The bill for compensating and looking after Australia's military veterans has almost tripled in the past five years, as rising numbers of young soldiers return from conflicts in the Middle East.
Figures obtained by The Canberra Times from the Department of Veterans' Affairs show the estimated total liability costs of providing physical and mental health support to Australia's veterans has risen from $5.75 billion in 2014 to $13.25 billion last fiscal year.
Last year, those billions supported some 166,000 veterans and 117,000 of their dependants, costing taxpayers about $47,000 for each client, but despite spending those funds, a recent Productivity Commission inquiry into the system found it was inefficient and not fit-for-purpose, urging a complete overhaul.
The figures illustrate the real costs of providing support to rising numbers of returned servicemen and women coming back from conflicts largely in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in the past five years.
The data shows the compensation and support provided to veterans rose from $5.7 billion in 2014 to $7.4 billion in 2015, to $9.9 billion in 2016, $10.9 billion in 2016 and $13.2 billion in 2017-18.
But while there is an estimated cost of liability calculated each year for that year, the department has been unable to provide any longer term estimates of the costs of providing the support over a five or 10 year period.
The government puts no limits on valid claims for benefits and services given to veterans, and the annual costs are full funded from year to year, despite the complexity of estimating costs given the three different pieces of legislation claims can be made through.
A spokesman for the department said the high tempo of defence operations over the past 15 years had contributed to rising claiming levels and the complexity of both physical and mental health conditions, which had led to the higher projected liability forecasts.
"To ensure veterans and their families are receiving the best possible support, the government has made early access to treatment a priority, including for mental health conditions, as it leads to better outcomes at a lower cost in the long term, and over the last couple of years, approval rates of claims have increased," he said.
In the wake of the Productivity Commission inquiry, there have also been increasing calls for a full Royal Commission into the veterans compensation system, one extending into the Department of Defence's treatment of veterans before they leave the service.
While he has not committed to such an inquiry, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has left the door open to exploring the possibility, though veterans are still waiting for a firm announcement on the matter from the government.
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