Departmental response to review of complaints made against Writeway
While there have been isolated complaints over the years, which have been handled on an individual basis, in late 2013 and early 2014 the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) received four letters of complaint from various sources. These letters contained 39 allegations against a contractor used by the Department for the production of military research reports, Writeway Research Service Pty Ltd.
The Department engaged the law firm Clayton Utz to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations. The report by Clayton Utz found that the allegations are largely without foundation.
The Clayton Utz report includes some findings that recommend improvements to the Department’s policies and processes. These findings are welcomed by the Department as they are an opportunity to improve its practices for obtaining military research reports. The Department has already implemented some of the changes and the remainder will be progressively addressed in the coming months.
- A copy of the report is available here (DOCX 92 KB)
A copy of the report is available here (PDF 578 KB)
One further matter raised as part of the investigation was a potential breach of Privacy by a DVA advocate. This matter was subject to a separate investigation which was finalised in early 2015. It did result in a departmental privacy breach, which was reported to the Privacy Commissioner, and a departmental breach of Legal Services Directions, which was reported to the Office of Legal Services Co-ordination. The parties involved in this matter have been separately advised of the outcome. It should also be noted that while the privacy complaint was included as part of the various complaints about military researchers, it did not directly relate to the military research, it was actually a complaint about the actions of a departmental advocate before the AAT.
By way of background, the Department has been contracting military research services since the late 1990s to prepare research reports in relation to compensation claims. Military research reports are requested for a very small number of compensation claims and only where there is insufficient evidence for a decision to be made in relation to a claim.
In 2013-14 there were approximately 59,000 compensation related decisions covering DVA primary determinations, internal reviews, the Veterans’ Review Board (VRB) and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) with military research reports only requested in 46 cases. This represents only 0.08% of all compensation decisions requiring further clarification of military service or events.
Military research reports do not determine a claimant’s eligibility to compensation. Generally, the report seeks to confirm that an event occurred for which evidence has not been readily available from the ADF through routine information requests or that the claimant witnessed or participated in the event. When requested, military research reports form a very small part of the evidence used to determine a compensation claim.
The Department routinely provides a claimant and their representative with a copy of the military research report for their comment prior to making any adverse decision or for matters before the VRB or the AAT.
Questions and answers
Q. Why are military research reports used?
A. Military research reports are used when there is insufficient evidence for a decision to be made on a compensation claim and further information is not readily available from Defence or contained in previous research reports. The reports are used for cases being considered by the Department and predominantly for matters before the Veterans’ Review Board (VRB) and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).
Q. What information is requested through military research reports?
A. When a research report is requested the researcher will be asked specific questions around the contentions in a claim. These questions will seek to establish information that is not readily available from Defence. The main categories of requests are to: clarify service eligibility; establish if an event occurred and the individual’s involvement; and establish conditions of employment.
Q. How often are military research reports used?
A. Military research reports are obtained for a very small number of cases with the reports forming only one part of the claim assessment. In 2013-14, there were approximately 59,000 compensation related decisions covering DVA primary determinations, internal reviews and VRB and AAT decisions with military research reports only sought for 46 cases.
Q. Does the claimant have a right of review?
A. A copy of the report is provided to the claimant and their representative and they have the opportunity to comment. A claimant may dispute the facts presented in the report or the inference drawn from that material by pointing to other evidence or providing a witness to the events described.
Q. How are military research reports beneficial in the claims process?
A. Many claims have succeeded based on research reports. In other cases the reports have helped claimants and their representatives to focus on the critical issues so they can present additional evidence/witness that assists their case.
Q. Why did the Department decide to seek an independent review?
A. In light of the number and range of allegations, the Department decided to seek a comprehensive independent review of the military research report process.