The Department of Veterans Affairs has been criticised for its treatment of a Navy veteran after an Ombudsman investigation.
A 30-year Royal Australian Navy veteran has secured an apology and the waiving of debt after a gruelling nearly decade-long battle with the federal government.
In February 2016, the Commonwealth Ombudsman stepped in when the veteran – whose name was not released – reported having problems accessing his entitlements through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
What started as a minor unchecked oversight between agencies culminated in a series of blunders, including the raising of more than $100,000 in debts and the veteran enduring periods with no money, followed by the identification of an under-payment of more than $500,000.
“The negative impact on the life of this veteran cannot be overstated,” Ombudsman Michael Manthorpe said in his report released on Monday.
“He lives in constant fear that tomorrow there may be no payment in his account, or that payments may be recovered in the future and he may not be able to meet his basic needs. His health has suffered and his relationships have been strained.”
Mr Manthorpe said Australia’s 300,000 veterans who accessed benefits and payments through DVA put their trust in the government and had every right to “best practice service”.
Many veterans were extremely vulnerable, facing “physical and mental health challenges that many Australians will fortunately never encounter”, he said.
“More work is needed to assure the public, serving personnel and veterans that processes, policies and guidance are robust and rigorous.”
He welcomed the department’s acknowledgement of errors and commitment to improve its operations.
The veteran, known as Mr A, first applied for incapacity payments in 2007.
The investigation found DVA failed to do simple quality assurance measures to rectify errors, update records in a timely manner and provide adequate information to the veteran in relation to the calculations of his benefits.
The report also found systemic problems in the way tax law and policy interacted with veterans’ entitlements, particularly with regard to recovering overpayments or making lump sums to address underpayments.
DVA secretary Liz Cosson said in her response, included in the report, the department apologised and was focused on making sure such errors did not continue.
“This is why we have commenced a significant program of transformation within the department,” she said.
“This program is a five-year journey to overhaul the way DVA manages and interacts with veterans and their families and to prioritise their wellbeing.”