External scrutiny provides independent assurance that DVA’s systems, processes and controls are effective.
Decisions by courts and the tribunals
Most of the litigation in which the department is involved concerns appeals lodged by veterans under the department’s portfolio legislation, and typically relates to compensation eligibility and entitlements. A smaller number of cases involve the department in litigation arising out of, for example, contractual arrangements and other administrative law issues.
Where a claimant disagrees with a decision of the Repatriation Commission or the MRCC, it is open to them to appeal the decision under the VEA, the DRCA or the MRCA as set out below.
Appeals relating to compensation matters under the VEA are lodged first with the Veterans’ Review Board (VRB).
If the appellant is dissatisfied with the VRB decision, they can lodge an appeal with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).
If a person is dissatisfied with an income support decision under the VEA, they may first seek an internal review by a different decision-maker and then seek a review by the AAT.
An appeal under the DRCA is first subject to internal review by a reconsideration delegate and then subject to review by the AAT.
An appeal of a decision under the MRCA made on or after 1 January 2017 is subject to review by the VRB and then subject to review by the AAT.
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975 provides that a party to a proceeding before the AAT may appeal to the Federal Court on a question of law from any decision of the AAT in that proceeding.
AAT applications and outcomes are set out in Table 10. These figures include cases that were remitted by the Federal Court to be considered again by the AAT.
While the number of AAT decisions affirmed at hearing may seem low compared with the number decided, this is because not all were decided following AAT hearing. For example, some were withdrawn and others were resolved by consent without the need for a hearing.
Table 10: VEA, DRCA and MRCA matters considered by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, 2018–19
Applications decided by AAT
Decisions affirmed, withdrawn, or dismissed by the AAT
Decisions settled by consent of the AAT
Decisions set aside at hearing
In 2018–19 two applications involving the Repatriation Commission were lodged with the Federal Court of Australia. Both applications were lodged by the veteran and sought appeal of a decision of the AAT. In the same period, the Federal Court published two decisions involving the Repatriation Commission, one of which was favourable to the veteran. A further two matters involving the Repatriation Commission were set aside by consent of the parties and remitted to a tribunal for redetermination.
During 2018–19 two separate applications to the Federal Court under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1975 were resolved by consent (an application made against the MRCC and the second against the department).
Further, in 2018–19 the Federal Court dismissed an application where the department was the second respondent in an appeal from the AAT of a decision under the Privacy Act 1988.
Additionally, an application involving the department in the Fair Work Division of the Federal Circuit Court was discontinued by the applicant during 2018–19.
No appeals involving the Repatriation Commission, the MRCC or the department were lodged in the Full Court of the Federal Court or in the High Court. Neither the Full Court of the Federal Court nor the High Court delivered any decisions involving the Repatriation Commission, the MRCC or the department.
Decisions by the Australian Information Commissioner
In 2018–19 no decisions under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) were handed down by the Australian Information Commissioner in relation to DVA. No determinations were made by the Australian Information Commissioner in 2018–19 under the Privacy Act.
Where an applicant or agency disagrees with a decision issued by the Australian Information Commissioner, they can appeal the decision through the AAT under section 57A of the FOI Act. On 8 August 2018, in Burgess; Secretary Department of Veterans’ Affairs and (Freedom of Information)  AATA 2897, the AAT affirmed the decision made by the Australian Information Commissioner, which was that the document in dispute—a schedule attached to a policy of insurance (excluding the particulars of premiums)—was not exempt from disclosure under section 45 of the FOI Act. The document was subsequently released to the access applicant in that matter.
Copies of decisions and determinations made by the Australian Information Commissioner are available at www.oaic.gov.au.
Reports by the Auditor-General
Reports tabled in Parliament by the Auditor-General were reviewed by senior management and relevant DVA business areas.
In 2018–19 DVA did not participate in any departmental or cross-entity Auditor-General reviews.
Reports by the Auditor-General are available at www.anao.gov.au.
Reports by the Commonwealth Ombudsman
On 16 July 2018 the Commonwealth Ombudsman published its report on the investigation of the actions and decisions of DVA in relation to a complaint made by a veteran, Mr A, and the difficulties he faced in accessing his correct entitlements.
