA should also take the opportunity to review its communication
strategies and awareness raising activities concerning services and benefits
available to veterans. The diverse nature of the veteran community is a
challenge. While older veterans are not reliant on online resources,
contemporary veterans expect online resources to be available. In the view of
the committee, there is room for DVA to enhance its digital communications
through social media to reach younger veterans. Proactive and responsive
engagement online can operate to identify current issues and direct veterans to
the most appropriate resources and correct circulated information which is
misunderstood or incorrect.
The committee recommends the Department of Veterans' Affairs expand its
online engagement with younger veterans through social media to raise awareness
regarding available support services.
Independent administrative review
The NMHC's report recommended that the 'Australian Government should
commission an economic study of the current expenditure (within Defence,
Veterans' Affairs, Health, Human Services and Social Services) on health,
welfare and disability support for current and former Defence personnel and
their families, and consider whether there are superior models for supporting
optimal health and wellbeing of current and former members and their families,
including models that separate compensation, liability and health care
However, the Government response stated:
The link between compensation and health care for mental
health conditions has already been separated through the provision of
non-liability heath care under DVA arrangements. Given this separation and
other Budget 2017 initiatives of pro-active intervention, the proposed economic
study would have limited value. DVA and Defence are focussing on wellbeing and
participation models that are acknowledged as leading to better outcomes for
members and veterans.
The Australian Government Actuary annually estimates the
liability of the SRCA and MRCA schemes.
Broad ranging proposals for reviews of administrative issues relating to
veterans were made by submitters during the inquiry. For example, Dr Catriona
Bruce and others recommended the '[i]nstigation of a Productivity Commission
review of the administrative affairs of DVA with a focus on efficiency, wasted
administrative funding, cost-effectiveness of assessment procedures and
spending and actual payments made to veterans'.
The committee agrees that the independent review by the Productivity Commission
it has recommended should not be limited to the legislative framework and
should also examine administrative responsibility and service delivery to
Some veterans expressed concern that future reform could result in some
of the responsibilities of DVA being transferred to the Department of Human
Services (DHS) or be delivered through Centrelink. The committee notes that the
Minister on 7 August 2017 has confirmed that DVA will remain a stand-alone
department and there are no plans to merge DVA with DHS.
The unique nature of military service means that there will always be a need
for a specific agency responsible for the welfare of veterans, however the
committee considers that the administrative role of DVA should be critically examined.
In the committee's previous inquiry into mental health of ADF and
veterans, the committee stated it was not convinced that mandating statutory
time limits for claim determinations would benefit veterans as it may have
unintended consequences. However, statutory measures can operate shape
administrative practices to deliver more timely outcomes for clients. Given the
NMHC view on this topic, the committee considers this matter should be
reassessed as part of independent review by the Productivity Commission. Delays
in the processing of claims, and the uncertainty that resulted, were key stressors
The committee recommends that the reference to the Productivity
Commission should also include examination of the following areas in the
Veterans' Affairs portfolio:
administrative processes; and
The committee notes that the ANAO has indicated a potential audit of
DVA's delivery of services to its clients for 2017-18.
The ANAO's work consistently provides valuable insights into effective public
administration. While the ANAO review will not cover the breadth of issues
which submitters have raised, an ANAO performance audit of the 'Efficiency of
veterans service delivery by the Department of Veterans' Affairs' will
complement and reinforce the work of administrative review by the Productivity
Commission recommended by the committee. Given the evidence received during the
inquiry, the committee consider the ANAO should undertake this proposed
performance audit as a matter of urgency.
The committee recommends that the Australian National Audit Office
commence the proposed performance audit of the 'Efficiency of veterans' service
delivery by the Department of Veterans' Affairs' as soon as possible.
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