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Australian Soldiers Wounded in Afghanistan

Question
Scott Ludlam 4 Nov 2011

QUESTION No. 844

Senator Ludlam asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 25 July 2011.

Senator Ludlam: To ask the Minister representing the Minister for Defence-Can the department:
(1) Confirm its statement that a total of 182 Australian soldiers deployed to Afghanistan have been wounded.
(2) Confirm that the Department of Veterans' Affairs has accepted 2200 claims from wounded and injured soldiers, compensating 920 of them.
(3) Confirm whether or not it was aware of the number of injured and wounded soldiers who have received compensation from the Department of Veterans' Affairs, prior to them being published in an article which appeared in the West Australian newspaper on 16 July 2011.
(4) Explain the discrepancy in numbers of wounded Australian soldiers publicly stated, compared with the number of:
(a) wounded soldiers compensated by the Department of Veterans' Affairs; and
(b) injured soldiers compensated by the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
(5) Disclose the number of soldiers who were wounded or injured in Afghanistan who are currently still serving in the Defence system.
(6) Disclose the number of wounded and injured soldiers whose claims for assistance have been made through Centrelink.
(7) Provide a detailed breakdown of the types of wounds and injuries sustained by soldiers in Afghanistan who have received compensation through the Department Veterans' Affairs.
(8) Provide a detailed listing of the types of treatment and support offered to wounded soldiers returning from Afghanistan.
(9) Explain why it does not yet centrally collect and analyse injuries suffered by soldiers on deployments (including injuries lodged with the Department of Veterans' Affairs,) despite having said it would move to do this back in 2004.

Senator Evans - The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

I am advised as follows:

(1) Defence can confirm that 182 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel have been wounded as at 4 August 2011 as a result of combat action. As at 12 October 11, the number is 201.

(2) As at 30 June 2011, the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) has accepted approximately 2200 claims for injuries and diseases which have been wholly or partially attributed to Afghanistan service under the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 (VEA); the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRCA); and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004(MRCA). These claims relate to around 920 individuals who have had one or more claims accepted.

(3) No, this information was not centrally collated by Defence. The Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Defence Science and Personnel has asked the Department of Defence to collate all compensation claims in the future, and report them to him on a quarterly basis. He has also asked the Department of Veterans' Affairs to amend their processes to ensure that the current status (that is, active or retired) of ADF members is asked with all compensation claims.

(4) There are no discrepancies, but a range of reasons for the difference in the figures held by Defence and DVA which relate to wounded and injured personnel.
a. The terminology "wounded" has specific meaning which is to sustain an injury directly related to combat. DVA does not classify conditions as "wounds" and the term is not used in the DVA claims process. Therefore, all claims for compensation are for injuries or diseases which may or may not be directly related to combat, and for "wounds" which do directly relate.
b. The Defence figure relates to individuals wounded and does not specify those ADF members with multiple wounds. The DVA figures relate to claims for injuries and diseases not to individual claimants. Some claimants have lodged multiple claims under the VEA, MRCA or SCRA or have claims lodged across all three Acts.
c. Not all ADF personnel who are wounded/injured seek compensation from DVA at the time of injury. They may in fact seek compensation many years after the initial injury or illness, or after they have left the Australian Defence Force.
d. Currently serving personnel have comprehensive health care services provided by Joint Health Command irrespective of how the injury was sustained. This may mean that compensation claims are made later in an individual's career or prior to discharging from full time service.
e. There will be individuals who lodge claims that are not accepted in whole or in part.
f. A number of conditions (such as mental health conditions) may present in the days, weeks, months, years or decades following a deployment, creating a time lag between when the condition occurred, when it was diagnosed and the submission of a compensation claim.

(5) DVA does not centrally record whether a claimant is a current or former member of the ADF. At the time that DVA receives a claim, the claimant will disclose their employment status as this issue may impact on the types of benefits an individual can access. Compensation claim acceptance notification is included within an individual's health record and is not centrally collated. Individuals receiving compensation are not required to inform Defence that they are in receipt of a compensation payment. The Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Defence Science and Personnel has asked the Department of Defence to collate all compensation claims in the future, and report them to him on a quarterly basis. He has also asked the Department of Veterans' Affairs to amend their processes to ensure that the current status (that is, active or retired) of ADF members is asked with all compensation claims.

(6) While it is possible that some serving members may have applied to Centrelink for benefits, neither DVA nor Defence have access to Centrelink data.

(7) As at 30 June 2011, approximately 3400 disability claims have been submitted to DVA which are partially or wholly attributable to service in Afghanistan under the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986; the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988; and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004. Of these, 2200 claims have been accepted. The list of conditions for which claims have been accepted include, but are not limited to, hearing, conditions affecting sight, whole body musculo-skeletal conditions including amputations and fractures, mental health conditions, skin conditions and a number of non-specified health conditions. A schedule of these is attached.

(8) Defence, through Joint Health Command, provide a comprehensive suite of health care services to all ADF personnel throughout their service careers irrespective of whether they are on deployment or serving within Australia. The provision of health care to ADF personnel is based on the individual's clinical condition to ensure that the most appropriate services and treatment options are accessed as they are required. These services include access to primary health care providers, specialist medical and hospital services, ancillary health care services such as occupational therapists, dieticians, physiotherapists, access to pharmaceutical support, rehabilitation services and mental health services and programs.

DVA provides a comprehensive range of medical, pharmaceutical, hospital and other treatments for eligible individuals, determined by specific clinical needs. This includes case co-ordinators which were introduced in early 2010 to assist clients, identified as with complex needs, to navigate DVA's services and benefits in order to minimise the risk of self-harm and maximise quality of life.

To ensure that the support provided to wounded, injured or ill members continues to meet the needs of the individual, and their families, and to ensure ease of access, Defence and Veterans' Affairs has jointly initiated the Support for Wounded, Injured or Ill Program (SWIIP) that will develop a whole-of-life framework for the care of injured or ill ADF members during their service and after transition from the ADF. As part of this program, DVA will be providing an On-Base Advisory Service to provide information and support to help ADF members and their family's access DVA services and benefits.

(9) Defence does collect data on all injuries/illnesses when they are reported using the Department's OH&S reporting system. This includes injuries that have been sustained by personnel serving in Afghanistan. This data is used to develop injury prevention strategies for the ADF. Reporting through the OH&S system identifies injuries sustained and reported while on deployment and also identifies injuries which may result in future health concerns.  

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