In 2010 I deployed to Afghanistan with the Australian Army. We worked in shifts - 8 hours on, 8 hours off - for months. Humans were not designed for 16 hour sleep cycles. Since returning home in 2011 I have suffered insomnia. Canada has been my home since 2012 when I immigrated here for work. Luckily The Australian Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) and Veterans Affairs Canada have reciprocal relationships for veterans services. On March 19th, 2019, I decided to seek help from the Australian DVA. My encounters with the Australian DVA in the past have been awful so I decided to document my (not uncommon) experience. This is my unsuccessful journey for help from the Australia DVA so far.

19th of March, 2019

After years of dealing with insomnia, I decided to reach out for help. I called Veterans Affairs Canada and was informed that I would have to initiate the process though DVA Australia.

20th of March, 2019

Called DVA Australia - Mary told me the reciprocal relationship was only one way and that I would not be eligible for treatment. Here is the complete conversation including 4 minutes of been told that Australia and Canada have a one way reciprocal relationship.

21st of March, 2019

Obviously I was not happy with the initial response from the DVA. I registered with My Service and made my insomnia claim online.

I called the DVA again hoping that I would speak to someone else that would be willing to help me. Amelia from DVA Australia connected me with the section of DVA Australia that deals with overseas veterans.

I completed a load of paperwork and was put in contact with Karen.

I also made a complaint with the DVA about my call with Mary:

Hey Team,

I am an Australian Veteran living in Canada. I was after information regarding Australian & Canada’s reciprocal DVA relationship. I had reached out to DVA Canada and was told to initiate the process with DVA Australia.

This morning I called DVA Australia and had a difficult conversation with Mary. Mary explained to me that the reciprocal relationship would only work if I were a Canadian veteran living in Australia, not the other way around. When I explained that that’s not reciprocal, she reiterated that it doesn’t work in reverse.

I ended up leaving the conversation and calling back. The second time I got through to someone who was willing and able to assist me.

I don’t expect DVA staff to know everything but it’s unacceptable for them to lie when they don’t know something. It was 17 minutes of condescendingly being incorrectly explained how the reciprocal relationship works. A simple, “I don’t know, I’ll find someone who does” would have solved the issue.

I find it difficult to articulate how disappointed I have been with DVA Australia. I’ve needed help twice as a veteran and both times I’ve had to deal with unprofessional people like this on the phone system. As a result of my horrible first experience, I started recording my interactions with the DVA. I’m happy to share my recording of my phone call with Mary.

I have service related problems that I want to get addressed. They’re not life threatening but they do affect my quality of life. It pains me to think of my mates with more sever issues using DVA services and dealing with this unprofessional behaviour.

What steps are you going to take to rectify this situation?

Cheers,

Greg.

I recieved a response the same day

Hi Greg

I’ve had a quick look into this (through your DVA file number, TSM06858) and unfortunately there’s no record in DVA logging systems of the ‘Mary’ you spoke with

Do you recall what area or section of DVA Mary was from? It looks like you may have been assisted the second time by Bernadette of the Melbourne office?

I would like to pursue this matter on your behalf with Mary’s supervisor, but I need some more information I’m afraid as there are a lot of different Mary’s on staff (as you can imagine) …

regards David

David Wilks Feedback Management Officer Department of Veterans’ Affairs

and responded

Cheers David,

Yes, I believe the second person I spoke to was Bernadette. Bernadette was very helpful and knowledge. I hadn’t completed my dva application when I was speaking to Mary so I imagine that’s why I’m not showing up in the system. Mary was in the Melbourne office and our call began around 08:15EST. Does that help?

Thanks again for looking into this, it helps put my mind at ease knowing that these matters are taken seriously.

As of July 24th, I still haven’t received a response from David

22nd of March, 2019

Received confirmation that my application had been received and was being processed.

Dear Greg,

Thank you for your recent request to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) for prior approval of treatment or services. Please log into your My Service Account as your letter has been sent to you.

I will update you once I have more information. They have advised that you check you my service account regularly as they will be communicating with you there regarding your claims.

Thankyou & Kind regards, Karen Department of Veterans’ Affairs Health Approvals & Home Care

11th of April, 2019

Received an email saying my claim was being investigated. I was feeling positive that DVA Australia aims to finialise 50% of their cases within 100 days of lodgement.

