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A senior personal injury lawyer has praised the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (DART) for its work providing support and services to abuse victims as part of a Senate committee enquiry into the Government’s response to systemic abuse in the Australian Defence Force.

Slater and Gordon's general manager for NSW/ACT across personal injury, Rachael James, appeared before the Senate committee for Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Reference yesterday and said even though the firm’s interactions with the DART had been positive, there were still some specific concerns around the process that needed to be addressed.

“While we have been generally pleased with how the DART process has been undertaken, yesterday was an opportunity to outline our concerns specifically around cut-off dates for submitting claims, timeframes around the process, evidenciary requirements and the duplication of services by organisations,” Ms James said.

“With the largest military compensation law practice in Australia, we are well-placed to provide our observations on this.

“Since the establishment of the DART in November 2012, we have received in excess of 350 enquiries, 250 of which have become DART clients, and we continue to receive enquiries each week.”

Ms James said the DART’s task had been challenging considering the tight timeframe it had been given and the restricted terms of reference to assist people who have had outstanding claims for many years.

“It is concerning that the terms of reference only allows claims for abuse that occurred prior to 1 April 2011 when we know that there has been abuse reported well after this date,” Ms James said.

“Consideration should be given to allowing claims to be submitted after this date to ensure accurate reporting.”

Ms James said the lack of timeframes around decision making was also concerning and had frustrated many victims who had submitted claims and not received feedback within a timely period.

“Unlike other compensation schemes, there is no requirement for a claim to be resolved within a certain timeframe – dragging out this process does not help victims to move on with their lives.”

The firm also raised concerns about the discrepancies between the handling of claims by the Department of Veteran Affairs and the DART, leaving victims confused and alienated.

“There is a marked difference in the evidence required to submit a claim with the DART compared with that of the DVA,” Ms James said.

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing the DVA take a much harsher approach in the way it is administering the statutory compensation scheme and asking victims to produce all sorts of documentation and evidence before processing a claim.

“The problem with this hardline approach is that the ADF has been known for its non-reporting and record-keeping and contradicts the very reason why a compensation scheme is available.”

Ms James said the firm was also recommending that an audit be undertaken to identify the organisations currently offering services to abuse victims and to ensure a consistent quality of service provision without duplication.

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