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Government backflip will ensure veterans access to appeal

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A leading military compensation expert has welcomed a Federal Government decision to abandon a section of legislation, which would have given the Veterans Review Board (VRB) the right to dismiss a claimant’s appeal before it was even heard.

Slater and Gordon Senior Military Compensation Lawyer Brian Briggs said the original section of the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Omnibus) Bill 2017 allowed the VRB to dismiss an appeal after an application had been denied by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA).

If passed, this section would have allowed the VRB to dismiss the veteran or ex-service personnel’s ability to appeal a DVA decision, if the body deemed the application was frivolous, vexatious or no reasonable prospect of success.

There were no clear guidelines set out in the proposed Bill around how this decision would be arrived at.

Mr Briggs, who made a Senate Submission calling for this section to be removed earlier this year, said this was a common sense decision.

He said currently there were many veterans who were in dire need of support – both financial and medical – initially had their applications denied by the DVA.

“Without an avenue for appeal many of these people – who have served their country and in many cases put their lives on the line – would be left out in the cold,” Mr Briggs said.

“If this legislation had been approved it would have threatened a veteran’s right to natural justice.

“Giving the VRB the authority to dismiss a claim on this basis without clear guidelines as to what that constitutes – really left open the possibility for members to abuse this power.

“More importantly, it had the potential to deprive veterans who were actually in need of support by dismissing their application without hearing and considering all the information, which would have been presented on appeal.”

Since 1 January 2017, the Veterans’ Review Board is the only path to review decisions made by a delegate of the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004.

“While the concept of having a streamlined process is good in theory, this legislative change had the potential to see veterans stripped of their rights to fair hearing,” Mr Briggs said.

“It would have allowed otherwise viable claims to slip through the cracks and force veterans and ex-service personnel into the Administrative Appeals Tribunal at significant cost to them which may not be recovered even if their appeal is successful.”