A leading lawyer representing veterans is unconvinced that legislation to be introduced in the Senate today will change the way the Department of Veterans’ Affairs treats former defence force personnel.
After a horror few weeks for the department, during which a Productivity Commission report just stopped short of calling for it to be abolished, the government is this week moving forward with legislation to recognise veterans with identification pins or cards.
The legislation also includes a requirement for decision-makers to interpret the three Acts that govern veteran support “in a way that benefits veterans, or their families”.
Brian Briggs, a national military compensation expert at Slater and Gordon who often represents veterans against the department, said recognition with pins and more laws about benefiting veterans wouldn’t fix the fundamental issues.
“Whether it’s going to make a difference putting in a nice piece of legislation saying the whole thing is going to be beneficial, the whole thing is just a load of rubbish. My experience is suggesting the department is going backwards,” Mr Briggs said.
Announced last year, the legislation also includes a Defence Veterans Covenant, which acknowledges the service of veterans and pledges to “welcome, embrace, and support all military veterans as respected and valued members of the community”.
While the reaction to the bill has been positive and it will pass Parliament, Mr Briggs said veterans and their advocates would sooner see money spent on services, including making up the difference between what Defence and Veterans’ Affairs spend on treatment for veterans.
“It’s window dressing, that’s all it is. It’s not going to make much difference in the real world.
“And I fully support our veterans and acknowledging their service, the veterans that I’ve been speaking to they say ‘So what?’.”
He said veterans wanted money spent on suicide prevention and medical help.
The department has been criticised as taking an adversarial approach to dealing with veterans’ claims, but Mr Briggs said the department had always had similar requirements to act in the benefit of veterans.
Veterans’ Affairs secretary Liz Cosson said the bill was similar to those overseas.
“In America they called it the GI bill, in the UK they call it a military covenant, and our ex-service community here in Australia have been asking to have one,” she said.
“What that is is enshrining in legislation that we as a nation are grateful for the men and women who serve, but also for the families of our serving men and women, and it’s talking about it’s a whole of nation responsibility to say if you’ve served we’re going to look after you.”