Veterans boss raised concerns about private consultants interviewing families about department’s performance
Exclusive by defence correspondent Andrew Greene
Australia’s Veterans’ Affairs boss warned against attempts to investigate her department’s processing of claims, telling the minister last year she would “not support” an approach that specifically focused on families who had lost a relative to suicide.
- Jacqui Lambie has accused the Veterans’ Affairs boss Liz Cosson of offering different accounts to the minister and to a royal commission
- Ms Cosson warned against private consultants investigating links between her department’s performance and veteran suicide
- She later told a royal commission DVA’s backlog could be a contributing factor to suicides
In October, the recently installed Veterans’ Affairs Minister Andrew Gee announced private consultants McKinsey would “overhaul the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ claims processing system”.
Announcing the move, he described the backlog of claims at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) as “unacceptably high, which is delaying veterans and their families access to vital services and funding”.
Now documents released under freedom of information (FOI) have revealed concerns were formally raised by department secretary Liz Cosson about the proposed scope of the work being conducted by McKinsey consultants.
In a ministerial submission written in October, she warned the minister:
“I am concerned with your direction that a specific focus [in the McKinsey Review into DVA claims processing] be put on families who have lost a loved one to suicide.
“I would of course be happy to facilitate a broader engagement with veterans and families with McKinsey and Co.
“I am not able to support any approach where there is a specific focus on families who have lost a loved one to suicide or any connotation that there is a direct causal link between delays in claims processing and an individual’s decision to take their own life.”
Liz Cosson gave evidence to the royal commisson last week. (Supplied: Department of Defence)
It is understood the secretary was concerned about families being approached by private consultants just as a long-awaited royal commission was about to begin public hearings where many of the same relatives were preparing to give evidence.
Last week, the secretary gave evidence to the royal commission where she was asked if “delays in claims processing at DVA” were “capable of raising the risks that veterans making those claims could take their own lives?”.
“I believe that the claims backlog could be a contributing factor, absolutely,” Ms Cosson told the royal commission hearing in Canberra.
Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie, who obtained the FOI documents, has attacked Ms Cosson, accusing her of saying one thing to her minister, but another to the royal commission.
“The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has some 60,000 claims on their books. It can take years for veterans to get compensation for their injuries,” Senator Lambie said.
“I’m glad that she told the truth under oath. But if she knows that the claims backlog is a ‘contributing factor’ to suicides, why didn’t she want McKinsey to investigate it last year? Has she changed her mind?
“Once again we’ve got a public servant saying one thing and doing another behind closed doors. It stinks to high heaven.”
If you or anyone you know needs help:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
- Headspace on 1800 650 890
- ReachOut at au.reachout.com
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) on 1800 008 774
- Head to Health at headtohealth.gov.au