Veterans' Affairs' failures exposed in Australian Public Service Commission Capability Review

Veterans' Affairs Department secretary Simon Lewis: DVA is "not keeping up with contemporary practice."
Veterans' Affairs Department secretary Simon Lewis: DVA is "not keeping up with contemporary practice." Photo: Supplied

Australia's military veterans are getting sub-standard health and welfare services by a Veterans' Affairs Department that is financially unsustainable, disjointed and slow.

A Capability Review by the Australian Public Service Commission has found Veterans' Affairs has big problems with its culture, leadership and equipment, affecting the health and welfare of its clients, veterans and their families.

A week after department staff voted for strike action over pay and conditions, the review team found the department needed a "major transformational leap forward" if it was to keep pace with its changing workload, as older veterans died off and a younger "client base" with different needs emerged.

The commission was critical of the department running 18 call centres around the country and operating more than 200 different IT systems, most of which could not communicate with each other.

Many of the department's public servants were found to be working in isolation from their colleagues in a structure of "small cells" that not only created corruption risks but stopped bosses properly managing their workforce.


The decision-making process at Veterans' Affairs was a confusing mess of committees with duplicated membership and overlapping agendas that the review team believed was doing more harm than good.

"The current governance arrangements equally tend to work against the conduct of vital strategic conversations within DVA," the report authors wrote.

"Across the governance framework more generally, it is unclear where strategic discourse is being conducted."

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The review praised the dedication of DVA bureaucrats to their mission of looking after veterans, but found the department's public servants struggling with a shambolic and outdated computer system.

"There are some 200 individual ICT systems operating in the department with a dated desktop," the review team found.

"Typically a client-facing employee or assessor may need to open three or four separate applications, none of which 'talk to the other', in order to deal with a single client request or claim."

An official trying to check on an individual case would have to ask colleagues to use separate and additional systems just to check if a veteran had been given a transport booking for a medical appointment or to find if they were entitled to new glasses or dental treatment.

"In the absence of a single client number or reference point, it is impossible for staff to see the full range of services that may be given to, or purchased for, an individual at any one point in time," the reviewers wrote.

"This is somewhat ironic given the commitment of individual staff to their clients."

The department's culture came in for criticism too, with the reviewers finding it sapped the will of workers to do a good job for their clients.

"A siloed and rules-bound culture means that opportunities for improvement are lost, agility is forsaken, risks are exaggerated in the absence of a broader perspective, and motivation to support veterans and their families can be hard to sustain," the commission's team wrote.

Responding to the review, the department's secretary, Simon Lewis, acknowledged the need for improvement.

"There are a number of key areas where DVA is not keeping up with contemporary practice and improvement is needed," Mr Lewis wrote.

"In particular, the findings from the report identify that DVA must take a fresh look at the foundation of its business, its operating model and by extension, its delivery model.  

"We need to address these first in order to support our key strength, our staff."


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