Vulnerable injured veterans will be stripped of their rights if the Senate rubber-stamps legislation due for consideration on Monday, a leading compensation lawyer says.
Brian Briggs, military compensation practice leader with Slater and Gordon, said changes to the appeal process in the Veteran’s Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 will add up to two years to veterans’ search for compensation.
“This bill, if passed, will strip vulnerable injured veterans of rights and make it virtually impossible for them to access the support they are entitled to because of the cost and added delays,” Mr Briggs said.
The bill contains several other provisions about vocational rehabilitation and repatriation of Vietnam war dead from Malaysia.
Mr Briggs said the second schedule was deeply concerning because it stripped rights from vulnerable veterans.
In introducing the bill to the Senate last month, Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield – representing Veterans Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson – said the changes will simplify appeals.
Injured veterans seeking compensation can now appeal an adverse Department of Veterans Affairs decision through the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission or the Veterans’ Review Board.
Under the new legislation, the appeal process will be limited to the review board. A second right of appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal remains.
Mr Briggs said removing the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission option left a single inferior appeal pathway that does not allow for legal representation and will add 18 to 24 months to the process in circumstances where the veteran might have little income.
“These are literally matters of survival versus bankruptcy, life versus death, for the veteran affected,” he said.
“We trust that this bill will not be allowed to pass unless the stripping of appeal rights is removed.”