Good Morning Gregory,

This is a courtesy email to advise you that I will be assisting in the investigation of your MRCA Initial Liability claim for the condition of: Insomnia & Mental Health

DVA aims to finalise approximately 50% of cases within 100 days of lodgement, but it could also take longer, depending on the complexity of your claim.

(Please refer to link: https://www.dva.gov.au/about-dva/overview/dva-service-charter for more information regarding DVA’s Service Charter)

Would you please be able to respond to this email to advise if you have seen or are currently seeing a Psychiatrist in regards to this claimed condition?

If you have any questions in regards to your claim, please do not hesitate to contact me on the details listed below.

With Kind Regards,

Vijayata Delegate, Liability Primary Claims | Clients’ Benefits | Sydney Office Department of Veterans’ Affairs

There were a couple of emails back and forth that day, and we settled on having an assessment from a local psychiatrist.

16th of May, 2019

Received an update a month later that the DVA was still trying to setup the appointment

Good Morning Greg,

I’m just touching base to let you know that MLCOA is still in the process of liaising with their Canadian counterpart and arranging an appointment for you.

I’ll keep you updated.

With Kind Regards,

Vijayata Delegate, Liability Primary Claims | Clients’ Benefits | Sydney Office Department of Veterans’ Affairs

20th of May, 2019

Received this email about my claim.

Good morning Mr Clarke,

My name is Hugh Craill, from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

I’m contacting you today as part of the MyService team to inform you that your claim, submitted 10/04/2019, had been stalled as a result of a technical issue on our end. This issue has since been identified and resolved, so your claim has moved on to being processed as a priority.

We apologise for any inconvenience in the delay.

Regards,

Hugh Craill | Administration Officer Digital Client Experience Department of Veterans’ Affairs | www.dva.gov.au

31st of May, 2019

Received this follow up email about an appointment.

Good Afternoon Greg,

I have heard back from MLCOA. They have provided an appointment for you on Wednesday 5th July 2019 at 10am.

This appointment will be with Dr Ken Suddaby MD, FRCPC

Location: Ottawa, Canada

Speciality: Psychiatrist

Please advise if this appointment is suitable for you.

With Kind Regards,

Vijayata Delegate, Liability Processing Team 2 | Sydney Office | Clients’ Benefits Department of Veterans’ Affairs

1st of June, 2019

I confirmed and clarified the date (as the 5th July 2019 isn’t a Wednesday).

Thank you Vijayata,

I assume that’s Wednesday the 5th of June? Either way, the appointment is suitable for me on the 5th of June or the 5th of July.

Thanks again for lining this up,

Greg.

2nd of June, 2019

Received another email with the incorrect date.

Good Morning Greg,

The email I received from MLCOA read:

“Our sister company have advised that Dr Suddaby is happy to accept this referral and has offered an appointment on Wednesday 5th July 2019 at 10am.

Can you please liaise with Mr Clarke to see if he is available to attend this appointment?”

The appointment would be 5th July 2019 at 10 am.

I will let MLCOA know so they can book this appointment for you.

With Kind Regards,

Vijayata Delegate, Liability Processing Team 2 | Sydney Office | Clients’ Benefits Department of Veterans’ Affairs

3rd of June, 2019

Again, I tried to confirm the correct date.

Hello Vijayata,

Wednesday the 5th of July 2019 is not a correct date. The 5th of July is a Friday, however the 5th of June is a Wednesday. Either the day or the month is wrong. Can you please confirm the actual date of the appointment.

Cheers,

Greg.

3rd of June, 2019

Correct date was confirmed.

Good Morning Greg,

Please see email below, your appointment has been scheduled for Friday 5th July 2019 at 10 am.

My apologises for the confusion.

With Kind Regards,

Vijayata Delegate, Liability Processing Team 2 | Sydney Office | Clients’ Benefits Department of Veterans’ Affairs

11th of June, 2019

Received another email requesting that I confirm the same appointment again.

Good morning Greg

A tentative appointment has been scheduled for you to meet with Dr Suddaby on Friday 5th July 2019 at 10am to assist with the investigation of your outstanding claim with DVA.

Could you please advise as soon as possible as to whether you are available for this appointment.

