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Hundreds of angry veterans to rally behind DVA royal commission call in Canberra

Department of Veterans Affairs royal commission rally organiser John McNeill. 


John McNeil 2.jpg
Department of Veterans Affairs royal commission rally organiser John McNeill. John McNeil 2.jpg Photo: David Ellery

Hundreds of angry veterans from across the country are expected to rally outside Parliament House on Wednesday in support of a call for a royal commission into the Department of Veterans Affairs.

John McNeill, one of the rally organisers, served with the Australian Defence Force in East Timor in 2007. He is living with debilitating back, neck and shoulder injuries from that deployment.

Mr McNeill said more rallies were planned in state capitals around the country to allow veterans who couldn't make it to Canberra to express their views.

He said no single person had come up with call for a royal commission into the DVA and that it had very strong grassroots support.

More than 10,000 people have already signed a petition, being promoted on social media, calling for the inquiry.

"Those veterans who have served after 2004 are now covered by a new act," Mr McNeill. "It is being administered in a more adversarial way than Workcover.

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"The 120,000 operational veterans who have served since December 1975 can find themselves covered by up to three different areas of legislation that often work against each other and have the effect of reducing treatment options and compensation eligibility."

Mr McNeill is a case in point.

"Upon returning from my deployment [in East Timor] I was declared medically unfit [as a result of injury]," he said.

"I spent over a year in a rehab platoon before I was medically discharged. I damaged my shoulder, I've got neurogenic and vascular thoracic outlet syndrome in the right shoulder, vascular thoracic outlet syndrome in the left shoulder.

"That's been left untreated for so long it has caused my neck and back to come out of alignment as well."

Mr McNeill said the initial delays [in appropriate treatment] had occurred while he was still in the ADF but that once he left the army things got worse.

"Once I  was under DVA's care it's taken over six years to process my claim," he said.

"There were operations I needed to relieve my pain from my shoulder but because injections had to go into my neck I wasn't allowed to get them."

Mr McNeill, who is a member of the Veterans Royal Commission Working Group, said the campaign was not about him and that others were much worse off.

"[As our petition states] gross mismanagement by the DVA, delays, the removal of treatment paths and adversarial practises are now causing increased numbers of homeless veterans, increased suicides and family breakdowns," he said.

"It is basically the veterans [themselves] that have called for it [a royal commission] because the treatment they have received from the DVA just hasn't been up to standard."

He said that on indications received to date between 200 and 300 veterans were expected to turn out for the rally outside Parliament House at 10am on Wednesday.

Working group chairman Allan Thomas, who is also the president of the Australian peacekeepers association, said the visit had already been a fruitful one thanks to meetings with the shadow minister for veterans affairs, David Feeney, and other parliamentarians on Monday and Tuesday.

Mr Thomas and Mr McNeill were due to meet the recently-appointed Minister for Veterans Affairs, Dan Tehan, on Tuesday.

"We will be putting our points across in regards to why we are seeking a royal commission," Mr Thomas said.

"My experience is I enlisted in 1984 and got out in 1998," he said. "I've seen peacekeeping service in the Sinai Desert and my whole tenure, apart from that, has been peacetime service.

 "I've got a lot of vested interests in this, being a veteran of a peacekeeping operation but also in terms of ensuring that entitlements and benefits are adhered to by all levels of government."