Radio Interview, ABC

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The Hon Matt Keogh MP

Minister for Defence Personnel

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

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media@defence.gov.au

Stephanie Mathews on 0407 034 485


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28 February 2024

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
RADIO INTERVIEW
ABC FAR NORTH
WEDNESDAY, 28 FEBRUARY 2024 

SUBJECTS: Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide; Veterans Legislation Reform.

ADAM STEPHEN, HOST: Sweeping changes planned for our military veterans in the way that they access entitlements, compensation and rehabilitation. The Albanese Government proposing the changes to streamline the processing of claims amid concerns the cumbersome current approach has driven some ex-servicemen and women to take their own lives. Matt Keogh is the Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans’ Affairs and I asked him if he could explain what would change under their proposal.

MINISTER FOR VETERANS’ AFFAIRS AND DEFENCE PERSONNEL, MATT KEOGH: So today I've released an exposure draft of legislation that will lead to simplifying the way our veterans are supported, going from three pieces of complex and overlapping legislation that veterans can fall under one, two or three of those acts, making it very complex, to one piece of legislation moving forward, which will mean that veterans can more easily understand what they're entitled to. The advocates that assist them are able to help them much more easily, and it'll make it quicker for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to process their claims as well.

STEPHEN: Why has it been a sluggish process at times?

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, certainly the complexity of the legislation has created a lot of difficulty where people have to have their claims assessed under potentially all three pieces of legislation, which makes it very difficult all round for people. That's really slowed it down. We've also had the problem that we inherited, where there was just chronic under resourcing of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and that meant we had a huge backlog of claims build up as well. We've now effectively moved through that backlog. All claims that are submitted to the Department now are with someone for assessment within 14 days. That's a significant achievement when you realise that there were some 42,000 claims waiting to even be looked at by somebody when we came into Government.

STEPHEN: The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide actually found that this system was so complicated, it was contributing to poor mental health outcomes for some veterans and even, sadly, probably pushing some towards taking their own lives. The changes that you've outlined, how will this improve the mental health of veterans that are going through this process?

MINISTER KEOGH: So, you're absolutely right. The rate of suicide we see in the veteran community is a national tragedy. It's why we called for the establishment of this Royal Commission when we were in opposition. And the first recommendation from the Royal Commission and its interim report was to get on with simplifying and harmonising this legislation for exactly those reasons, so making it simpler for people to understand, so they know what they're entitled to. Making it easier for advocates to assist those veterans, making it simpler for the Department to process those claims so that veterans can get access to the health care and the support and the compensation that they need and deserve is what we are seeking as an outcome of this legislation that we've released an exposure draft for today. We spent a lot of last year engaging really closely with the veteran community, families, advocates, experts, making sure we get this right. We now want people to engage over the coming months to provide feedback on the exposure draft, submissions close on 28 April. And especially in a place like Townsville, which is our garrison city of Australia, it's got more veterans and serving personnel than anywhere else. Some 14,200 current and serving personnel in Townsville. This will have a big impact in a town like Townsville and across Northern Queensland. And so we do want to make sure we get people's feedback before 28 April.

STEPHEN: It's not only putting three acts into one, so to speak, you are going to be also changing a few other things. Do you mind just detailing what that would be?

MINISTER KEOGH: That's right. So, as part of moving to having the most modern of those three pieces of legislation, the MRCA being the one piece of legislation for all new claims, we're also making some improvements to that legislation. So, we're adding a new additional disablement adjustment available under MRCA, which is sort of the modern equivalent of the EDA payment that currently exists under the VEA, which is the oldest of the pieces of legislation that currently exist. We'll also be consolidating how household and attendant care operate. We're increasing the minimum payment threshold at the moment for funeral benefits so that that goes up to $3000. And we're also improving the way vehicle allowances work. There was differences between all three pieces of legislation that annoyed the hell out of veterans, frankly, and were quite unfair. And so this improves that as well.

STEPHEN: So that was Matt Keogh, he is the Minister responsible for Defence Personnel and Veterans’ Affairs. 

END

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