ABC News – Veterans put ‘through a lot of hoops’ in bid to claim compensation, minister says

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) has been “too adversarial” when it comes to handling the compensation claims of former defence personnel, Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester says.

Key points:

  • Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester says his department “has been guilty of being too adversarial” over compensation claims
  • Mr Chester said the culture in the department has been improving
  • He said he would act upon a recommendation to from a cross-party group on veterans’ mental health issues

Mr Chester made the comments to 7.30 after holding a summit in Canberra about veterans’ mental health on Wednesday.

The department has been criticised by veterans, their families and even the Productivity Commission, which said in a draft report that the compensation claim process for veterans was not fit for purpose.

One mother of a veteran who committed suicide started a petition on Change.org, which received more than 220,000 signatures. As part of the petition, she called for a royal commission into the rate of suicide among veterans and accuses the DVA of treating veterans poorly when they make compensation claims.

“I believe in the past that the DVA has been guilty of being too adversarial in terms of whether it’s protecting the public purse or putting veterans through a lot of hoops,” Mr Chester told 7.30.

He said the culture in large organisations was difficult to change but that the DVA was making progress.

“The changing culture now is around taking a more beneficial approach to the veteran or their family in terms of providing those support measures. So I think there has been improvement, I think there’s real progress here,” he said.

“The feedback I’ve received from the key ex-service organisations in about [the] 15 months I’ve been in the role is that they are seeing improvements, and they want to see us keep working with them to bed down even further improvements in the future.

“The DVA has to win back the trust of Australian veterans and their families and the service community more generally.”

Cross-party group to be set up

Darren Chester addresses the veterans summit in Canberra

PHOTO: Darren Chester addresses the veterans summit in Canberra. (ABC News)

Mr Chester said he would act upon a recommendation from the summit to contact MPs from all parties with military experience to form a group that will look at veterans’ mental health issues.

When it comes to a royal commission, Mr Chester said “all options are on the table”.

“But what I’ve been saying also quite clearly is, in about four or five days’ time the Productivity Commission is going to give me a report, which it has been working on for the past year,” he said.

“I understand it’s a 1,000-page report, looking at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and making sure it’s fit for purpose for the next 100 years.

“That needs to be worked through as well.”

Discovering ‘why these people have been doing nothing’

Jesse Bird posing in army camouflage with gun

PHOTO: Jesse Bird’s claim was rejected by DVA. (Supplied: Karen Bird)

In 2017, 7.30 reported on the case of Jesse Bird, a veteran of the Afghanistan conflict who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mr Bird took his own life after his claim for permanent impairment was rejected by the DVA.

He died at the age of 32 with just $5.20 in his bank account.

Mr Bird’s stepfather John told 7.30 his file shows his pleas for help were not taken seriously.

“He had his rejection papers prominently displayed along with a lot of other paperwork that he’d had to endure with the DVA,” he told 7.30 in 2017.

Mr Bird’s mother Karen Bird said her son had been pushed into a corner and could not see any other way out.

“He was my first-born son and I don’t have him anymore,” Ms Bird said.

Since Mr Bird’s death there have been major changes inside the DVA and the Government is spending $230 million a year on veteran mental health.

John McNeill, a volunteer who devotes his time to helping veterans navigate the complex claim system, wants a royal commission because of the failings he saw first-hand with Mr Bird’s case.

“The same story has been said over and over and over again about what needs to change. Now it hasn’t,” he said.

“So I believe the royal commission would find out why these people that have been entrusted to be the voice of the veteran community are sitting back and doing nothing to help until the spotlight is shone on them.”

Hundreds of suicides

Warrior's Return collates statistics on suicides by veterans

PHOTO: Warrior’s Return collates statistics on suicides by veterans. (ABC News)

An official estimate records more than 370 suicides involving current or former defence personnel since 2001, with one volunteer group called Warriors Return keeping its own figures on suicide by veterans across the country.

