‘I have known utter despair’: Thousands of veterans on wrong level of benefit, say advocates

Thousands of defence force veterans are likely on the wrong level of benefit or are missing out on injury payments they are entitled to due to the complexity and difficulty of dealing with the claims system, according to leading lawyers and advocates.

As the federal government prepares to respond to a damning Productivity Commission report into the $13 billion-a-year compensation system, veterans and those assisting them with claims have raised concerns about vastly different payments for similar or identical injuries, depending on which Act they apply under.

Currently, depending on injury and the timing of their service veterans can be compensated under the Veterans Entitlement Act, The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-related Claims) Act and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. Different levels of compensation also apply depending whether their injury occurred during war or war-like service.Thousands of defence force veterans are likely on the wrong level of benefit or are missing out on injury payments they are entitled to due to the complexity and difficulty of dealing with the claims system, according to leading lawyers and advocates.

READ MORE of this Canberra Times article dated 10 August 2019

RELATED  ARTICLES

Veterans’ Affairs chief promises change

The crisis facing veteran support organisations

Enough inquiries that go nowhere – it’s time for a royal commission into veteran suicide

Medical Evidence – Statement, TPs and Background

Statement from Liz Cosson AM CSC Secretary Department of Veterans’ Affairs 

Liz Cossons

“In response to today’s media reporting claiming DVA is outsourcing its compensation claim process, I offer the following statement, attached talking points and background to why we have placed a forward notice on the AusTender site. This is a public site.

Contrary to media reports, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) is not and will not be outsourcing the decision-making process for veterans’ claims.

The proposed tender, details of which are available on the AusTender website, addresses a number of recommendations including the need to assist veterans who submit claims by securing medical evidence in a way that assists in getting faster decisions.

These recommendations have come from:

• Senate Inquiry – The Constant Battle: Suicide by Veteran

• 2017-18 Australian National Audit Office – Efficiency of Veterans Service Delivery

  • The 2019 Productivity Commission report.

Through the proposed tender, DVA is seeking to identify a more efficient and effective way to gather this medical evidence, in order to facilitate the timely determination of compensation and rehabilitation claims. In some circumstances, DVA may need to approach a medico-legal provider for an assessment and report. This may occur if:
• the veteran does not have a treating doctor, or where there is insufficient or conflicting information
• the treating doctor cannot or will not provide the required evidence 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.

This department is committed to putting veterans and their families first, including by changing the processes within DVA to drive more effective and timely claims processing, greater support through the claims process, and more positive outcomes for our veterans and their families.

The forward notice of the proposed tender, published on 29 July 2019, requests interested parties complete a survey and provide a range of information including, but not limited to, information about their organisation, their approach to the tender, and what information they would need from DVA to complete the tender.”

ADF Retirees Association – DFRDB Update – June 2019

The Australian Defence Force Retirees Association (ADFRA) acts on behalf of Defence Force retirees and their military superannuation grievances.

Related Article: 50,000 veterans fired up over pension ‘shortfall’ The Australian 28th June 2019

Hi All, We assume that most of you are aware that the Commonwealth Ombudsman decided to commence an investigation into the administration of the DFRDB scheme with respect to commutation.

Today (27 June 2019), we as in Herb and Roz Ellerbock (our driver), Christian Bennett and I met with the Ombudsman’s investigation team.

Unfortunately, the Ombudsman himself, Mr Michael Manthorpe PSM, was called to Adelaide on short notice by the Attorney General, but the whole investigation team, including its team leader Paul Pfitzner attended the meeting.

Herb delivered this very powerful and compelling presentation (click to open – allow a bit of time for it to load). Some of the visual effects are lost in this PDF version but the content is clear enough.

Those who still believe that Commutation Payback is the most important concern that we should be addressing should take a close look at this presentation.
Our meeting was scheduled for one hour and lasted one hour and forty-five minutes. Some of the matters raised in Herb’s presentation were clearly outside of the stated scope of the investigation but at no point did the investigation team give us any impression that any of the matters we raised were out of bounds.
Many of you completed the questionnaire and submitted other relevant details of your circumstances.