For your information: Dr Ken Suddaby MD, FRCPC Location: Ottawa, Canada Speciality: Psychiatrist

Kind regards,

Alicen Senior Delegate - Liability Processing Team 2 | Sydney Office | Clients’ Benefits Department of Veterans’ Affairs

I quickly confirmed that I was still avaliable

Hello,

yes, I can confirm my availability. I had already confirmed this appointment.

Thank you,

Greg.

25th of June, 2019

A week prior to the appointment and I hadn’t recived any more details about the appointment, like it’s location. So I emailed asking for those details.

Hello Team,

can you please send me the address for this appointment? I haven’t received those details yet. Also, is it possible to use normal email instead of this secure email service?

Thank you,

Greg.

I looked up the Dr. Ken Suddaby to try and find his address myself. All I found was his RateMDs profile, he is one of the lowest rated psychiatrists in Ottawa with a 2.53 star rating and 32 reviews.

4th of July, 2019

I hadn’t received any reply to my previous message and still didn’t have a location for the appointment. I reached out again.

When will I receive the address or any other details about this appointment?

6th of July, 2019

I hadn’t heard from anyone in weeks and had missed my appointment because I was never given the details so I emailed GeneralEnquiries@dva.gov.au & Vijayata again.

Hello Vijayata,

I replied to both of your confirmation emails regarding my appointment on the 5th of July with Dr Suddaby in Ottawa, Canada. I sent a third email asking for the address last week as I had no details on the location and I hadn’t heard back from you. I still haven’t received a response from you or anyone on your team. You made me wait weeks for this appointment and then you didn’t even send me the details. I have insomnia and it affects my life. If the DVA is incapable of helping me either because of lack of resources or lack of competence, please let me know so I can get help elsewhere. This level of incompetence unacceptable. Every interaction I have with the Australia DVA is a disappointment.

Please just either help me or admit that you’re not going to help me so I don’t have to suffer though more months of insomnia.

I have the right to access DVA services in Canada through the Canadian DVA but it needs to be initiated from the Australian DVA. Please please please just do that!

I expect a response within 5 days with a clear resolution.

8th of July, 2019

Received an apology with no explanation.

Good Morning Greg,

My apologies for the delayed response.

I am liaising with MLCOA to get another appointment date for you.

I’ll keep you updated.

With Kind Regards,

Vijayata Delegate, Liability Processing Team 2 | Sydney Office | Clients’ Benefits Department of Veterans’ Affairs

9th of July, 2019

I asked if my messages were being received.

Hi Vijayata,

I apologise for the tone of my last message but please appreciate my frustration. Having chronic insomnia has put me in a pretty dark place and I either need support or a way out. Can you please acknowledge that you are receiving my messages though this secure mail portal?

Thank you,

Greg.

Vijayata confirmed they were.

I can confirm that I have received your previous correspondence.

I was, however, unable to respond to you in time in relation to the 05 July 2019 appointment.

My apologies.

As mentioned before, I am arranging a follow-up appointment for you through MLCOA.

With Kind Regards,

Vijayata Delegate, Liability Processing Team 2 | Sydney Office | Clients’ Benefits Department of Veterans’ Affairs

11th of July, 2019

Received a generic response from the General Enquiries.

Dear Greg

Thank you for your email.

Your request has been forwarded to the relevant DVA business area for their consideration and response. Please be aware that while we endeavour to answer your enquiry within 2 to 5 days, further time may be needed to investigate and respond.

If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact us via email or on the phone numbers below to speak directly to a DVA staff member.

Brendan Robertson Client Contact Victoria / Client Channels Department of Veterans’ Affairs Ph. 1800 555 254 All Mail: DVA, GPO Box 9998, BRISBANE QLD 4001

22nd of July, 2019

Emailed Vijayata again to find out why I hadn’t received any news for a few weeks.

Why is my appointment taking so long to organize? Why haven’t I heard anything from you for weeks? What’s going on?

I recieved a response.

Good Morning Greg,

My apologies for my delayed response; I had been away sick from work (flu season here in Aus.!)

I have received an email from MLCOA with the earliest available date: Wednesday 4 September 2019 at 10am.

I will email you out the contact details / appointment details when I get these from MLOCA.

