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Tuesday, 14 May 2002
Page: 1505


Senator Harris asked the Minister representing the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, upon notice, on 20 March 2002:

(1) Will the Minister respond to the 92 per cent of respondents asking for the formation of VESCAA.

(2) Has the Government, the Minister or the department taken any action to acknowledge the formation of VESCAA.

(3) Will the Minister advise what action the Government intends to take after receiving the results of the VESCAA survey, given to the Minister on 26 February 2001.

(4) What action has the Minister taken to compensate the 71 per cent of respondents acknowledging loss of income during their period of `selective conscription'.

(5) What departmental action plan has the Minister made to reduce the 60 per cent problem claims in the Veterans' Affairs Claims Department.

(6) What are the criteria which must be met to receive a service pension.

(7) Of the surveys returned, and given that 79 per cent of respondents indicated health problems relating to National Service, what action is the Minister taking to address this issue.


Senator Hill (Minister for Defence) —The Minister for Veterans' Affairs has provided the following answers to the honourable senator's questions:

(1) The formation of an ex-service organisation is a matter for the ex-servicemen or women concerned, not for the Minister.

(2) I am advised that neither the Minister nor the Department of Veterans' Affairs have been formally advised of the formation of VESCAA.

(3) As the Department of Veterans' Affairs has not been involved in the design and conduct of this survey, the Minister cannot comment on the validity of its results. However, the Minister is aware that there are ongoing concerns about the eligibility criteria for veterans' entitlements and the adequacy of benefits provided under the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986. Accordingly, the Minister has recently established a high profile and independent review to consider these matters. The Government is also aware of concerns and special needs of Vietnam veterans. In the 2000-01 Budget, the Government announced a $32.3 million package of support for veterans and their families in response to the validated findings of the Vietnam Veterans' Health Study. More recently, the Minister announced an update of the mortality study of Vietnam Veterans conducted in 1994/95.

(4) There are no provisions in the current legislation which provide compensation for loss of income as a result of conscription.

(5) The Department monitors its performance in processing claims for benefits under the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 through regular satisfaction surveys. The results of the last survey, conducted in March 2001, point out that only 12 per cent of those who had a disability compensation claim determined in the previous 12 months indicated dissatisfaction with the claim process. This compares with a 16 per cent dissatisfaction rate reported in September 2000. The Department continues to take steps to address this level of dissatisfaction, particularly in relation to service and specific skills training for staff. These surveys did not include compensation claims made through the Military Compensation and Rehabilitation Service (MCRS). Improvements in Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 claims processing are now being applied to MCRS claims. This is expected to result in reducing the average time taken to process those compensation claims.

(6) A person is eligible for an age service pension if the person:

· is a veteran or mariner;

· has rendered qualifying service in accordance with s7A of the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986;

· has turned 60 years if male and 57 years if female; and

· if an Allied or Commonwealth veteran or mariner, generally must have been an Australian resident for at least 10 years, or a refugee who holds a permanent entry permit or visa and is a permanent resident.

A person is eligible for invalidity service pension if the person:

· is a veteran or mariner;

· has rendered qualifying service in accordance with s7A of the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986;

· is under 65 years if male and 62 years if female;

· is considered to be permanently incapacitated for work, that is, he or she cannot work more than eight hours per week; or

· permanently blinded in both eyes; and

· if an Allied or Commonwealth veteran or mariner, generally must have been an Australian resident for at least 10 years, or a refugee who holds a permanent entry permit or visa and is a permanent resident.

Eligibility for service pension, with the exception of that provided to a blinded veteran, is subject to the income and assets test.

(7) Persons who believe that they are suffering from a condition related to their National Service may claim compensation through the Military Compensation and Rehabilitation Service or, if they have qualifying service they can apply for a disability pension under the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986.

An extensive range of treatment and counselling services are also available to veterans through the Department of Veterans' Affairs programs, including the Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service (VVCS). These include automatic access to treatment, independent of a successful disability pension claim, for Vietnam veterans diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, clinical depression or severe anxiety disorders.

Services available to veterans' families include psychiatric assessments for partners and children, care for children with spina bifida or cleft lip/palate and access to VVCS counselling services for adult sons and daughters.