Veterans Affairs ‘getting worse’ at helping ex-service members

5 Jul 2018

The New Daily article by John Power

The Department of Veterans Affairs has become less effective at helping ex-service members under all but one key metric, including suicide prevention, an inquiry into veteran care has heard.

External analysis submitted to the Productivity Commission, which is examining the system for veteran care, indicates the department’s performance slid in seven of eight key performance indicators between 2012 and 2017.

The breakdown, compiled by veteran advocate Alan Ashmore using data from the DVA and advocacy organisations, casts a critical light on claims of “veteran centric reform” under the leadership of recently departed secretary Simon Lewis.

The analysis, which has not been made public before, shows:

A fivefold increase in veteran suicides, from 17 to 86, based on figures gathered by the advocacy group The Warrior’s Return

A 51 per cent rise in complaints to the DVA, after adjusting for an 8 per cent drop in clients

A large rise in DVA claim decisions being overturned at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, with the rate of successful appeals soaring from 41 per cent to 73 per cent between 2012 and 2016 (figures for 2017 have not been released)

A decline in the client satisfaction rate from 89 per cent to 83 per cent between 2015 and 2017

A 29 per cent rise in external legal costs, from $5.6 million to $7.2 million

A sharp rise in the critical error rate for assessing compensation claims, including a more than doubling of the rate for one compensation scheme from 5.4 per cent to 12.9 per cent

A decline in the acceptance rate for new claims of between 4 per cent and 10 per cent

There was a drop, on the other hand, of between seven and 61 days in compensation claim wait times, depending on the compensation scheme.

The analysis was previously circulated in March at the most recent ESO Round Table (ESORT), a meeting of representatives from the DVA and service member groups, although no record of the document was included in the official minutes of the meeting.

The DVA subsequently provided a response to Allan Thomas, president of the Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans Association, addressing issues raised by the figures.

In its response, the DVA highlighted improvements in performance between individual years and changes to the methodology in assessing claim error rates that make comparisons difficult, as well as arguing that AAT decisions that appeared to favour veteran claimants were sometimes the result of a case being withdrawn or dismissed.

Mr Ashmore, a Vietnam veteran who compiled the analysis, said the DVA was trying to fudge the issue with disingenuous qualifications and excuses.

“It is shameful that Simon Lewis would seek to try and defend the indefensible, while at the same time ignoring the reason the department exists,” he said.

“Simon Lewis and all other key DVA executives need to be reminded that DVA’s role is to serve our veterans and war widows – not to try and cover up their abysmal performance.”

A DVA spokesman disputed the analysis, without providing details, but acknowledged the department had room to improve.

“DVA acknowledges that there are aspects of its service delivery that should be, and are being, improved,” a spokesperson said.

“For this reason the Australian government is continuing to invest in the transformation of DVA services to put veterans and their families first.

“The department does not agree with the substance of the analysis presented at ESORT and committed to take it offline to investigate further. The outcome of this will be discussed at the next ESORT.”