Statement from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs - Veterans’ MATES program - Update

The Veterans’ MATES program has been operating for more than 18 years to provide a valuable proactive service addressing ‘real life’ health care problems in the veteran community. Specifically, the program seeks to positively change veteran medicine usage, and increase the uptake of complementary DVA funded health services, all to support veteran wellbeing and a reduction in adverse medicine events.

The University of South Australia is contracted by DVA to deliver the Veterans’ MATES program on DVA’s behalf.

The program takes an evidence based, targeted approach, using a team of clinical experts to develop current health and medicine information, using secure and private billing data to identify members of the veteran community who would benefit from receiving this information.

Identified data is only used to determine veterans who are at risk of medicine related problems, and facilitate DVA writing to the veteran and their doctor to bring them together to have a positive conversation that is tailored to the veteran’s specific health care needs. All other data used in the program is de‑identified.

DVA takes privacy very seriously, and we would like to assure veterans and families that DVA and the University of South Australia have strict policies in place including relevant research ethics approval processes to ensure the appropriate protection of personal information, and that ethics approval remains in place, guiding the delivery of the program.

Since the program’s inception, the Veterans’ MATES program has reached more than 300,000 veterans. Each year approximately 77,000 veterans receive health educational material from Veterans’ MATES, specific to their health care needs. Veterans report they find the information useful, and that it empowers them to take an active role in their own health. This targeted and timely information and support for veterans, and their healthcare teams, has achieved many positive health outcomes across a range of health issues affecting the veteran community. Evidence shows that adverse medicine events have been reduced and that veteran access to suitable health services has increased.

We would like to reassure veterans and families that there has not been a breach of their data, and there is no systemic data security issue. The recent determination by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) relates to an individual case in 2017 whereby the individual opted out of participation in the program and DVA did not fully implement this request. DVA has unequivocally apologised for this.

Veterans have always had the ability to opt out of the program, however DVA has taken steps to more prominently communicate this, so veterans can make an informed decision about their participation.

The OAIC determination has highlighted that DVA’s notices to veterans could include more information about how their billing information would be used for the purpose of the Veterans’ MATES program. More information about privacy, and the ability of veterans to opt-out of the Veterans’ MATES program has been added to DVA’s website and Veterans’ MATES program materials.

The Secretary has requested a review of the Veterans’ MATES program to ensure that all requests to opt out of the program have been actioned appropriately, and to provide further assurance of compliance with the opt out provisions under the program. As part of this review, DVA has temporarily suspended provision of further data while it ensures individual requests regarding participation are dealt with, and frameworks are in place to ensure the circumstances addressed by the OAIC in its determination do not reoccur.  DVA will complete this process as quickly as possible.

DVA will continue to engage with the OAIC openly and in good faith, as it looks to improve its processes.

More information about the Veterans’ MATES program and the use of personal information can be found on the Veterans' MATES page on the DVA website and the Veterans' MATES website.