20 January 2012

Aussie MINDEF releases 116 "hot issue briefs" in a bid to make ADF more transparent to the public

Today the Australian Minister for Defence Stephen Smith released 116 Department of Defence Hot Issue Briefs, covering the period from 14 September 2010 to the present day. The released information can be found here.

Since being appointed Minister for Defence on 14 September 2010, Mr Smith has received from the Department of Defence 248 Hot Issue Briefs.

Hot Issue Briefs provide initial and early advice to the Minister and Defence’s senior leaders on sensitive or complex matters or incidents that may require the immediate attention of Defence’s senior leadership.

Under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 1982, and in response to requests from media outlets, Defence has progressively made public its Hot Issue Briefs, most recently through the release this month of 142 Briefs covering the period 1 July 2010 to 8 November 2011.

Of the 142 Briefs released this month;

· 80 are personnel related, involving a range of incidents including inappropriate behaviour, and other personal matters;

· 31 are capability related; and

· 31 cover a range of other matters (such as loss of equipment, release of notable reports, and discovery of unexploded ordnance).

“Today’s release will see 245 of the 248 Hot Issue Briefs received by me since becoming Minister placed in the public domain,” said Mr Smith.

Of the 116 Briefs released today:

· 58 are personnel related, involving a range of incidents including inappropriate behaviour, and other personal matters;

· 16 are capability related; and

· 42 cover a range of other matters (such as loss of equipment, release of notable reports and discovery of unexploded ordnance).

67 of these incidents were reported to civil police or the ADF Investigative Service for investigation and 3 were reported to the Defence Security Authority and relate to the potential theft of documents.

Only 3 Briefs are not being released at this time as they would prejudice ongoing matters. They will be released at a subsequent time.

Mr Smith has also directed a change to the Hot Issue Brief process, aimed at streamlining its process and enhancing transparency.

“I have asked Defence to ensure the regular and ongoing release of Hot Issue Briefs, as a general proposition, no later than one week after their submission to me,” said Mr Smith.

Exceptions to this rule will be individually and personally approved by the Secretary of Defence or the Chief of the Defence Force and be based solely on the criteria that any public release would:

· endanger operational outcomes;

· prejudice legal proceedings; or

· impede or prejudice ADF Investigate Service (ADFIS) or civil police investigations.

Some redaction of information in the Briefs should be expected. These are undertaken in accordance with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 1982, and based on the removal of information that may:

· identify an individual without their consent;

· contain commercial-in-confidence or legal-in-confidence elements; or

· release operational or classified information.

“This approach is consistent with the key changes to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 that came into effect on 1 November 2010, and the Information Publication Scheme.

“As well, the Black Review of the Defence Accountability Framework challenged Defence to enhance individual and collective accountability. Placing on the public record Defence’s advice to me on these issues – including instances of inappropriate behaviour – is a part of that accountability,” said Mr Smith. The Black Review can be found here.

13 January 2012

Aussie diggers ordered to return to front line to face discipline after drinking in Dubai

Earlier this week eight Australian soldiers from Mentoring Task Force 3, who were en route home to Australia after having served in the front line in Afghanistan, were ordered to return to the front line to face possible disciplinary action for allegedly drinking in Dubai on a layover.

The Returned & Services League of Australia ("RSL") was quick to point out that the diggers could have been sent back home to Australia, to face any discipline, as opposed to going back to Afghanistan. RSL Deputy National President Don Rowe, told the Herald Sun, here, "the sad thing, of course, is their families would've been waiting for them at the airports to welcome them back home, and instead they've gone back to Afghanistan to face disciplinary action which could've been done back in Australia."

[Disclaimer: I am a member of the RSL and an office holder.]

12 January 2012

Changes to Emergency Care Payment Policy by the U.S. Dep't of Veterans Affairs

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced today a change in regulations regarding payments for emergency care provided to eligible veterans in non-VA facilities.

“This provision helps ensure eligible veterans continue to get the emergency care they need when VA facilities are not available,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.

