Improved benefits for sick and injured Defence personnel are welcome but further changes are urgently needed to ensure personnel can appropriately access benefits in a reasonable time frame, according to prominent military compensation law firm Slater and Gordon.
New measures are needed in the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation (Military Compensation Review and Other Measures) Bill 2013, to impose time frames for decision making upon the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to address administrative problems and significant delays in decision making.
Australia’s leading Military Compensation Lawyer Brian Briggs said that improved benefits are of no benefit at all if they cannot be accessed in the first place.
“While we are supportive of the changes to benefits, the reality is a benefit you can’t access is no benefit at all," Mr Briggs said.
“These changes are long overdue. This has been a very long process of review going back to 2009 so we very much welcome them today,” he said.
“However, we believe more needs to be done to improve access to these benefits for injured personnel because under the current legislation the Department can literally take years to make decisions about whether or not to provide benefits or assistance under the military and veterans’ compensation schemes.
“Unlike most other compensation schemes, schemes administered by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs have no enforceable timeframes for decision making.
“Ongoing delays by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs causes untold extra distress, particularly to victims of rape and sexual abuse within the Defence force.
“That’s why we applaud Senator Xenophon who is proposing an amendment to the Government Bill to provide time frames for decision making, and we are calling on the Government to amend the Bill to include enforceable timeframes for decision making with respect to liability,” Mr Briggs said.
“The Department has voluntary Standards that it regularly fails to meet, even though they are much longer than those applicable to other schemes."
Mr Briggs said the only enforceable time frame related to claims once they are resolved - 30 days for compensation payments.
“But not having enforceable time frames for decisions means injured personnel can wait for years for the Department to make a decision.
“That means no access for many to benefits such as independent counselling, medical treatment and income support for victims while they are waiting for a decision.”
Mr Briggs said the amendment proposed by Senator Xenophon would mean decisions would take no longer than 120 days.
“In 2006 the Department set a voluntary timeframe to decide claims within 120 days, but we are regularly seeing this blow out.
“And that’s just not fair on the people who, while they are waiting for a decision, don’t have access to the support they desperately need to move on with their lives.”