At the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide yesterday, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) acknowledged what CPSU members have been saying for years – that understaffing and under-resourcing of the department have had critical and tragic consequences for Australian veterans.
Since 2015, the Coalition Government has imposed an arbitrary cap on the number of staff that Australian Public Service Departments can directly employ.
DVA Secretary Liz Cosson explained that the government’s ideological cap on permanent staffing in the department had led to an increased use of costly casual and labour hire contracts.
Ms Cosson stated DVA’s reliance on less experienced staff to process veterans’ complex disability and injury claims had contributed to a growing backlog.
The backlog of veterans’ claims, which has been building for years, now stands at 65,000.
When asked whether she believed the backlog, and resulting delays in processing claims, contributed to an increased risk of veteran suicide, Ms Cosson said she believed it did.
While the Secretary’s admissions may be shocking – CPSU members in DVA have been raising the alarm on exactly these issues for years.
It is deeply distressing for these workers to have been ignored by the government for so long on these critical issues.
DVA staff are committed to the work they do and want to be able to deliver the comprehensive support that veterans need and deserve. They have spoken out about the impact of understaffing with shocking levels of staff burnout and stress, high staff turnover and a workforce that has been de-skilled.
The Morrison government has refused to listen and refused act, with devastating consequences.
Quotes attributable to CPSU Deputy President, Brooke Muscat:
“The blame for this tragic failure lies squarely with the government – they have failed to heed the clear warnings of the people doing the work.
“The Coalition Government has for years wilfully ignored the risk to the mental health and lives of veterans caused by delays and backlogs in claims processing.
“It has made a conscious choice not to address the root causes and put the lives of veterans in jeopardy.
“The Morrison Government owes veterans an apology. They should own up to their failings and acknowledge the devastating impact they have had on veterans, their families, and the workers struggling to support them.
“Veterans and DVA workers deserve a real commitment to address the issues and adequately fund and staff this critical agency to allow it to deliver the support veterans need.
Media Contact: Liz Bower 0408 405 121