Veterans’ Legislation Reform: A Call for Comprehensive Change


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In a recent submission to the Minister for Veterans Affairs, Slater and Gordon Lawyers have voiced significant concerns regarding the proposed Veterans’ Entitlements Treatment and Support (Simplification and Harmonisation) Bill 2024 (Cth). This submission, led by pre-eminent military compensation expert Brian Briggs, underscores the necessity for more comprehensive and thoughtful reform to truly address the needs of Australia's veterans.

The Need for Delay and Reflection

Slater and Gordon acknowledge the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide's interim report, which emphasized the urgency of legislative reform to simplify and harmonize the veteran entitlement system. However, they urge the government to await the final recommendations from the Royal Commission, due in September 2024, before tabling any legislative changes. This cautious approach ensures that the reforms are well-informed and comprehensive, taking into account the full scope of the Royal Commission’s findings.

Shortcomings of the Proposed Reform

The current draft of the Simplification Bill is criticized for not going far enough to provide justice in a straightforward manner for military personnel and veterans. The submission argues that further review and consultation are essential to ensure the legislation meets its intended goals.

Brian Briggs points out several areas where the draft falls short:

Heads of Liability: The draft legislation fails to address the issues surrounding 'heads of liability,' particularly regarding injuries, diseases, or deaths that occur during 'down time' or approved leave. The current definitions and coverage are insufficient and need clarity to cover 24/7 deployment, exercises, and operations comprehensively.

Clinical Onset: There are challenges in pinpointing the exact date of clinical onset required by the Statements of Principles (SOPs). The legislation should allow medical practitioners to provide a period rather than a specific date for the onset of conditions.

Statements of Principles (SOPs): The draft bill does not address the complexities and issues associated with the SOPs, which are critical in determining claims. The submission highlights the need for increased discretion for decision-makers and a more frequent review of SOPs by the Repatriation Medical Authority (RMA).

Standard of Proof: The current legislation applies two different standards of proof for operational and non-operational service, leading to inherent unfairness. A single, fair standard should be established to ensure equity in the claims process.

Outdated SOPs: The SOPs are not updated regularly, often every 7 to 8 years, which means they do not reflect current medical advancements, disadvantaging veterans whose conditions could be better understood with up-to-date information.

Rigid Application: The inflexible application of SOPs, as instructed to the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) staff, has moved away from the original intent of simplifying and expediting the claims process. This rigidity often results in the denial of claims even when substantial medical evidence supports a service-related condition.

A Call to Honor Our Veterans

The submission calls for the government to reflect on the exceptional service provided by Australian veterans, particularly citing the historical bravery of soldiers at Tobruk, Milne Bay, and Kokoda. It stresses that such dedication deserves a legislative framework that is just, fair, and clear.

Authors: Brian Briggs

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Brian Briggs

Senior Legal Counsel, Military Compensation

Brian is the Australian Military Service Practice Group Leader for Slater and Gordon in Brisbane, providing veterans with valuable legal insights and support during their dealings with the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). With over 30 years of experience and as an Accredited Specialist, he focuses on DVA legislation and statutory schemes to secure the best outcomes for veterans, their families, and their futures.
Recognised as a top legal advocate for victims of military abuse, Brian is dedicated to improving the health and welfare of the defence community. He believes in helping people from all backgrounds and is committed to providing strong legal representation, especially for those with significant psychological injuries.
Brian is actively involved in advocating for military personnel, presenting evidence before Senate Enquiries on issues like PTSD, veteran suicide, and DVA operations. He also participates in Round Table conferences with other advocates at DVA's invitation.