Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide hears government did nothing about claims processes for three years

The former government was told to simplify claims processes for veterans three years ago, but made no decision to adopt the “significant” recommendations, a royal commission has heard.

Former veterans’ affairs and defence personnel minister Darren Chester — who held the portfolio from March 2018 to July 2021 — presented evidence at the inquiry into Defence and Veteran Suicide, holding hearings in Townsville this week.

During his time in the role, the number of veterans’ claims before the Department of Veterans’ Affairs grew from 12,000 to more than 57,000.

Mr Chester told the royal commission the growth was due to the department being “a victim of its own success” in encouraging veterans to make compensation claims.

The former government had expanded programs allowing veterans to make claims, as well as accepting online submissions at that time.

Despite this, the commission heard, only supplementary departmental funding was awarded by the former government to deal with the increasing number of claims.

Counsel Assisting Peter Singleton questioned Mr Chester on the government’s reasoning.

“If you were actively encouraging veterans to come forward with their claims, and you saw that it just kept growing very steeply after at least a couple of years, [you would consider] that this was a long-term problem,” Mr Singleton said.

“You treated it as temporary and you came up with a temporary solution.”

During his examination, Mr Chester said repeatedly, he could not speak about discussions that had taken place in cabinet.

“I agree a longer-term solution would have been a desirable outcome to deal with the backlog of claims,” Mr Chester said.

“I took a view that a demand-driven funding model, for want of a better phrase, was the right way to get on top of what were the departmental funding issues.”

Andrew Gee
The later minister for veterans’ Affairs and defence personnel, Andrew Gee, told the commission there was a “clear connection” between delays in processing veterans claims and suicidality.(ABC News: Ross Nerdal)

In his written submission to the commission, Mr Chester said the Productivity Commission Report, A Better Way to Support Veterans, was the “most significant” veterans-related report provided to the government during his time as minister.

But Mr Singleton told the commission three years after the report was handed to the government, no decision was made on three key recommendations.

Those recommendations related to the “harmonisation” of entitlements across three veterans’ acts to further simplify the claims process.

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