With Kind Regards,

Vijayata Delegate, Liability Processing Team 2 | Sydney Office | Clients’ Benefits Department of Veterans’ Affairs

I sympathize with Vijayata getting sick. That’s awful, but the DVA should have systems in place to deal with people getting sick. I responded.

Cheers Vijayata, I hope you’re feeling better now. I’m looking forward to my appointment, I’ll block it off in my calendar. Thanks again, Greg.

Vijayata responded.

No worries!

Once again, I do apologise for the delay in arranging this appointment for you.

Next steps

My next appointment (which I still don’t have an address for) is scheduled for Wednesday the 4th of September, nearly 6 months since I reached out to DVA Australia for help. Note, September 6th isn’t when treatment will begin, it’s the initial appointment to investigate if I’m eligible for help. I will edit this blog post with future communications and updates.

The Australian Department of Veteran Affairs has failed me and is failing many others. If I had known that it was going to take 6 months to be assessed for treatment, I would have organized help elsewhere and would be 4 months into my treatment. It pains me knowing that my mates with more severe issues are having to deal with this inept organisation. Asking for help is the hardest step and the Australian DVA’s promise of help with no follow through is unbearable. Unfortunatly I have veteran friends that have commited suicide. I honestly believe that they might still be here if the DVA didn’t exist.

What I want

  • Accurate assessments on treatment schedules so that veterans can make informed decisions as to whether they should proceed with the DVA or get help elsewhere
  • Better training of DVA staff
  • Improved systems so veterans will still be informed about their treatment if DVA staff are sick
  • Better communications between DVA Australia and their international counterparts. There is no point in having reciprocal services if they are inaccessible
  • And finally, treatment for my insomnia (ideally with a Veterans Affairs Canada card)

Updates

23rd of July, 2019

I really want to get some help so I emailed Darren Chester, the Minister responsible for the operations of Veterans’ Affairs. I also cc’d GeneralEnquiries@dva.gov.au to give them a heads up.

Dear Hon Darren Chester MP,

I am an Australian Army veteran that served in Afghanistan & the Solomon Islands. I migrated to Canada in 2012 and have been seeking help from the Australian DVA for my service induced insomnia. It’s not going well even though there is a reciprocal relationship between the Australian Department of Veteran Affairs and the Canadian Veterans Affairs.

I have documented my experience so far in a blog post -> https://gregology.net/2019/07/my-experience-with-the-australian-dva/

I would really appreciate if you could assist in any way possible.

Regards,

Greg Clarke.

I received an automated reponse

Office of the Hon Darren Chester MP

Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Deputy Leader of the House Federal Member for Gippsland

Thank you for your email to the Office of the Hon Darren Chester MP.

As you would appreciate, Minister Chester receives a considerable amount of correspondence each day and, while all emails will be read and actioned, some may not receive a formal response.

Thank you for taking the time to contact the Minister.

I have not received any more responses or follow ups from this email.

29th of July, 2019

After getting no human response from the Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel, I decided to reach out to the shadow minister for help.

Dear Honourable Amanda Rishworth MP,

I am an Australian Army veteran that served in Afghanistan & the Solomon Islands. For the last few months I’ve been trying to get assistance from the DVA for my service induced insomnia. I’m at my wits’ end trying to get support from the DVA.

I have documented my communications with the DVA here -> https://gregology.net/2019/07/my-experience-with-the-australian-dva/

It’s been over 4 months since I initially reached out for help and I’m no closer to treatment.

I was hoping that you, as a psychologist and the Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs could help me. Is there anything you can do to help me get treatment?

I would appreciate any assistance or direction you can give me,

Regards,

Greg.

Clearly my details were out of date and I received this reponse

Dear Mr Clarke

Thank you for our email.

Amanda is no longer the Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. The new Shadow Minister if Shayne Neumann MP. I have forwarded your email to his office.

Kind regards – Ethné

I have not received any more responses or follow ups from this email.

August 6th, 2019

I received an address for my assessment appointment!

Good Morning Greg,

Please find correspondence attached which refers to your upcoming appointment with Dr Ken Suddaby on 04 September 2019.

Please allow between 2-3 hours for the duration of this appointment.

Please bring along two forms of identification to the appointment, with one of those being a photo ID.

With Kind Regards,

Vijayata

Responded

Confirmed, thank you.