The Repat Racket. An insider's report on Veterans' Affairs (Zeus, 2010) ISBN: 978-1-921574-60-3. This is no longer in print, so I have put the whole thing on the web here.
As mentioned in my previous post, for 30 years I was an employee of the Australian Department of Veterans' Affairs. For the first five years, I was posted to the Treatment section, and provided medical treatment to sick veterans and war widows. Then I was transferred to Compensation, and worked processing claims for pensions based on war-caused injuries, disease, or death. This was just about the time the entire section took off, as the result of certain exceptionally generous High Court decisions.
Gradually, I started to notice that I had passed through some kind of Alice's looking glass into a surreal world where normal reality was inverted. Yes, we were still compensating battle-scarred old diggers genuinely sick or traumatized by war - and often making them worse in the process. But more and more - in fact, 90% of the time - vast amounts of taxpayers' money were being handed out for the results of lifestyle choices and old age. We were also treating the deaths of 80-year-olds as war-caused, and pretending that men were psychiatricly incapacitated as the result of their war service, even when they had never come into contact with the enemy.
Mostly, the claimants were not even being deliberately dishonest; the government and the courts had produced a legal fiction that such things were the outcome of war, and now claimants were honestly believing the fiction. But even I was amazed when I did my sums, and discovered that the total spending on inappropriate pensions amounted to two billion dollars a year. Bit by bit, the determination arose that when I left the department, I would let the general public know what was going wrong.
What has been the response to the book?
Well, one character decided to attack the messenger. I was amused to read on a website that I was the front man for some sort of sinister government conspiracy, and that many people in the department were treating the book as their bible. I should be so lucky! In fact, I had consulted no-one before writing it, and would certainly have caught flak if upper management had known of my plans.
However, within a few weeks of the book's launch, my publisher received an e-mail:
It supports a position I have held for a number of years which actually caused me to walk out in hopeless frustration on my Voluntary Pension Officer job. . . . I just want Malcolm to know that us blokes involved in some of this stuff are well aware of what's going on. I back him all the way and I do not think he is a disgruntled former employee. I believe he sees things the way I do.
He was apparently not the only one because, a short while later, I was contacted by an officer from another branch of the department. He had read the book after a friend of his, a Vietnam veteran, kept urging him to do so, and raving about how true to life it was.
Then, a doctor attached to the military reserve for 30 years contacted me to tell how he had phoned the Deputy Commission of the department in his state to discuss what he considered a fraudulent psychiatric claim. The DC then recommended the book. This confirms my suspicion that the powers that be are fully aware of the book, and the anomalies and abuses it details, but prefer not to make waves by responding to it.
Who should read it?
- Any public spirited citizen who wants to know how his/her money is being misused, and how the law and policy can produce a bureaucratic monster. Indeed, it is essential that the general public know what is going on, if any reforms are to be initiated.
- Members of the armed service, past and present, their families, doctors, and representatives. Let's be realistic: if you have regular dealings with the Department of Veterans' Affairs, and you see a book subtitled, An insider's report on Veterans' Affairs, you would be foolish not to read it. You may love the message or hate it, but at least it will give you a detailed insight into how the system works - and that can only be an advantage.
- Officers of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. I don't claim to be the only expert in the field, but if you have been employed for only 10 or 20 years, you probably don't know how the system you were plunged into actually came about. Also, unless you have served in all three levels of decision making, you probably don't know how the other levels function. And if you are an executive, you have probably never worked at the coal face.
It provides a detailed account, in layman's terms, of the way veterans' legislation and policy works in Australia, and how the system went terribly wrong. Chapter by chapter, this entails:
- Repat Will Provide. This is the introduction. Along with the blurb, it can be read on the publisher's website.
- The System as it is Supposed to Work. This explains the various types of pension, the eligibility requirements, and the appeal system ie the essential background to the system.
- How the System Went Up in Smoke. This explains how a badly worded law, and an over-generous interpretation of it by the courts, resulted in pensions being handed out to anybody who could claim to have started smoking on eligible service. Although imost of the applicants are probably sincere in their claims, I show how the rationale behind it is essentially bogus. Yet this is the basis of approximately two thirds of pensions.
- More Horses Bolt. This describes how the courts now sought to grant pensions for every condition under the sun, and Parliament's valiant rearguard action to maintain some semblance of sanity.
- The Myth of Agent Orange. These are the facts, and this is the science. After you read this chapter, I hope you never again fall for the line that Vietnam veterans have been adversely affected by this sinister chemical.
- Sundry Rorts by Honest People. How the effects of old age are regularly treated as the effects of war.
- The PTSD Epidemic. Anybody who works in the Compensation section will tell you that psychiatric claims are the one major area overwhelmed by lies, rorting, and dubious practices. Yes, there are a lot of men genuinely traumatized by their combat experiences. But there are an equal number of people who never faced the enemy, and never had anything serious happen to them, yet are claiming the same status, and being supported by doctors and - what is worse - the law. You will be shocked at the case histories you read here.
- Paid to be Sick. One of the saddest aspects of it all is the way the process inhibits rehabilitation. People genuinely sick or traumatized by war are being sucked into a system which makes them worse.
- The War Widow Racket. Forget the relatively young diggers being killed in action in Afghanistan. According to Veterans' Affairs, most of the people giving their lives for their country today are over 80 years of age.
- Through the Looking Glass. This is essentially a supplement to chapter 2. It allows you to follow a claim through all the levels of decision making, and all the deficiencies in the process.
- What is to be Done? Twenty-six suggestions for fixing the problem.
Nor is it anti-Veterans' Affairs. I have the highest respect for my former employer and workmates.