In 2012-13 the full Commission held 13 formal meetings and considered 120 submissions. The sub-committee of the Commission met on 22 occasions and considered 91 submissions.
Over the past five years the number of matters considered by the MRCC and its sub-committee has grown substantially, from 56 submissions in 2008-09, to 211 in 2012-13. For the second year in a row the number of submissions that were considered by the MRCC and its sub-committee was greater than that considered by the Repatriation Commission.
Matters considered during the year included:
- implementation of the Government’s response to the military compensation review
- review of eligibility for the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service
- the Veteran Mental Health Strategy
- the Health and Wellbeing of Female Vietnam and Contemporary Veterans report
- assistance for contemporary widow/ers and dependants
- consultation on refining the appeal process to a single pathway
- guidelines for delegates on establishing special circumstances under the MRCA
- contracting and tendering for the supply of a range of health and support services
- the DVA Strategic Research Model and associated research proposals.
Since the MRCA commenced in June 2004, the Commission’s activities and business under that Act have increased significantly, while in recent years the trend of reducing activity and business under the SRCA has slowed.
In 2012-13 initial liability claims received under the MRCA for injury and death (combined) were 4804 compared with 4154 in 2011-12, an increase of 15.6 per cent. The number of such claims finalised was 4332 in 2012-13 compared to 3899 in 2011-12, an increase of 11.1 per cent. The number of initial liability claims on hand rose by 472 over the year and stood at 2186 at 30 June 2013. The mean time taken for initial liability claims finalised in 2012-13 was 155 days in 2012-13 compared to 158 in 2011-12 and a target of 120 days. The critical error rate for such claims was reduced from 6.6 per cent in 2011-12 to 2.4 per cent in 2012-13, well within the less than five per cent target.
Claims for permanent impairment under the MRCA have also risen, from 2384 in 2011-12 to 3073 in 2012.-13, an increase of 29 per cent. Incapacity payees under the MRCA increased by 20 per cent, from 1860 in 2011-12 to 2231 in 2012-13. These results are indicative of the growth in activity levels under the MRCA generally. The critical error rate for incapacity payment decisions at 23.2 per cent remains well above target and the Department’s Annual Report refers to action to address this.
Under the SRCA, initial liability claims have reduced slightly, with 3103 claims (injury and death combined) received in 2012-13 compared with 3190 in 2011-12, a fall of 2.7 per cent. SRCA initial liability claims finalised totalled 3047 in 2012-13, down from 3258 in 2011-12. There was an increase in the number of such claims on hand from 1361 at 30 June 2012 to 1417 at 30 June 2013. The mean processing time for these claims was 171 days against 180 days in 2011-12 and a target of 120 days. The critical error rate for SRCA initial liability claims was reduced from 9.4 per cent in 2011-12 to 5.4 per cent in 2012-13, slightly above the target of less than five per cent.
The number of new SRCA permanent impairment (PI) claims received was nine per cent higher than in 2011-12, up from 2908 in 2011-12 to 3171 in 2012-13. The critical error rate for PI claims fell from 10.1 per cent to 3.6 per cent, within the five per cent ceiling. The number of incapacity payees under the SRCA fell 6.8 per cent, from 2518 in 2011-12 to 2348 in 2012-13. The critical error rate for incapacity payments was 18.4 per cent in 2012-13 against a target of less than five per cent. Overall, SRCA activity is reducing but the rate of decline has slowed due to earlier claiming amongst those eligible.
The Department also has a role in Veterans’ Review Board (VRB) and Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) applications. The Department prepares reports of the decisions under review, and provides staff to advocate on behalf of the Commission before the AAT. On limited occasions the Commission will apply for a review by the AAT of a VRB decision under the MRCA. The Commission is not represented at VRB hearings.
During the year the Department undertook an analysis of 2011-12 primary decisions set aside at reconsideration stage, by the VRB and by the AAT on administrative review. Of 10 727 Commission determinations under the MRCA in 2011-12 only 266 (or 2.5 per cent) MRCA primary decisions were varied or set aside at the section 349 reconsideration, VRB or AAT stage. Of all the Commission decisions at primary or reconsideration stage, only 1.7 per cent were set aside or varied.
Of 5899 SRCA primary decisions, 246 or 4.2 per cent were set aside at the reconsideration or AAT stage (the VRB is not involved in SRCA matters). Of all Commission decisions at the primary and reconsideration stage, only 0.3 per cent were set aside or varied at the AAT level.
The predominant reason for decisions being varied or set aside on review by the AAT was the new evidence available at the review level (including medical reports) that was not available at the primary level or internal review stage. The study found that in only 1.5 per cent of VRB decisions under the VEA or the MRCA could the Commission delegate have reached an alternative decision on the evidence available at that stage. This finding was supported by a VRB survey of its members in late 2012 that reported that new evidence, whether oral or documentary, was the contributing factor in setting aside or varying a primary decision. In only 2.8 per cent of cases set aside or varied by the VRB did the VRB consider that an incorrect primary decision had been made on the available information.
Activity under both Acts is reported in more depth in the DVA Annual Report under Programs 1.6 and 2.6. The DVA Annual Report refers to action being taken by the Department to reduce above target mean processing times and error rates for the MRCA and SRCA.