Senator Wright asks questions related to retrospective medical discharge during a Senate Estimates hearing for the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
WEDNESDAY, 26 FEBRUARY 2014
Senator WRIGHT: I have a few questions in relation to program 1.8 and retrospective medical discharge. Do I have the right people here to answer those questions? Shall I fire away?
Ms McGregor: Air Vice Marshal Needham will be able to help out.
Senator WRIGHT: Thank you. I will start then. I have a constituent who was discharged from the Royal Australian Navy on compassionate grounds in 1971. I understand the department is reviewing the circumstances of his discharge, including his medical assessment, at his request. He seeks a retrospective medical discharge in the light of new medical and other evidence regarding the nature and extent of his condition which came to light after his discharge. That is just the background to my questions. There are also concerns, from his point of view, about procedural fairness in relation to his case. I am interested to know how long the department would normally take to perform such a review. For instance, does the department have internal guidelines or KPIs relating to performing such views in a timely way?
Air Vice Marshal Needham: The review of the mode of discharge is largely a question that comes down to superannuation. In that regard, the question comes to how the member separated and how that impacts on their superannuation after they leave the Defence Force. The decision-maker in this regard is usually ComSuper and the role that defence plays is that of an information provider to ComSuper, which makes the decision regarding the member's superannuation payout.
Senator WRIGHT: If there is a query, though, about the reason for the discharge, whose role is it to look into that and review that?
Vice Adm. Griggs: It is the service chief who will investigate the particulars of the case and determine whether the mode of discharge needs to be changed.
Senator WRIGHT: So what are the KPIs? How long would the department normally take to perform such a review?
Vice Adm. Griggs: It is very hard to put a tight KPI around this sort of process because the case you are talking about was in 1971. Just getting access to documentation can take a variable amount of time depending on how easy it is to obtain. Then you have to go through the details of the case. Some of them are fairly straightforward; some of them are incredibly complex. Some can take weeks; some can take years.
Senator WRIGHT: Are there any internal guidelines about that-about the time to be taken?
Vice Adm. Griggs: I do not think there are hard internal time lines. You deal with it as quickly as you can with the resources available.
Senator WRIGHT: How many reviews of this nature are being performed by the department at present? I am interested to know how common these are.
Ms McGregor: We will take that on notice, Senator.
Senator WRIGHT: That is fine. What safeguards does the department have in place to ensure that such reviews are conducted in an independent and unbiased way?
Air Vice Marshal Needham: I understand that Defence collects information but then provides it to ComSuper which makes its decision. They have a forum called the Defence Force Case Assessment Panel which looks at the information provided and then makes an assessment and recommendation as to how the member's case will be treated.
Senator WRIGHT: Is it the case that members of the ADF who were discharged before 1 September 1973 with a class C pension or lower-that is, not a class A or B-have no formal way to appeal the grounds of the discharge?
Gen. Hurley: We will have to take that on notice, I think, Senator.
Ms McGregor: You are heading back a fair way.
Senator WRIGHT: It is quite detailed; I understand that. But I am interested to find that out. May I ask then, if not, can we have details of the means to appeal their cases, particularly in the case of those who seek a retrospective medical discharge? If yes-if that is the case-I would be interested to know how that situation is different for those veterans discharged after 1 September 1973 and why that is the case-what the rationale for that is.
My final two questions, rushing against the clock: what options are available for veterans who experienced improper assessment or improper recording at the time of their discharge? That is the concern that is raised in this particular case.
Ms McGregor: I would prefer that we come back to you with a comprehensive answer to each of those.
Senator WRIGHT: My last one, then, is: what options are available when new medical or other evidence has become available following the discharge? That is the comprehensive answer I would be seeking. Thank you.
Gen. Hurley: On the second question, I think you said 'members who experience improper'-is that members who allege they experienced improper treatment? There are different views. As we would see it, we went through the reviews. I am assuming the same people brought this-
Senator WRIGHT: I understand the distinction. I suppose I am asking this from the point of view of someone who perceives that they have had an improper assessment. In some cases, I imagine, there is then a finding that they have experienced an improper assessment. In that case, it is no longer an allegation. It is not really academic. You know what I am trying to find out.
Gen. Hurley: I understand where you are coming from. There will be different perspectives at times.
Senator WRIGHT: There will be until there is a finding, presumably. Then there will be a finding.