Response to commentary about the Statements of Principles
DVA does not agree with this and is concerned that it will discourage veterans and their families from seeking support that is available to them. Veterans are reminded they can access free mental health care, and Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling is available for 24/7 support on 1800 011 046 or openarms.gov.au.
SOPs assist the veteran
SOPs are used to assess claims under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 (VEA) and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 (MRCA). The SOPs were introduced in 1994, following the review A Fair Go: Report on Compensation for Veterans and War Widows (Baume review) which identified the difficulties veterans often had in establishing the facts of their service as a cause of their illness, given differing views of medical professionals on causation. This had led to inconsistent outcomes for claims between entitled veterans and introduced the potential for ‘doctor shopping’.
The SOPs contain a list of factors which are known to cause a particular condition. In general terms, if one of those factors arises in the circumstances of a veteran’s case, then provided that factor is related to the veteran’s service, liability can usually be accepted in respect of a claim for compensation. SOPs remove the need to separately prove, by way of medical evidence, that a claimed condition was capable of being caused by service.
SOPs are objective
SOP factors are based on sound medical-scientific evidence and are developed by an independent statutory authority, the Repatriation Medical Authority (RMA), which consists of a panel of medical experts. This body regularly reviews SOPs to ensure that they are keeping pace with the latest available medical science. The SOPs are all available at http://www.rma.gov.au/.
Any interested eligible party can request the RMA to review a SOP and present evidence for a change. If that evidence is scientifically valid and supports a new or different factor, the RMA is obliged to change the SOP.
The SOPs provide a way for claims to be assessed consistently, equitably, and in keeping with the latest medical evidence.
SOPs demonstrate how conditions are caused according to scientific evidence. Put simply, if a SOP factor is not met in relation to a condition, it means service cannot – medically and scientifically speaking – have caused the condition. Conversely, if a factor arises in relation to the circumstances of a veteran’s claim, and that factor is related to service, the claim would ordinarily be accepted.
Productivity Commission views
The Productivity Commission in its final report into the veteran support system A Better Way to Support Veterans said:
The SoPs have helped to provide a transparent and predictable framework for considering service factors related to a given condition. They have reduced doctor shopping, and facilitated faster, more consistent and more predictable claims processing for the overwhelming majority of claims.
DVA acknowledges that there are some stakeholders who have concerns with the SOP system and the Productivity Commission noted that the requirement to apply SOPs has resulted in the perception, in some quarters, of claims being declined without due consideration. The Productivity Commission did not conclude that the SOP system should undergo fundamental change. In particular, the Commission considered calls to allow any ‘reasonable’ theory of a causal link between conditions and service to be put forward would lead to claims being ‘bogged down’, and lead to a reversion to inconsistent and inequitable outcomes.
Reform of veterans’ compensation
DVA acknowledges that the Productivity Commission in its final report into the veteran support system, A Better Way to Support Veterans, said that while Australians can be proud of the support system in place, there is a case for reform of the broader veterans’ compensation system given its current complexity.
This finding is reflected and acknowledged in the interim Government response to the Productivity Commission’s report. Major reforms, particularly of the legislative framework and involving entitlements for veterans and their families, must and will be carefully assessed and incrementally implemented.
DVA would be concerned if veterans were discouraged from seeking assistance from the Department based on the assertions that have been made. We would encourage any veteran with a condition they believe is related to their service to claim with the Department and to seek the treatment and supports that are available.