During 2012-13, the Commission considered 194 submissions and held 29 formal meetings. Over the last five years the number of submissions considered by the Commission has more than doubled, from 95 submissions in 2008-09 to 194 submissions in 2012-13. The number of meetings held has also increased, from 15 to 29, to accommodate the increase in submissions.
Matters considered by the Commission in 2012-13 included:
- 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
- consultation on the future of veterans’ advocacy
- contracting and tendering for the supply of a range of health and support services
- guidelines for delegates determining special rate pension and intermediate rate pension
- the DVA Strategic Research Model and associated research proposals
- the Long Tan Bursary Scheme.
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 105 705 disability pensioners, 86 865 war widow/ers and 234 603 income support beneficiaries.
As expected, the number of primary claims for disability pension has been steadily declining. The total number of new primary claims received in 2012-13 was 13 604, six per cent less than in 2011-12. The number finalised totalled 13 781 compared to 14 387 in 2011-12. The number on hand fell from 3291 as at 30 June 2012 to 3111 as at 30 June 2013. The average time taken to process all primary claims (applications for disability pensions and increase in disability pensions, and war widow/ers pension claims) was 79 days compared to 74 days in 2011-12 and a target of 75 days. The critical error rate fell from 2.2 per cent to 1.6 per cent, well within the less than five per cent target.
The number of claims for war widow/ers pension decreased by 16 per cent to 2335 in 2012-13. The number finalised was 2402, with the number on hand falling from 357 as at 30 June 2012 to 287 as at 30 June 2013. The mean time taken for war widow/er claims was 50 days compared to 43 days in 2011-12 and a target of 75 days. The critical error rate was 2.1 per cent, well within the less than five per cent target.
In 2012-13, Commission delegates decided 1590 section 31 reviews of primary claim decisions, with a mean processing time of 17 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 2011-12 decisions set aside by the VRB and AAT on administrative review of primary decisions. Of 26 799 Commission determinations under the VEA at primary level or internal (section 31) review, 4.8 per cent were overturned upon VRB or AAT review.
The predominant reason for decisions being varied or set aside on review was new evidence being available at the review level. 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.
In 2012-13, 10 142 new service pension claims were processed compared to 8681 in 2011-12 (an increase of 17 per cent). Intakes increased by 6.7 per cent from 8974 in 2011-12 to 9576 in 2012-13. The increase in service pension claim intakes is attributed mainly to the introduction of the On Base Advisory Service (OBAS).
Service pension claims were processed in an average of 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.
In 2012-13, 88 647 pensioner initiated reviews (PIRs) were processed, against 86 980 in 2011-12. The Department also processed 46 829 departmental initiated reviews (DIRs) in 2012-13, against 59 289 in 2011-12. The reduction in DIRs processed was a deliberate strategy to meet resource reductions. Processing times for these activities increased in 2012-13 compared to processing times in 2011-12 and were above targets (14 days for PIRs and 28 days for DIRs), reflecting the increased complexity of the reviews undertaken, the growing sophistication of pensioners’ financial affairs and the need for more investigation. The error rate for income support processing was two per cent, well within the target of less than five per cent.
Activity under the VEA is reported in the DVA Annual Report under Programs 1.1-1.5; Programs 2.1-2.5; and Outcome 3.