War veterans left without jobs, money while waiting for Department of Veterans Affairs claims: advocates

February 18, 201411:25 am338 views
War veterans left without jobs, money while waiting for Department of Veterans Affairs claims: advocates
War veterans left without jobs, money while waiting for Department of Veterans Affairs claims: advocates

Australian war veterans are sometimes left with no job or money while they wait for their claims to be processed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), advocates say.

Veterans leaving the military after deployments often face a difficult transition back to civilian life.

Those suffering physical or mental injuries are hopeful it will be easier with some form of assistance from the Federal Government in recognition of their service.

But many are finding the post-military bureaucracy a nightmare, with the DVA taking up to six months to process some claims.

Veteran John Skewes says the department has confused his case with others on three occasions, making his life more difficult.

Mr Skewes was physically abused as a Royal Australian Air Force apprentice in the late 1960s.

He has been recognised as deserving of compensation and support from the DVA.

He says the department delegate confused his case with another veteran in Queensland who has a violent and abusive past.

“I have had my claim mixed up with another veteran’s,” he told Lateline.

“Information about that veteran was attributed to me – serious complaints of abuse of that veteran has been attributed to me.

“This information has been communicated from DVA and passed around to different people.”

In November last year, Mr Skewes’ personal information was released to a third party by mistake and in December he was sent the detailed personal, criminal and medical records of another veteran in error.

He says he was shocked at this breach of the veteran’s confidentiality.

“[I received] a complete medical report detailing his medical difficulties, his problems and the name of the doctor who filled out that report,” he told Lateline.

“It was only done in mid-2013, not long ago.”

‘Mistakes regrettable’: DVA

The DVA says it has more than 300,000 active clients, including many with extensive files.

“Given this large amount of material, mistakes sometimes occur in the handling of files and information,” a spokesman told Lateline.

“Such mistakes are regrettable.

“When they occur, DVA apologises to the affected clients and reports breaches of privacy to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.”

Lateline has been told many veterans have had similar experiences.

Paul Copeland is a veteran who now acts as an advocate for other veterans having difficulties with claims.

“It’s been an ongoing matter that’s been reported for a number of years, not necessarily to the department, just as a frustration point to those who are advocates, pension officers or entitlement officers,” he told Lateline.

The DVA claims Mr Skewes’ case is isolated and points to the huge number of claims it processes every year.

“DVA delegates make over 40,000 determinations annually,” a spokesman told Lateline.

“Of these, about 2,700 go to external appeal, of which just over half are successful. Often, new information is provided at appeal that was not available to the original decision maker.”

Mr Copeland says staff cuts at the DVA have placed a huge workload on officials who deal directly with claims.

He says files regularly go missing.

The file of one veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, who has severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, was lost several times.

“His file was lost on three occasions and on four occasions,” Mr Copeland told Lateline.

“I had to resubmit the application forms and find out what was happening with his case.”

Mr Copeland says delays are one of the most traumatic things for veterans and many are driven to despair.

“We don’t like seeing those who’ve served Australia going through the indignation of having to be in the situation that they are in, losing the job they love, having no money and having to go into an unknown space and having to relay on a very prolonged process to get finalisation toward their compensation entitlements for simply serving their country at war,” he said.

Veteran’s Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson has pledged to do something about waiting times for veterans’ claims.

For many though, those improvements to the system cannot come soon enough.


source: abc.net.au

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