Outside consultant firm McKinsey to overhaul veteran welfare system
Veterans Affairs Minister Andrew Gee. Picture: Defence
An overhaul of the welfare system for defence force veterans will be led by one of Australia’s top consulting firms, with Veterans Affairs Minister Andrew Gee saying he will cut a backlog of claims blamed for worsening rates of suicide among ex-soldiers.
Consulting firm McKinsey & Co will now start a running action plan for the welfare claims process and look to begin making significant changes from Christmas, while meeting and working regularly with families of veteran suicide victims.
The complex claims process for veterans who have left the ADF – as well as their families, sometimes widows and widowers – has been directly blamed for sparking the serious mental health problems in the veterans community.
The welfare system is set to play a key role in the upcoming royal commission into veterans suicide. Mr Gee – who took on the veterans portfolio following Barnaby Joyce’s return to the Nationals leadership in June – said the McKinsey action plan to reform veterans welfare would land on his desk in December and reform would start from there.
“This is not another review. McKinsey will immediately examine how the department can simplify the claims process, how it is currently processing claims, and identify how we can have a faster, more efficient and effective system for all veterans and their families,” he said. “We can’t wait for the royal commission in order to get cracking on this crucial reform. In the recent budget, $98.5m was delivered for hundreds of new claims officers, which is welcome news. However, I don’t want to see these officers dropped into an inefficient system, tangling themselves up in red tape.”
The royal commission, which follows an estimated 700-800 veterans suicides over the past 20 years, is to examine any previous death by suicide or suspected suicide.
The inquiry – led by former NSW assistant police commissioner Nick Kaldas – is to be conducted independently of the government, delivering an initial report in just over a year, and a final report by June 15, 2023.
McKinsey & Co’s plan will have to fix long, endemic delays in processing welfare claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
As of April this year, 68 per cent of veterans’ claims for a disability pension and 42 per cent of claims for war widow/widowers benefits had yet to be finalised.
The department will be monitored at six-month intervals up until late 2023 to make sure veteran welfare claims are processed quicker and more efficiently.
Veterans campaigner Karen Bird lost her son Jess to suicide in 2017. A coronial inquest into his death found the department should be subject to independent audits after failing to handle his claims with compassion or empathy.
Ms Bird on Friday welcomed the McKinsey-led reform of the claims process and said families of lost veterans would look to work closely with the consultants.
“I’m eager to participate, together with my lawyers who represented our family during the coronial inquest, in these meetings,” she said.
“I hope that the feedback will provide clear direction on what is required to overhaul the claims processing system, making it a positive experience for veterans and their families.”