During 2013–14, the Repatriation Commission considered 124 submissions and held 20 formal meetings. The number of submissions considered by the Repatriation Commission declined because some matters referred to the Repatriation Commission for consideration were more appropriately managed within normal departmental processes. The number of meetings held also decreased, from 29 to 20.
Matters considered by the Repatriation Commission in 2013–14 included:
- contracting and tendering for the supply of a range of health and support services
- the Veteran Mental Health Strategy
- hospital services agreements
- improving veterans’ advocacy
- guidelines for delegates determining special rate pensions and intermediate rate pensions
- the DVA Strategic Research Model and associated research proposals
- a review of the guidelines for Rehabilitation Appliances Program (RAP) National Schedule of Equipment
- delegation of Repatriation Commission powers
- amendments to treatment principles.
The Commission’s activities under the VEA are focused on meeting the needs of all clients. Although client numbers are decreasing, total numbers are still significant, with 101,059 disability pensioners, 81,531 war widows and widowers and 219,153 income support beneficiaries.
Disability pension claims
The number of primary claims for disability pension has been steadily declining. The total number of new primary claims received in 2013–14 was 13,198, 3 per cent less than in 2012–13. The number finalised totalled 13,947 compared to 13,781 in 2012–13. The number on hand fell from 3,111 as at 30 June 2013 to 2,362 as at 30 June 2014. The average time taken to process all primary claims (applications for disability pensions and increase in disability pensions, and war widow(er)’s pension claims) was 75 days compared to 79 days in 2012–13, against a target of 75 days. The critical error rate increased from 1.6 per cent to 1.8 per cent, within the 5 per cent target.
War widow(er)’s pension claims
The number of claims for war widow(er)’s pension decreased by 17.6 per cent to 1,924 in 2013–14. The number finalised was 2,012, with the number on hand falling from 287 as at 30 June 2013 to 199 as at 30 June 2014. The mean time taken for war widow(er) claims was 45 days compared to 50 days in 2012–13, against a target of 75 days. The critical error rate was 4.4 per cent, within the 5 per cent target.
Compensation Claims Reviews
In 2013–14, Commission delegates decided 1,335 section 31 reviews of primary claim decisions, with a mean processing time of 15 days, against a target of 40 days. 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 it provides staff to advocate on behalf of the Commission before the AAT. On limited occasions, the Commission will apply for a review of a VRB decision by the AAT. The Commission is not represented at VRB hearings.
During the year the Department undertook an analysis of 2012–13 decisions set aside by the VRB and AAT on administrative review of primary decisions. Of 25,891 Commission decisions under the VEA at primary level or internal (section 31) review, 4.7 per cent were overturned by the VRB or AAT.
A significant percentage of matters referred to the VRB or AAT contain evidence not available to the original decision maker. The overall percentage of set aside decisions as a proportion of Commission decisions remains low and illustrates the quality of the decisions being made at the primary processing level.
Income support pension claims
In 2013–14, 10,182 new income support pension claims were processed compared to 10,137 in 2012–13 (an increase of 0.4 per cent). Intakes increased by 4.2 per cent from 9,692 in 2012–13 to 10,100 in 2013–14. The increase in service pension claim intakes was mainly attributed to the introduction of the On Base Advisory Service (OBAS).
New income support pension claims were processed in an average of 34 days in 2013–14, compared to 41 days in 2012–13 and 2011–12. This performance is outside the 32-day target and is attributable to ongoing delays in obtaining necessary documentation and information from third parties, an increase in the number of claims through the work of OBAS, and the increasing complexity of pensioners’ income arrangements and assets.
Pensioner initiated reviews
In 2013–14, 81,525 pensioner initiated reviews (PIRs) were processed, against 88,647 in 2012–13. Processing times for PIRs activities in 2013–14 was 21 days, compared to 22 days in 2012–13. The increasing complexity of clients’ personal circumstances and sophistication of their financial affairs, as well as the fluctuating economic climate, have contributed to a need for a greater level of investigation within PIRs.
Activity under the VEA is reported in the DVA Annual Report under programmes 1.1–1.5; programmes 2.1–2.5; and Outcome 3.