Paul Pfitzner advised that by close of submissions they expect to have received some 3,000 completed questionnaires, the analysis of which would be a significant task, requiring the employment of 2 or 3 additional staff. Their aim is to provide an outcome as quickly as possible but under no circumstances would that be at the expense of thoroughness.

Paul committed to providing updates, as and when they could, containing advice that was not of a prejudicial or preemptive nature.

Thank you again if you made the effort of completing the questionnaire or making a submission. The sheer diversity of content already say much about how well we were advised.
Again, if you are not already a member then please go to our
web site and register. We will represent your concerns. If you are already a member, please encourage others to join.

Regards,

Herb Ellerbock & Jim Hislop

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

A Current Affair – Our Forgotten Heroes (Cont)

Julie-Ann Finney says the Navy deserted her son Dave, and it cost him his life.

We’ve been following her campaign for a Royal Commission into the crisis affecting our veterans.

Today, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs held a special summit at Parliament House in Canberra.

Watch the video report here

26th June 2019

A Current Affair – Our Forgotten Heroes

This is our campaign to help Australia’s forgotten heroes.

Earlier this month, we brought you the heartbreaking story of Dave Finney – a poster boy for the Royal Australian Navy.

His mum Julie-Ann claims the Defence Force deserted her son.

Now, there are growing calls for a Royal Commission, as two mothers lead the charge to make it happen.

Watch the video report here

See Julie-Ann’s petition online here.

20th June 2019

Open Arms provides 24/7 support for former and serving ADF personnel and their families. Contact them on 1800 011 046 or visit the website.

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Opinion – RSL NSW Head calls for Royal Commission into military suicides

The NSW RSL’s President, James Brown, has backed calls for a royal commission into military suicides in this article published in the Daily Telegraph 26th June 2019.

“Darren Chester, the Minister for Veterans Affairs (DVA), has announced there will be a photo opportunity on veterans’ mental health convened in Canberra for 10am this morning.

But there is no clear plan for how the wellbeing of veterans and their families will be improved in this parliament.

That’s a problem for the thousands in Australia’s veterans’ community who need help.

What we do know is that the minister does not support a royal commission into the issue of veterans’ suicides, or the structural weaknesses of our veteran support systems.

Too expensive he says — leaving aside the fact that DVA found a lazy $58m last year to top the coffers of a single consulting firm on variously undefined “strategic” projects.

There is no clear plan for the wellbeing of veterans and their families. Picture Gary Ramage

Several veterans’ groups are concerned about the potential cost of a royal commission too. I understand their worry: No one wants to see yet another lawyers picnic or yet another lengthy inquiry.

The department points to its ongoing veteran centric reform program as the solution, but as well-intentioned and progressed as this is, it is largely a revamp of IT systems, staff culture, and bureaucratic processes.

And it still has a long way to run.

Last year I applied for a DVA white card, the first step towards accessing free mental health care.

It took nearly six months and multiple follow ups to complete that transaction because DVA’s computers don’t talk effectively to the Defence department.

Imagine how hard it must be for veterans who, unlike me, don’t have time to wait and are struggling with the basics of everyday life.

A senate inquiry into veteran suicide two years ago recommended four strands of reforms.

Improving DVA was just one of them. Progress against the others has been variable.

Veterans tell me for all the reviewing and reforming progress has not come fast enough and no one is joining the dots across all of the systems meant to support veterans, including among the nearly 5000 veteran support organisations outside of government.

Nor does anyone have an eye to the fact that the veteran volunteer network of thousands of advocates and welfare officers is fast retiring and overwhelmed by the complexity of the bureaucratic system.

So what can be done?

First, the government needs to appoint a veterans tsar.

A respected leader, reporting directly to the Prime Minister, who can cut to the heart of the issues in our veterans’ support systems and forge a plan to address them.

An ambassador who can range across the breadth of federal and state government to ensure that all departments and agencies are enlisted in the fight to respect and support veterans.

Aussie Diggers in Iraq on Anzac Day. Picture Gary Ramage

Someone who can take a hard look at what the whole of government isn’t currently doing to help veterans, and the clout to map what more could be done.

