Wednesday, 17 March 2021
Statements by Senators
Department of Veterans' Affairs
Okay, I've had it up to here with DVA—I've absolutely had it! I don't know how the veterans out there are able to take it, because I'm not far from breaking point myself. As for the guys working in my office, how they don't have Comcare claims in yet is beyond me. I'm at the point where I don't know what else to do. You can keep fighting and fighting, and the Department of Veterans' Affairs will still not admit that it has a massive problem. It is completely in chaos.
There are veterans out there who are dying before they can get help from the department that's supposed to be looking after them. There are veterans who are being cut out of and off help, and they have nowhere else to go. We're beyond crisis point, absolutely beyond crisis point. To be honest, I'm scared, I'm angry and I'm frustrated. But, underneath it all, I am terribly afraid. I don't like to show it, and it doesn't come naturally to me, but I am frightened. I'm frightened for my mate Brad Fewson. I have told you guys in here before about Brad. Brad served 10 years in the Australian Army, including in East Timor. He's a 41-year-old national hero. He has put his body on the line for our country and saved the lives and limbs of people and children who couldn't protect themselves. But his time in service has broken his body. The ADF broke his body. Repetitive shocks to his head have given him brain damage and Parkinson's. His brain no longer communicates effectively with his heart. His body will suddenly slump over; he gets feverish and he fatigues easily. Two or three times a day he has what he calls an 'episode' where he freezes and cannot speak or move. God love his wife, Laura, and their young boys, who have to resuscitate him frequently, because delays in his treatment have made his brain injuries worse. All of this has left him with Parkinson's disease, early-onset dementia, respiratory failure and autonomic dysfunction. His condition is terminal.
Not only that, his mental health is absolutely busted. He's the kind of guy who stops 40 metres behind a car at Macca's drive-through because he's worried it will blow up. And he's not the only veteran who does that; like so many other veterans, he carries the shadow of war around with him everywhere he goes. Laura keeps him going; she's his rock. She gives him the strength he needs to carry on. She does everything she can to keep him here. But his situation is getting so bad and there's only so much she can do. My heart breaks for both of them and their children. I can't tell you enough just how worried I am about what's about to happen to Mr Fewson. I don't want to have to attend this man's coronial inquest. I've seen too many veterans die, and I can't watch him go as well—I just can't; it's way too many. I'm begging—I'm at begging point—and if you need me to get down on my hands and knees, God, I will. Department of Veterans' Affairs: please help this man! Please help him! You know what needs to be done and I know what needs to be done. We all know what works; we just need the people in leadership to have the will and courage to get it done. It's all there on paper for you.
Brad was one of the first veterans in Australia to get hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and it absolutely transformed him. It keeps him alive and gives him the oxygen he needs to stay alive. He went from being completely out of it back to being himself again. He can talk again, he can write again and he can speak words. He can say to his wife, 'I love you.' Speaking those words, 'I love you,' that's what the therapy gave him the strength to do. But the Department of Veterans' Affairs are not going to pay for him to get that therapy anymore. They won't pay for him to get to Melbourne so that he can have the therapy he needs to take his next breath of oxygen. They won't pay for his accommodation while he gets the therapy he needs. They've basically cut Brad off, waiting for him to die, and all because some paper pusher in Canberra says he doesn't have a referral for the therapy he needs to keep him alive.
You've had this for 16 months, Department of Veterans' Affairs. It's sitting in his medical file. Get yourselves an appointment at Specsavers and get it sorted! Wake up, because without this treatment you know and I know he is going to die and we're all going to a coronial inquest, and, by God, I will not hold back on your department. I'll bring the minister in. I'll bring the secretary in. I'll bring the MO in. You're all coming in. I've got all the evidence. What you have done to this man and his family is beyond disgusting! It is incompetent. It's absolutely incompetent, and you're killing him. You're killing him.
It's the typical delay, deny, die, isn't it? Nothing goes away. The brand of the department is delay, deny, die. This is what you are doing to our veterans. This is what you are doing. And it's not just the veterans who suffer, it's their families too—and by God are they suffering! Brad's wife Laura is all of about 28 kilograms. That is where she is at. The stress is killing her. She is his full-time carer because you can't even get his carers right. You can't even get 24-hour carers right for him, you are so incompetent! She's on her own and she's exhausted. How many times do I need to tell you people that? How many times do I need to tell the minister? How many times do I need to tell the hierarchy of the Department of Veterans' Affairs? When is one of you going to do something? When he dies? When it's absolutely too late? I can tell you now that she can't hold on for much longer, and you cannot expect her to.
Both of these people—Brad and Laura—are extremely strong, but their strength will only go so far before there is nothing left. The full weight of a lying and uncaring department that covers things up, because that is all you do, cover up your incompetence, is a heavy burden to bear, and it's too much for a sick man to carry on his shoulders—a dying man at that. Getting the department to sit up and take notice is taking everything I've got. I'm exhausted, they're exhausted and there are other veterans out there who are exhausted from dealing with the incompetent bureaucracy in your department. You are finished. You are gone. You might as well just shut the door. It's over! How many more veterans are you going to kill? How many more?
These people are human beings. They are not numbers. They are not numbers; they are human beings. Where are you, Minister Chester? Where are you, Minister? Six weeks ago I sat down with you for 45 minutes and went through Brad Fewson's issues and what was going on. And what have you done? What have you done, Darren? Absolutely nothing! You've got a dying man there, big boy, fix it!
I've spoken to Liz Cosson. She's absolutely a waste of space. In desperation, I even called the cut-rate commissioner this morning, because I'm at my wit's end. I'm done! I have been working on this for 15 or 16 months and nothing has changed. Their kids are going through hell, and God knows how Brad keeps breathing every morning. This is the state our veterans are in. I hear it every day. In my office, Karen works on veteran cases every single day. There have been 1,200 of them come through our books since I have been back in parliament. They have come for help.
The government and the department can pat themselves on the back all they like, but I and my team know what's going on on the ground, and so does everyone else out there. You are not fit for purpose. You are finished. For goodness sake, stop mucking around with their lives and call a royal commission. It is enough. God help you if you do not help Brad and his family in the next 24 hours, because I swear to God it will be the biggest coronial inquest you'll ever see. I'll be there on the stand. I'll be there with all your cover-ups, your materials and your lies on what you have done to this man and his family. God help you!