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Government rushes through reckless bill limiting support for our veterans

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Leading military lawyers are calling on Senators to oppose a Bill, which is likely to give the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) unfettered power in deciding liability and compensation for our injured military personnel.

The Federal Government has introduced the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Legislation Amendment (Defence Force) Bill (DRCA), which will give the DVA sole authority to change compensation guidelines. 

Slater and Gordon National Military Compensation Lawyer Brian Briggs said the “reckless” Bill undermined basic democratic rights and will ultimately remove access to external tribunals for veterans seeking support.

He said awarding the DVA – “an inefficient, unhelpful and adversarial service provider to veterans” – this type of power would likely block thousands of ex-service personnel from getting the support they needed.

Mr Briggs said his clients already encountered road blocks when seeking support. This Bill, which would replace the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRCA), will make this process even harder.

“The civilian legal system includes checks, balances and rights of review – the idea that military personnel will not have the benefit of this is repugnant and goes against the spirit of Australian democratic values,” Mr Briggs said.  

He said it also appeared that the Minister for Veterans’ Affair Dan Tehan MP was aiming to speed the Bill through the Parliament to avoid any major opposition.

“They introduced it three months ago and have only allowed the Senate two weeks for submissions, which closed on Friday 24 February. This is nowhere near enough time for the military community to comment,” Mr Briggs said.

“The Government is clearly trying to ensure that this Bill flies under the radar. The only people that benefit from this, is the bureaucracy.” 

He suggested the reason for this was to ensure the Senate report from the Inquiry into suicide by veterans and how DVA functions (due on March 30, 2017) was released after the Committee’s recommendations on the DRCA Bill was tabled.

“This report directly addresses the way the DVA has supported our vulnerable and/or injured ex-service personnel,” Mr Briggs said. “Meanwhile, the Bill before the Senate sets out how veterans will be treated in the future – to say they are putting the horse before the cart is an understatement.”

Mr Briggs said his concerns were based on the understanding that once approved, the DRCA would eventually be amended or repealed in order to align with the more onerous Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 (MRCA).

The MRCA – which applies to military personnel who have served since 2004 - was “widely acknowledged” within the defence community as a restrictive process that made it difficult for applicants to receive the most appropriate and essential assistance.

Mr Briggs called on the Parliament to exercise special caution when enacting laws that affected veterans and insisted on a more extensive consultation period with a more diverse range of parties.