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The Budget has delivered for at-risk Defence veterans, so what does it mean for your mental health treatment?

Australia’s Defence veterans have been crying out for greater access to mental health services for many years. That cry was heard in this week’s federal Budget, when the Government pledged $350m in total to veterans’ services. But what does this long-awaited funding injection mean for veterans’ treatment and their military compensation claims? Tindall Gask Bentley partner Tim White explains the benefits of the proposed changes.


We need help. It’s been the plea of thousands of former defence personnel for decades now as they struggled with the transition to civilian life and mental health issues caused by their time in the military.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, from 2001 to 2014 a total of 292 defence servicemen and women tragically took their lives. It should be noted this number only takes into account personnel who joined from 2001. Meanwhile, the suicide rate for former Australian defence servicemen aged 18-24 is almost double the national rate.

These are startling statistics that point to a growing mental illness problem among those who have served, or are currently serving our country. There can be little argument our veterans have needed more support for a long time. Thankfully, some of that support arrived in this week’s federal Budget to the tune of $350 million, including; $43 million for mental health services, $133 million for Maralinga nuclear test survivors, and $160 million for technology upgrades to reduce wait times on veterans’ claims. 

So what does this mean for current and former military members?

Budget Announcement

Treasurer Scott Morrison announced that a portion of the funding, $33 million, will be available for “non-liability mental health services” to ex-service members.  The government will also spend $10 million on suicide prevention programs, which will include a pilot program that provides case management for veterans after they are discharged from hospital. This is a big step forward in providing support to the significant number of servicemen and women who battle mental health injuries as a consequence of their military duties.  It gives faster access to certain types of medical treatment, without the individual having to worry about the cost of treatment. The cost will now be covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), even though at the time of receiving treatment the veteran will not have had an accepted military-related psychological injury.

Previously, ex-service members would typically have to wait months or years until their psychological condition was deemed military related in order for the DVA to pay for treatment.  Hopefully these significant periods of delay, and the associated financial and emotional stress, will be relegated to the past

Does it mean my injury is deemed to be service caused if the DVA pays for my mental health treatment under the non-liability scheme?

In short , no. It is important to know that simply because your medical treatment is paid for under this proposed scheme, it does not mean your condition has been accepted by the DVA as being service caused.

In order for your condition to be considered service caused you must still submit the necessary paperwork to the DVA. Importantly,  there are other entitlements beyond medical expenses you may be compensated for if your condition is deemed service caused.

What other compensation may I be entitled to?

If you are unable to work due to your service-caused psychological condition, you should be entitled to weekly payments, similar to the income you were receiving in the military before you were discharged.  However, weekly payments are only payable though if you have an accepted injury. That is,  the DVA has acknowledged your injury was caused by your military service.  Other criteria must also be met to receive weekly payments, however, the first and vital step is to get your claim accepted by the DVA.

Another entitlement that may be available to you is a lump sum payment. If you have an injury that achieves 10 impairment points or more, under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act (MRCA), you are entitled to lump sum compensation, which is tax exempt. There are various aspects that go into determining the actual amount that is payable in these circumstances. Depending on the extent of your injuries this payment can be considerable. This payment is usually only paid once so it is advisable to get the correct legal and medical advice if  you are seeking this payment. You can only make such a claim if you have an accepted military-caused injury.

What were the previous non-liability health care entitlements under the DVA?

Previously only a handful of  specific psychological conditions were covered under the DVA’s non-liability mental health services scheme. These included PTSD, depression, anxiety disorder and alcohol abuse. Treatment for these were covered by the DVA without the need to establish if they were service caused.  However, it did not mean the DVA was acknowledging any particular condition was accepted as being service caused.

Again, to receive other additional compensation, such as weekly payments or a lump sum payment, a specific claim form needed to be filed and accepted by the DVA.

Maralinga Nuclear Testing

Treasurer Morrison also announced there would be an additional $133 million for survivors of the Maralinga nuclear tests in the 1950’s and 60’s. This funding secures Gold Card status for survivors, meaning all medical treatment for those individuals exposed to radiation from nuclear bombs will be paid for by the DVA.

Previously, many individuals and families have found it incredibly difficult to secure any compensation for the radiation exposure following these nuclear tests.  The detail in terms of who is entitled to apply for compensation and what is actually payable is not yet evident. This “Gold Card” funding has been a long time coming. Tragically, too long for many individuals and families who have already lost loved ones.  Hopefully this funding can help those survivors still with us, as well as the family members of deceased individuals.

Conclusion

Diagnosis of serious psychological conditions in current and former ADF members is on the rise.  So this funding, which also includes $160 million to upgrade the DVA’s technology to reduce the excessive wait times processing veterans’ claims,  is a long-awaited safety net for those most at risk. It is hoped that such support will ease the strain on veterans and their families and will, ultimately, save lives.

These new measures focus on medical expenses and making access to treatment easier. However, there are other entitlements that injured ADF members, current and former, are entitled to, so its important to ensure that if you have service-related injuries you investigate your compensation entitlements. The DVA claims process is notoriously complex and it is wise to seek legal assistance should you decide to make a claim.

If you, or anyone you know, needs help contact:

If you need any legal help with your claim, register here or contact TGB partner Tim White. Tim is an expert in military claims and is a Legal Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force Reserves. Please note TGB can assist current and former ADF members Australia-wide.

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