On Thursday (24 May 2018) the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel, Mr Darren Chester ("the Minister"), introduced into the House of Representatives the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Veteran-centric Reforms No. 2) Bill 2018 ("the Bill"). According to the Minister's second reading speech the Bill has six schedules that implement several new initiatives intended to deliver a range of services providing support for veterans and their families. In his speech the Minister stated that:
The Bill according to the Minister, demonstrates the government's commitment ". . .to put veterans first". The Bill is meant to continue on from the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Veteran-centric Reforms No. 1) Act 2018, which introduced eight reform measures earlier in 2018.
Incapacity payments are compensation payments paid for a loss of normal earnings resulting from a service related physical and mental health condition. Under current legislation, incapacity payments “stepdown” to 75 percent of normal earnings after a period of 45 weeks (or a higher percentage depending on weekly hours worked) .
The first schedule to the Bill deals with "compensation for incapacity for work for former members" and its amendments provide former members of the Australian Defence Force with incapacity payments at 100 percent of their normal weekly earnings where they are studying full time as part of their approved DVA rehabilitation plan - removing barriers to rehabilitation.
These amendments are intended to commence on 1 November 2018 and cease on 1 July 2022.
The second schedule to the Bill proposes to amend the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 (Cth) ("the VEA") to trial a service aimed at improving the mental health services available to veterans and prevent veteran suicide. This will include support to access other relevant government and non-government treatment and services that will help reduce the risk of suicide and enhance their quality of life.
These amendments are intended to commence on 1 July 2018.
The third schedule to the Bill proposes amendments to the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 ("the MCRA") to extend the time in which wholly dependent partners (“partners”) have to make a decision about whether to receive their compensation as a weekly payment or convert it, wholly or partly, into a lump sum payment, from six months to two years.
These amendments are intended to commence on the 28th day after the resulting Act receives the Royal Assent.
The fourth schedule 4 to the Bill proposes amendments to the VEA extending the eligibility of the Veterans’ Children Education Scheme ("the VCES"). The VCES is established under Part VII of the VEA and enables the Commission to establish a scheme to provide education and training for eligible children.
The Long Tan Bursary (LTB) is established by an instrument made under subsection 116A(1) to provide education and training to children of a Vietnam veterans. The LTB scheme is currently limited to children of a Vietnam veteran. The proposed amendments extend the eligibility so that the grandchildren of a Vietnam veteran who had operational service in Vietnam, may apply for and be granted a LTB to enable them to undertake post-secondary education.
These amendments are intended to commence on 1 July 2019.
The fifth schedule to the Bill amends the VEA to create a "deeming provision" ensuring that a submariner who served on a submarine or on a special submarine operation (SSO) between 1 January 1978 and 31 December 1992 is deemed to have operational service for any period they served on a submarine during the period 1 January 1978 and 31 December 1992.
These amendments are intended to commence on the day after the resulting Act receives the Royal Assent.
The sixth schedule to the Bill proposes amendments that enable members and former members, during a needs assessment telephone call, to state that they are seeking some form of compensation under the MRCA and for that oral statement to be treated as a valid claim under the MRCA.
These amendments commence the 28th day after the resulting Act receives the Royal Assent.
After being introduced into the House of Representatives the Bill was referred to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee.
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Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Veteran-centric Reforms No. 2) Bill 2018 (Cth), second reading speech and explanatory material available on TimeBase's LawOne
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