Changes to veteran allied health referrals

17 December 2019

Under the new Veteran Treatment Cycle initiative, GPs referrals to allied health professional will only be valid for a ‘treatment cycle’ of up to 12 sessions or one year, whichever comes sooner. At the end of each cycle, the allied health provider must report back to the GP, who will decide if further treatment is required, and the veteran will need to go back to the GP to get a new referral.

Labor has serious concerns that these changes will actually reduce access to medical treatment and lead to poorer health outcomes for veterans.  

The new treatment cycle could mean an extra visit to the GP every few weeks for many veterans with chronic health conditions, and result in gaps and delays in treatment. Veterans will also be out of pocket from the cost of increased GP visits, and it will particularly disadvantage people living in rural and remote areas where GPs can be hard to access. It will create more red tape for veterans and doctors, and clog up our already stretched health system.

The changes are due to a $40 million cut by the Government to allied health care for veterans announced in the 2018-19 Budget, and since then, there has been widespread criticism of the measure from veterans, health professionals, experts and MPs.

Labor understands that veterans are rightly worried that the treatment cycle will place unnecessary burdens on them and that many ex-service organisations are opposed to it.

A range of allied health professional groups have also raised concerns about the impact of the changes on their patients, including physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

Moreover, the Government and its own MPs have admitted that there are serious problems with the Treatment Cycle Initiative.

In Senate Estimates hearings, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs has acknowledged that the changes will reduce access to allied health services. In addition, in their election promise to exempt some Totally and Permanently Incapacitated (TPI) veterans from the changes, the LNP stated that there would be a “positive impact on the community reducing the referral burden on TPI recipients”, admitting they will create an additional burden  for many veterans who have not been exempted.

Further, Liberal Senator and Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee Chair Eric Abetz has said the new system is an unnecessary burden for veterans and should be removed.

Labor welcomed the delay in the introduction to the changes after a backlash from veterans and health professionals. What this highlighted was there were serious problems with the transition to the new system, and that DVA had failed to consult properly with stakeholders.

However, Labor continues to hold grave concerns about the treatment cycle and we have called on the Government to listen to the views of veteran community and health professionals, and abandon this policy. At a minimum, the system should be more flexible and all veterans with high and complex needs should be exempted from these harsh changes.

Labor will monitor the Treatment Cycle Initiative closely to see how it impact on veterans, and we will continue to hold the Government to account over these changes. Our veterans deserve the best possible care and support.