Their research shows there have been 16 suicides this year alone, with 48 last year, 86 in 2017 and 80 in 2016.

But Brian Briggs, a military compensation lawyer with Slater and Gordon, argues against a royal commission.

He believes the money could be better spent fixing problems which are well known.

“I think the money would be more wisely spent elsewhere in providing services to the veterans and to the veteran community, not on having numerous lawyers appearing before the royal commission and spending $80 to $100 million, which is only going to lead to further delays,” he said.

“We already know what the issues are, what they need to do is get things happening and happening fast and happening now.

“All this money that’s being put in, what are the results? That’s where we need to sit back and see what is producing results and what isn’t working — and what isn’t working should be shut down.”

RELATED STORY: Man warned Veterans’ Affairs he could become suicide statistic days before death

RELATED STORY: DVA head offers apology after policy changed to thwart compo claim

RELATED STORY: ‘Bureaucratic bastardry’: DVA secretly changed rules to deny veteran’s claim

If you or anyone you know needs help:

ABC News – 27th June 2019

Comments

  1. AT LAST DVA ARE LISTENING TO THE MAIN CAUSE OF SUICIDES!!
    THE BRILLIANT MINDS HAVE BEEN OPENED! I HAVE BEEN TALKING ABOUT THIS FOR MANY YEARS!!
    OF COURSE YOU NEED TO BE SOMEONE WITH DEGREES TO WORK ANY THING OUT IN THIS PC COUNTRY!!! IF THIS AGENCY ARE TO TOO WEAK TO POST MY COMMENT ….THEY ARE PC AS WELL!!

  2. Tas Browning says

    I see a connection between DVA and the Defence dept., having recently had a submission before DHAAT denied leaves me somewhat disgusted, my service demeaned, its in black and white.
    Its no wonder that serving and ex-service people give up and sadly lose their life and no one in Canberra gives a stuff.
    As they say the proof is in the Pudding!!!!!

  3. Colin "Tiny" Russell says

    Troops I have had on and off contacts with Vet Affairs since the mid 1980’s and I think personally that if you have not developed mental health issues via over seas trips, then there is a good chance its going to happen to you the longer you battle and jump through hoops with the Department

  4. Tom Walker says

    I have once again ask the PM and DVA to provide funding to allow Vets to chill out together via a VGets retreat. I am not keeping my fingers crossed as land is needed along with funding to build homes for homeless and PTSD sufferers, that other Vets can talk to and assist with their battle. Also the land if ever granted would be used to produce income to build future retreats for our Vets and homeless people. We need an incorporation to apply for grants. Another political red tape to not fund these programs I think “Fingers Cross”

  5. COLIN (TINY) RUSSELL You have got it in a nutshell!! very TRUE!!iTS GOOD TO SEE THE MINISTER ADMIT IT. Their first step should be to get rid of all the women who hates servicemen! give them all a “CHANGE OF LIFE REDUNDANCY PACKAGE” get some fresh blood in the claims area and remind these stupid people not go out of their way to fight the claims”just to make us give up”

  6. Absolutely correct Bill,Tom,Tiny & all others who know the truth,something unattainable to Chester,Scomo & Fed members of all political parties,held accountable,& responsible for our demise for too long now,holding their meetings with so called “experts”.I didnot see one veteran who lives on the street,has no support from DVA for years,at these meetings.The Govt must stop being pretenders,seek the answers from those of us who have suffered,still live the dark side,will never get to move forward as long as Chester & these pretenders talk among theirselves,about something they don’t know.None understand our soldiers fighting their stinking,political wars,to gain nothing are what is killing us off when we come home to denial,disrespect,& no caring about us at all from the Govts who sent us there.WAKE UP THE LOT OF YOU PRETENDERS,before we all disappear ,which is what I know you want us too……….I’m staying as long as I & Others can because we have a thing called commitment to our brothers,and their families left,something else no politician would Know Sqat about…..Brian

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