The report found that a minor oversight between Commonwealth agencies culminated in multiple administrative deficiencies, including the raising of large debts and the veteran enduring periods with no financial support, followed by the identification of a significant underpayment to Mr A.
The report makes six recommendations to DVA for systemic changes. The Ombudsman noted that DVA's responses to the recommendations, included in the Ombudsman report, were positive.
DVA has apologised to Mr A and made a decision to waive the overpayment in full. In addition, DVA has implemented a number of changes to address the recommendations from the report. This has included the use of DVA’s new single processing system, Integrated Support Hub, to enable data sharing between DVA and Defence. Internal policy and procedural guidelines have been updated. A review has been undertaken regarding DVA cases identified as similar to Mr A’s and necessary corrective actions taken as required. DVA is continuing to progress work on data sharing between agencies.
Copies of decisions and determinations made by the Commonwealth Ombudsman are available at www.ombudsman.gov.au.
Reports by parliamentary committees
Reports by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit
The Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit examines reports of the Auditor-General that are tabled in Parliament.
In 2018–19 DVA made no submissions to the committee.
DVA’s Audit and Risk Committee monitors all reports of the committee.
Reports by the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee
Inquiry into use of the Quinoline anti-malarial drugs mefloquine and tafenoquine in the ADF
On 19 June 2018 the Senate referred the matter of the use of the Quinoline anti-malarial drugs mefloquine and tafenoquine in the ADF to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee.
On 4 December 2018 the committee published its report on the inquiry. The report made 14 recommendations to the Government. The committee acknowledged that many of the witnesses to the inquiry and those who advocated for them are unwell. However, the inquiry found that there was insufficient scientific medical evidence of a causal link between the use of these medications and the symptoms that these veterans experienced. The report also acknowledged that, while there is still work to be done, DVA has made significant improvements to how it supports veterans.
On 15 March 2019 the Government tabled its response to the report. The Government largely supported the views of the committee and agreed to 12 of the recommendations and agreed in principle to the remaining two.
The Government announced a new initiative to provide health assessments for veterans who are concerned about having taken these medications. This initiative was a 2019–20 Budget measure; it provides funding of $2.1 million over four years. The initiative responds to the concerns heard from veterans and their families at both the recent inquiry and the mefloquine and tafenoquine consultation forums which were hosted by DVA across Australia last year.
Inquiry into transition from the ADF
On 30 May 2018 the Defence Sub-Committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade commenced an inquiry into how members of the ADF can be better supported when transitioning out of the Defence Force.
The inquiry report considers a range of policy, program and service delivery responses to improve the support available to veterans transitioning from the military to civilian life.
On 4 April 2019 the committee tabled its report on the inquiry. The report made 11 overarching recommendations to the Government.
The committee recommended that clear responsibility for transition out of the military be assigned to Defence and that a professional case management approach to support the transition process be provided. It also recommended a reduction in the complexity of transitional programs; the establishment of professional case managers to oversee veterans who are transitioning; and the commissioning of a study on the particular issues facing women veterans. The report also recommended sustained funding for health research and education, Networked Centres of Treatment Excellence for veterans’ mental health and comprehensive training packages for veterans, and their families when they are re-entering civilian life.
The Government has stated it will respond to the report together with the Productivity Commission’s report A better way to support veterans and Veterans’ Advocacy and Support Services Scoping Study, both of which have also considered in detail the best ways of supporting veterans and their families.
Inquiry into suicide by veterans and ex-serving personnel: responding to recommendations
Significant progress has been made on implementing the recommendations of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee’s 2017 report The constant battle: suicide by veterans. Twenty of the 24 recommendations are completed, and work to complete the remainder is well advanced.
One key outcome was the completion of the Productivity Commission inquiry into compensation and rehabilitation for veterans. The final report of the inquiry, A better way to support veterans, was submitted to Government on 27 June 2019 and is now under consideration by Government.
The Government has stated it will consider the reports of the Veterans’ Advocacy and Support Services Scoping Study and the inquiry into transition from the ADF together with the Productivity Commission report. Other reviews, such as those on DVA provider and staff training programs and the mental health impacts of compensation claim assessment processes, have been completed and are being considered by DVA. A strategic review of grants that includes consideration of alternative therapies for veterans with mental health conditions is well advanced.
