Outsourcing claim reviews is causing problems for veterans:

By Shane Wright

A blowout in the use of labour hire companies to fill gaps across the Australian public service has been blamed for contributing to the mental toll of the nation’s war veterans.

Ahead of the start on Friday of the royal commission into defence and veteran suicide, a Senate committee found that 41 per cent of the staff of the Veterans Affairs Department were short-term labour hire workers, with the agency falling well behind its own stated targets to help its clients.

A parliamentary committee has linked the mental toll faced by veterans to a blowout in times processing financial claims by the Veterans Affairs Department due to its reliance on labour hire companies.

The Senate committee examined the rise in labour hire and consultancies across the public service, plus issues surrounding IT and procurement policy. It followed ongoing union and community complaints about the quality of the public service, which was put under a staff freeze in 2015.

As a case study, the committee examined the Veterans Affairs Department, which currently has more than 320,000 clients with an increase since the end of Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Claims for financial support from veterans has trebled over the past three years with the number of permanent impairment claims doubling over the same period.

While the department aims to resolve claims within 90 days of receiving them, the average waiting time for some claims was now at 218 days. The public sector union said there were 4300 claims more than a year old that had yet to be processed.

The department revealed it used 46 separate labour hire providers in 2019-20 at a cost of $82.1 million. Labour hire staff accounted for 41.6 per cent of the department’s entire staff.

It conceded it needed labour hire workers to supplement its capped public service workforce due to the lift in demand from veterans and their families.

Committee chairman, Tim Ayres, said there was an opaque “shadow workforce” being used by departments to fill the gaps caused by the government’s decision in 2015 to cap the number of public servants.

He said the four agencies with the highest number of labour hire workers – Veterans Affairs, Service Australia, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission and the National Disability Insurance Agency – were the centre of service failures that had generated “public scandal”.

Tim Ayres said veterans were dying while waiting for their financial assistance claims to be assessed by the Veterans Affairs Department.

The situation in Veterans Affairs was of particular concern with the government now commissioning consultancy McKinsey – which has just completed the Coalition’s modelling of its zero emissions policy – to devise a solution to the problems handling veterans’ claims.

“That outsourcing has coincided with a blowout in waiting times for processing liability claims and it’s been a disaster,” he said.

“Veterans are dying waiting for their claims to be processed. Their families, their friends in the Australian public deserve an answer.”

This year’s budget contained funding for 447 additional public service positions within Veterans Affairs to “help improve the efficiency of veterans’ service delivery”.

But the committee was told those positions would only be funded for two years.

The committee made 36 separate recommendations, starting with the abolition of the cap on the total public service workforce. It also called for departments to reveal their contractual arrangements with labour hire companies and consultancies.

 

 

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2 comments

  • Noel Usher December 1, 2021   Reply →

    Some years ago (it might even still be the case) when my son had applied to enlist in the army, there was a long delay before he received word about his enlistment, and that was only after following it up. It seemed that the recruitment process had been outsourced to civilians. It occurred to me then that the delay might have cost the army numbers of potential recruits who lost interest in serving.

    There is a history of outsourcing being antithesis of good and economical processes in the military. Include in that the numerous public servants who are often unsympathetic to the needs of the diggers.

  • Keith Jarrett December 1, 2021   Reply →

    In attempting to update my financial position on the web site, I discovered that you cannot remove an existing bank account once it’s been closed and when contacting DVA the very unhelpful male demanded I send complete hard copy details of all of my financials, to which I responded that you have the information that has been constantly updated over the years why do you need these details again. He was obviously not a permanent DVA employee and had little knowledge of what he was supposed to be doing or how he could access past records.
    No wonder Vets get frustrated by the services provided by DVA.

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