Unnecessary delays and inadequately supported claim rejectionsby the Department of Veterans’ Affairs are contributing to stress and financial hardship among veterans, RSL Tasmania has told a Senate inquiry.
The group, Tasmania’s peak body for the welfare ofex-services personnel, outlined multiple shortcomings in the DVA’s handling of compensation claims from veterans seeking financial assistance for conditions acquired through their time in service.
It told the Senate inquiry into suicide by veterans and ex-services personnel it had seen instances where claims were rejected on the basis of a statement from a DVA delegate that they could not prove an event leading to injury occurred.
“Often, these statements of ‘proof’ for rejecting a claim read as an opinion on the part of the delegate amounting to the delegate simply not believing the veteran, rather than providing any evidence for rejection of a claim to the required ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ standard,” RSL Tasmania’s inquiry submission said.
These rejections were typically overturned later by the Veterans’ Review Board, it said.
“However, this introduces unnecessary delay for the veteran and additional work for the [veterans’] advocate, work for the VRB and cost to the government.”
A DVA spokesman said delegates undergo an extensive training program to ensure they understoodand appliedlegislation correctly, includingface-to-face classroom training, e-learning and on-the-job training.
The DVA was using independent medical specialists in assessing veterans’ claims in cases whentreating doctors should be consulted, RSL Tasmaniatold the inquiry.
This has led to medical reports including irrelevant factors regardinga claimant that would have been discounted by their treating doctor.
“There have been cases observed by RSL Tasmania advocates where delegates have been uncertain or unclear of information in a report from an independent [specialist] and, rather than request clarification or a supplementary report, have simply rejected theclaim out of hand.”
A DVA spokesman said departmental guidelines stated that a report from a treating specialist was preferred, and thatnon-treatingspecialist reports were used when there was no treating specialist, the treating specialist was unavailable, or haddeclined to provide a report.
“A recent internal examination confirmed that claims assessors are following the guidance on the preferred use of treating medical practitioner reports,” he said.
Before determining a claim,assessors were required to examine all evidence available including medical reports and seek further clarification where there was insufficient, unclear, or conflicting evidence, the spokesman said.
Australian Defence Force delays in providing information to the DVA also left veterans without payments, RSL Tasmania told the inquiry.
“In many cases, incapacity claims may be quite urgent, and the member may be in financial hardship, meaning the impact of delaysis devastating in some cases.”
Failures in the ADF to send members to appropriate medical careafter they received injuries werealso delaying effective treatment and preventing incidents being documented for future claims, RSL Tasmania said.
Veterans discharged by the ADF before receiving claimswere also at risk offinancial stress if these were delayed.
“Such delays …if the member is already discharged and no longer in receipt of ADF pay, and not yet in receipt of [superannuation]can cause significant hardship and difficulty for members.”
The Department of Defencesaid it would be inappropriate tocomment on other submissions made to theinquiry.
“Defence has provided a submission to this Senate inquiry and welcomesany opportunity to consider waysto furtherimprove the health and wellbeing of current and ex-servingADFmembers and their families.”
The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee is expected to report by March 2017.
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