The new regulation extends VA’s authority to pay for emergency care provided to eligible veterans at non-VA facilities until the veterans can be safely transferred to a VA medical facility.

More than 100,000 veterans are estimated to be affected by the new rules, at a cost of about $44 million annually.

VA operates 121 emergency departments across the country, which provide resuscitative therapy and stabilization in life-threatening situations. They operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. VA also has 46 urgent care units, which provide care for patients without scheduled appointments who need immediate medical or psychiatric attention.

New Chair Appointed to Repatriation Medical Authority

Today the Minister for Australian Veterans’ Affairs, Warren Snowdon, announced Professor Nicholas Saunders has been appointed as the new Chairperson of the Repatriation Medical Authority (RMA).

Professor Saunders recently retired as Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Newcastle and will commence his five year appointment with the RMA on 1 July 2012.

“I congratulate Professor Saunders and welcome him to the role. He is a highly respected and experienced leader, who has held high profile positions in the academic and medical professions over many years. He is well qualified for his new role,” Mr Snowdon said.

Professor Saunders was awarded an MBBS with first class honours (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) from the University of Sydney in 1970; he became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians Canada in 1975, followed by fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1976. He has also served as the Chair of the National Health and Medical Research Council from 2000-2003.

Professor Saunders was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2002 for his contribution to the success of the nation. He also received the College Medal in 2002 for his outstanding services to The Royal Australasian College of Physicians, which is responsible for the training and education of more than 13,500 physicians and pediatricians in Australia and New Zealand.

Professor Saunders will replace outgoing chairperson, Professor Ken Donald, who has held the position since the inception of the RMA in 1994.

“I would like to thank Professor Donald for his dedication to the RMA and for his many achievements over the past 17 years including setting up the Statement of Principle regime, which is a critical element of the system established to provide compensation to veterans who may have service related injuries or illnesses,” Mr Snowdon said.

“Professor Donald has left a lasting legacy with both the RMA and DVA and I wish him all the best for the future.”

The RMA was established in 1994 to reform the process of decision making about disease causation. It is an independent statutory authority responsible to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. It consists of a panel of five practitioners eminent in fields of medical science, who each determine Statements of Principles for any disease, injury or death that could be related to military service, based on sound medical-scientific evidence.

11 January 2012

Change in law increases insurance coverage for American veterans

Some veterans covered under the Veterans Group Life Insurance program (VGLI) now have the opportunity to increase their coverage to the current maximum coverage under the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) program.

“Currently, 70 percent of the veterans covered under VGLI are under age 60, have less than $400,000 of coverage, and will greatly benefit from this law change,” said Allison A. Hickey, Department of Veterans Affairs under secretary for benefits.

Under the Veterans’ Benefits Act of 2010, enacted on Oct. 13, 2010, veterans can increase their coverage by $25,000 at each five-year anniversary date of their policy to the current legislated maximum SGLI coverage, presently, $400,000.

To date, approximately 21 percent of eligible veterans have taken advantage of this opportunity, resulting in nearly $113 million of new coverage being issued.

The VGLI program allows newly discharged veterans to convert their SGLI coverage they had while in the service to a civilian program. Before enactment of this law, veterans could not have more VGLI than the amount of SGLI they had at the time of separation from service.

For example, those who got out of the service prior to Sept. 1, 2005, when the maximum SGLI coverage was $250,000, were limited to $250,000 in VGLI coverage.

Now on their first five-year anniversary, these veterans can elect to increase their coverage to $275,000. On their next five-year anniversary, they can increase the coverage to $300,000, and so forth.

The additional coverage can be issued regardless of the veteran’s health. To be eligible to purchase this additional coverage, the Veteran must:

· Have active VGLI coverage,

· Have less than the current legislated maximum coverage of $400,000,

· Request the additional coverage during the 120-day period prior to each five-year anniversary date, and

· Be less than 60 years of age on the five-year anniversary date of his or her coverage.

Eligible veterans are notified of this opportunity a week before the start of the 120-day period prior to their anniversary date, and twice more before the actual anniversary date.