The Commonwealth Department of Veterans Affairs was largely operating against the welfare of war veterans, Australia One leader Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Riccardo Bosi said today.
Lieutenant Colonel Bosi said the constant phone calls and questioning from junior departmental staff who had no understanding of what veterans had gone through had, in fact, contributed to massive depressive episodes that led to breakdowns and suicide.
He said the DVA seemed to have made little to no headway in improving services to its stakeholders since the Productivity Commission issued its damning report into veteran support services earlier this year.
“The department has had three months to show it was at least taking the report seriously, but it has remained silent, probably hoping the problem will go away,” he said.
The Commission received more than 300 submissions from veterans complaining of assistance denial, extraordinarily long waiting times before requests for help were acted on, and even cases of veterans dying before receiving help.
“These men and women, who put their lives on the line for those same bureaucrats who have treated them so shamefully, deserve better,” Lieutenant Colonel Bosi said.
Although the report concluded that the current veterans’ compensation and rehabilitation system required fundamental reform, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel, Darren Chester, was yet to act on it, despite claiming the Government was committed to putting veterans and their families first.
The review found the present system, which failed to focus on the lifetime wellbeing of veterans, was overly complex, difficult to navigate, inequitable and poorly administered, all of which placed unwarranted stress on claimants.
It found also that the institutional and policy split between the Department of Defence and DVA embedded “perverse incentives, inefficient administration and poor accountability”.
“Australian taxpayers are being played big time by tolerating six-figure annual incomes to more than 40 senior-executive bureaucrats who run the DVA,” Lieutenant Colonel Bosi said.
“Australia One Party will push for these career public servants to be replaced by veterans, who not only understand the problems faced by ex-servicemen and women but, more importantly, have a far better understanding of how to solve them.
“When this department was formed in 1976, it was run by people who, by their lived experience, were qualified to understand the needs of our veterans.
“But today’s overpaid and useless public servants are utterly detached from the plight of our veterans. They are the worst kind of workers to have in this area of government.”
He said the department needed to be made up of people who had experienced the pain and suffering involved in defending Australia.
“Many of our veterans are still fighting, only this time it is not on foreign battlefields but for their survival at home,” he said.
“And in many cases their wars with our bureaucracy has been even more cruel.
“Some have been fighting for years with the DVA, to the point where they are now mentally ill and can’t understand why their country has turned its back on them.”
Some returned veterans had begun keeping well-documented diaries from their very first interaction with the DVA because they were aware of the possibility of mental decline simply through dealing with the department.
One veteran said dealing with the DVA was far worse than anything a civilian could possibly imagine and even worse when physical injuries were in the mix.
The veteran could not remember anything of the drawn-out process in eventually qualifying for a Totally and Permanently Incapacitated pension because for about 10 years he was spending up to six months at a time swapping between mental and physical wards of a Perth hospital.
“Whatever the good intentions of the public servants and the medical professionals might be, the result is a broken system that is killing our heroes, and no-one in a position of authority is doing a damned thing about,” Lieutenant Colonel Bosi said.