DVA head offers to personally apologise over handling of veteran’s compensation claim

12 Jul 2018

The head of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) has offered to personally apologise for the way an injured paratrooper’s compensation claim was handled.

7.30 understands Department Secretary Liz Cosson requested a meeting with veteran Martin Rollins after the ministers for Defence and Veterans’ Affairs ordered a review into his case.

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Last month 7.30 revealed the DVA had changed its own policy in order to thwart Mr Rollins’s claim for a badly damaged back.

It was part of a decade-long battle between the former paratrooper and the department, which spent more than $600,000 fighting the claim until an apology and an offer of $127,000 was issued in 2016.

Martin Rollins sitting on a rock in fit army kit during his time in the Army
PHOTO: Martin Rollins during his time in the army. (Supplied: Martin Rollins)

An independent investigation into the matter identified some “systemic” problems with the handling of veterans’ claims, and the department has since made some changes.

But Defence Minister Marise Payne told Parliament more reforms may be needed.

“It is evident that there were and may still be cultural issues in the department that do need to be addressed,” she said in the Senate on June 27.

“Accordingly, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and I have asked the new secretary of DVA, Liz Cosson, to review the findings of the independent investigation.

“[The aim is] to identify any shortcomings, particularly as they relate to the culture of the organisation.”

She said she wanted the report completed “as soon as possible”.

The DVA had denied the 2010 change to its compensation policy for self-employed veterans was designed to stop Mr Rollins’s claim.

“This is false and misleading,” a departmental spokesperson told 7.30 last month.

It has not withdrawn this statement.

But Senator Derryn Hinch has since used 7.30’s evidence in Parliament — an internal departmental email — that specifically spelled out the rule change “has been amended to remove any reliance that Rollins or his representative could place on it for the purpose of his outstanding claim”.

Senator Payne conceded “it is difficult to see how this change in policy did not disadvantage Mr Rollins”.

[The department’s] behaviour has been appalling,” Mr Rollins’s lawyer Greg Isolani told 7.30.

“After more than 25 years of representing veterans in this jurisdiction, I have never seen a case like Martin Rollins’s and the extent the department has gone to.”

Slater and Gordon military compensation specialist Brian Briggs described it as “an act of bureaucratic bastardry at its worst”.

“It defies belief that they could get away with this,” he said.

A DVA spokesman said the organisation acknowledged that it did not handle Mr Rollins’s case as well as it should have.

“The Secretary of DVA has been in contact with Mr Rollins and his representatives to ensure he receives the support he needs.”