The problems are bigger than just what happens in DVA; the solutions will need to be whole of government too.

Second, the government should immediately commit the $10m required to ensure a question is included on the next Australian Census identifying prior service in the Australian Defence Force.

Our veterans should be counted in the census — the fact that they are not is a national disgrace.

That will tell us how many veterans Australia actually has, where they live, and help identify what support services they need now and into the future.

We must count veterans in our state government health and justice systems too.

Not doing so has had tragic consequences in recent years.

A simple box on an admission form querying prior service in the military can save lives by ensuring veteran-specific problems are understood and veteran support services immediately accessed.

We still don’t know, for example, how many veterans are homeless each night — though it seems anecdotally that the scale of veteran homelessness could be larger than any of us expect.

Third, the government needs to fully fund, prioritise, and implement the forthcoming recommendations of the Productivity Commission review into veterans, the inquiry into why incapacitated veterans are asked to live on 63 per cent of the minimum wage, as well as the recent Cornall review into veteran’s advocacy and legal support.

The required reforms could be extensive, and costly.

The bill to bring incapacitated veteran payments in line with the minimum wage alone could cost government more than $200m per year.

But what greater imperative could there be than keeping our promise to those who have risked their lives for this country?

All we are asking for is a frank conversation of what more can be done to help veterans and their families, and a plan to get it fixed in the next three years.

The last thing we need is another photo opportunity.”

VETERANS’ MENTAL HEALTH SUMMIT TO INFORM GOVERNMENT’S STRATEGY

Tomorrow’s Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Summit will bring together key stakeholders at Parliament House to improve services and support to those who have served in the Australian Defence Force.

images 83

The Summit, to be chaired by Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel, Darren Chester, will focus on extra steps that can be taken to improve veterans’ mental health, wellbeing and suicide prevention.

“As a Federal Government, we are determined to put veterans and their families first, which is why I’m convening the Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Summit this Wednesday,” Mr Chester said.

“It’s an opportunity to take stock of current programs and assess what else can be done to improve mental wellbeing of veterans.

“While we have already expanded access to free counselling, and introduced new payments to ensure veterans submitting mental health claims have financial support while their claims are being considered, it’s important to constantly assess the Government’s strategy.”

Experts will be brought together to consider the current range of services, programs and pilots offered by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA), and to give advice about the strengths of current settings, where gaps could be addressed, and to inform the Government’s forward plan and strategy.

The Summit will be the first stage of a structured engagement with ex-service organisations, veterans, families and service providers, over the coming months and will be a great opportunity for stakeholders to continue working with the Federal Government on veteran matters of great importance.

“I will also be working through the Government’s approach to veteran’s mental health and well-being with my Federal Ministerial colleagues,” Mr Chester said.

“State and Territory Governments also have a vital role to play and mental health will be a focus at the Veterans Ministers Council meeting in August.

“The Prime Minister has made it clear that mental health will be a core focus of this government and he has already announced several initiatives aimed at suicide prevention and mental wellbeing in the wider community.

“It is a sad and complex issue which costs Australia more than 3000 people each year and when it comes to veteran suicide, the only acceptable number for me is zero – the only acceptable number for the Australian people is zero.

“We need to keep working together to improve mental wellbeing and prevent suicide throughout Australia.”

Free and confidential help is available through Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling, for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families. Help is available 24/7 by calling 1800 011 046.

Tuesday 25 June 2019

DVA 2019 Client Satisfaction Survey

“The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) is currently preparing for 2019 Client Satisfaction Survey, which will be held in June/July this year.

The survey seeks to understand how clients feel about their interactions with DVA, and how we can improve the way we provide services and support to veterans and their families. Understanding the experiences of our clients and capturing feedback is critical during this period of change, which is why DVA has committed to conducting the Client Satisfaction Survey on an annual basis.

ORIMA Research, an independent market research company, will conduct the survey on DVA’s behalf, and will ensure the collection of statistically robust and objective data.