DVA is currently implementing two suicide prevention pilots: one to support vulnerable veterans with mental health conditions who are being discharged from hospital; and one to test a new model of care through the Coordinated Veterans’ Care program for veterans with mild to moderate anxiety and depression.
A trial of assistance dogs to support veterans with PTSD is also underway. A wide range of business improvement activities recommended by the Senate inquiry are underway or have been completed, including a case management pilot to support clients with complex needs who are transitioning from the ADF.
Other portfolio reviews and inquiries
Productivity Commission inquiry—A better way to support veterans
The final report of the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into compensation and rehabilitation for veterans—A better way to support veterans—was submitted to Government on 27 June 2019, ending a 15-month inquiry. The report was tabled in Parliament on 4 July 2019.
During the inquiry, the Productivity Commission received more than 300 written submissions and 160 comments; and conducted 12 public hearings in all capital cities and selected regional centres.
The final report includes 69 recommendations and 26 findings to be considered by the Government. The Productivity Commission report calls for the system of veterans’ support to focus on the lifetime wellbeing of veterans and that it be redesigned based on the best-practice features of contemporary workers’ compensation and social insurance schemes. The report proposed significant reforms across structures, governance, legislation, policy, delivery operations and front-of-house services.
DVA will work with the Government, Defence, other key agencies and the veteran community to assist the Government to respond to the Productivity Commission report.
Reports by the Productivity Commission are available at www.pc.gov.au.
Veterans’ Advocacy and Support Services Scoping Study
DVA commissioned the Veterans’ Advocacy and Support Services Scoping Study in response to a recommendation of the 2017 Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee inquiry into suicide by veterans and ex-service personnel in its report The constant battle: suicide by veterans.
The final report of the Veterans’ Advocacy and Support Services Scoping Study was provided to Government in December 2018 and publicly released in March 2019. The study aimed to discover ways to assist veterans and their families to access entitlements and services and to improve advocacy services.
In March 2019 written comments on the report were invited, and DVA received 17 responses.
The Government is expected to respond to the study together with the Productivity Commission’s report A better way to support veterans and the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade inquiry into transition from the ADF, which have also considered in detail the best ways of supporting veterans and their families.
Jesse Bird joint inquiry: review of the implementation of recommendations
During 2018–19 Emeritus Professor Robin Creyke AO conducted an independent review of implementation of the recommendations of the joint inquiry into the facts surrounding the management of Mr Jesse Bird’s case. The review fulfilled a commitment made by the then Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the Hon Dan Tehan MP, on 24 October 2017 for an independent review of progress after 12 months.
A report on the review will be published in due course.
Independent study on the mental health impacts of compensation claim assessment processes
In 2019 Professor Alex Collie of Monash University completed an independent study of the mental health impacts of compensation claim assessment processes. The report was published on the DVA website on 10 April 2019. DVA commissioned the report in response to a recommendation of the 2017 Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee inquiry into suicide by veterans and ex-service personnel in its report The constant battle: suicide by veterans.
The report found there is strong evidence to indicate that compensation claims management processes affect the mental health of people making claims. The report identified areas where DVA could take action to mitigate the potentially negative mental health impacts of the compensation claim assessment processes. We are currently considering the actions that the Senate Committee suggested.
DVA supports the Government’s Deregulation Agenda and is committed to improving the quality of its regulation, including minimising the burden of regulation on individuals, businesses and community organisations. We are achieving this through continuous review of the regulatory requirements established in DVA legislation, by identifying policy options which allow for regulatory requirements to be minimised wherever possible, and by investigating opportunities to make interaction easier for veterans and their families, service providers and the ex-service community. This activity occurs in the context of ensuring that important consumer and other safeguards are maintained. As part of the Defence portfolio, DVA jointly reports its deregulation savings to the Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business.
Freedom of information
Agencies subject to the FOI Act are required to publish information to the public as part of the Information Publication Scheme (IPS). This requirement is in Part II of the FOI Act and has replaced the former requirement to publish a section 8 statement in an annual report. The IPS specifies categories of information that agencies must publish online and encourages agencies to proactively release information in a consistent way. Each agency must publish on its website a plan describing the information it publishes in accordance with the IPS requirements. DVA’s plan is available at www.dva.gov.au/about-dva/freedom-information/information-publication-scheme.