The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) has made public a report on its 37,000 backlog of applications for compensation from veterans, with the new minister accusing the former government of keeping the report secret.
The report, which has been published on the DVA’s website, names several factors in the creation of the backlog: lack of staffing, impacts of remote work on upskilling staff, and an increase of claims by 48% each year.
Pain points for veterans looking to make a claim, as outlined in the report, included difficulty obtaining medical evidence, the complexity of making a claim, and timeliness. Veterans also they felt there was a lack of empathy and compassion.
“If you haven’t got a mental issue before dealing with DVA, you certainly will by the time you finish. Dealing with DVA is a potential suicide risk,” an unamed veteran said in the report.
Eleven priortised initiatives were named as ideas to alleviate the backlog.
Five were named as within DVA’s current budget: instituting lean management practices, dynamic FTE reallocation across claim types, establishing ‘tiger teams’ rapidly to process complete claims, directing non-claims processing work away from delegates, and minimising submission of conditions with low acceptance rates.
Six required governmental approval: supporting veterans to submit complete claim applications through a concierge function, expanding non-liability healthcare, developing guidance and digital forms for external medical providers, revising the claims-management approach for serving members, expanding computer-supported decision-making, and reviewing SOP diagnostic protocols.
The new minister for veterans affairs, Matt Keogh, has accused the Morrison government of covering up the report, which was written by McKinsey consulting firm.
“The previous government keeping the McKinsey report secret is an example of how they completely lacked accountability and they tied themselves in knots trying to suppress that report instead of just getting on with implementing it.
“And there’s no doubt that we’ve seen this show up in the plight for veterans through the way the department’s been working,” Keogh said as quoted in the ABC.
Koegh continued to say the government is committed to fixing the backlog and committed 500 staff to the department.
The Community & Public Sector Union (CPSU) has welcomed the publishing of the report, although stated it was concerned by some of the initiatives presented as solutions.
CPSU deputy president Brooke Muscal said it comes as no surprise DVA is understaffed, and the responsibility of the failures lie with the former Morrison government. Muscal also noted the report was not intended to be a ‘silver bullet’.
“The CPSU questions the real impact lean management practices can really make, as the report claims implementation will reduce over 16,000 cases just by hiring a change coach, and implementing some Services Australia training.
“We must not lose sight of the real burden on the system, the fact that there just are not enough workers to get through the increasing claims. Veterans and DVA workers deserve a real commitment to address the issues and adequately fund and staff this critical agency to allow it to deliver the support veterans need,” Muscal said.
The report has been released amid the ongoing Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.
If you or someone you care about is facing mental health issues, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. In an emergency, call 000.