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The Senate Inquiry into the Mental Health of Defence Force Personnel has heard it should focus on three immediate solutions to alleviate the trauma and suffering of returned Veterans and other ADF personnel.
Leading Slater and Gordon Military Compensation Lawyer Brian Briggs told the Inquiry that in addition to dealing with their own trauma, his clients must endure endless delays and deal with chaotic handling of their claims that prevents them receiving the assistance they need.
Mr Briggs said many of the things that should be done are obvious. He recommended the committee focus on:
- Tackling the chaotic claims handling process by DVA
- Implementing basic file management systems across DVA and ADF to address inaccurate claims files and consequent mismanagement of claims, and
- Implementing time frames for decision making by DVA to finalise and process claims.
Mr Briggs said the last point was crucial.
“Every state and territory system in Australia has time frames for decision making. Defence personnel in the UK and US are protected by timeframes for decision making, but in Australia there are none so injured personnel can literally be left waiting for years,” he said.
“In other countries the system of time frames is working consistently better than the system our Veterans must endure here.
“The position being adopted by the DVA is failing the very people they are supposed to be assisting and the constant excuses are not being accepted by my clients.
“I have numerous complaints on file from my clients who have documented their struggle with the DVA.
“The Department’s incapacity and incapability is undisputed amongst the Veteran support community,” Mr Briggs said.
Mr Briggs told the Inquiry an Australian Public Service Commission review found that the decision-making process at Veterans’ Affairs was a confusing mess of committees with duplicated membership and overlapping agendas.
“The structure of “small cells” of public servants working in isolation and not considering the whole picture has failed.
“Files are shipped all over the country; one section may deal with liability before another considers incapacity and then another rehabilitation or treatment.
“This entire bureaucratic file shuffling and passing on of an injured members’ claim, causes significant delays, and the frustration of my clients at this inefficiency and ineptitude often overwhelms them.
“If DVA is taking a fresh look at the foundation operating and delivery model, then the best place to start is to follow other countries and introduce mandatory time periods to deal with claims.
“Then, get systems in place to deal with these time periods.”