Clients selected as part of the sample group, will receive a letter in the first instance, explaining the survey process and how to opt out of the survey if they do not wish to participate. As per 2018, approximately 3,000 clients will be contacted by ORIMA Research to respond to the telephone survey. The survey calls generally take approximately 20 minutes to complete.

All information will be collected and stored in accordance with the Australian Privacy Principles and the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth). Answers given by participants are completely confidential and any personal details which may identify participants in any way, will not be passed to DVA. Answers will not in any way affect benefits or services which participants are entitled to from DVA.

Information about the survey can be found on DVA’s website. If you have any questions please email us at [email protected], or call the general enquires line on 1800 555 254.

I encourage you and your members to participate in this survey as DVA values your views and feedback as we work to transform to put veterans and their families at the centre of our business.

Yours sincerely,”

download 2019 05 01T085359.455

Liz Cosson AM CSC

Secretary
Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Joint Media Release – Support for our Veterans and their Families

download 2019 04 30T224117.623

 “The Coalition will boost support for veterans and their   families as part of a $63.2 million suite of initiatives to   create Veterans’ Wellbeing Centres across the country,   deliver job opportunities and secure health and housing   services for the future.
 We will invest $30 million in a network of six new   Veterans’ Wellbeing Centres that will bring together the   key services for our veterans and their families.
The new Centres will integrate government and non-government support for Australians who have served in our Defence Forces with local health services community organisations, advocacy and wellbeing support. They will partner with ex-service organisations and state and territory governments across Australia.

Our government has a strong track record delivering services and support to our veterans and their families. We understand the role that ex-service organisations play in supporting veterans after their service has concluded.
In order to support them to deliver those services, we want to help more organisations find more veterans meaningful civilian jobs. That’s why we will also invest $16.2 million to support organisations including Soldier On, Team Rubicon and State Branches of the RSL. Along with other ex-service organisations, these groups will also be able to use the new Veterans’ Wellbeing Centres to deliver their services.

We know how important exercise physiology and physiotherapy are for Totally and Permanently Incapacitated (TPI) veterans so we will deliver an extra $17 million to exempt them from the new ‘Treatment Cycle’ requirements that were due to commence on 1 July 2019, allowing TPI veterans to continue to access these important allied health services under existing arrangements.

A re-elected Morrison Government will also make it easier for veterans to access the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme. We will extend the time for eligible veterans to access the program from two to five years after they complete their ADF service. This will allow veterans and their families more time to settle their affairs and find a home once their service has been completed.
We will also extend eligibility to the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme to allow any current or former ADF member who has at least one day of service to access home building insurance through the Scheme. That means veterans can access more competitively priced home building insurance, particularly in disaster prone areas, which will lower the cost of living for veterans and their families, particularly in northern Australia.

The Coalition has introduced legislation to create an Australian Veterans’ Covenant, which, in partnership with the ex-service community, will formally recognise the unique nature of military service and acknowledge and honour the service and sacrifice of our service personnel.

We also understand it is important our veterans are appropriately recognised by the community and businesses, even when they’re not wearing their medals and uniforms. That’s why we’ve launched the Australian Veterans’ Card and Lapel Pin, so veterans can be appropriately recognised, including by businesses who want to offer special discounts and offers to veterans.

The Coalition’s plan to put our veterans and their families first builds on an extensive record of support for veterans:
 – The record $11 billion we deliver to support 280,000 veterans and their families each year
 – Extending access to the DVA Gold Card for civilian medical teams in the Vietnam War
 – $500 million we’ve committed to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs to better meet the needs of veterans and their families
 – $100 million we invested in the Sir John Monash Centre in France
 – $498 million committed over the next nine years to redevelop the Australian War Memorial and allow the Memorial to display more of their collection and proudly tell the stories from recent years in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Solomon Islands and East Timor.
 – Delivering our $1.4 billion in fairer indexation for military superannuants.
 – Supporting Kookaburra Kids to help the children of veterans affected by mental illness.
 – Cutting waiting times for claims through the Department and streamlining the process through the new MyService system

Only the Coalition can be trusted to deliver for veterans and their families.”

Wednesday 24 April 2019