Veterans' Review Board
Extract from the VRB Annual Report 1996-97, Brigadier W.D.
(Bill) Rolfe (Rtd), Principal Member
Objectives, Function and Powers
The VRB was established to implement the Government's decision
to adopt the recommendations of the Administrative Review Council
that a statutory review body be established to review on the
merits of the case primary decisions made by delegates of the
Repatriation Commission on claims for pension. To this end the
VRB aims to:
(a) finalise high numbers of applications for review;
(b) do so at a quality level that affords a high assurance that
review decisions are correct;
(c) complete all process stages subject to the VRB's control on a
timely basis; and
(d) undertake reviews in a manner that is efficient to resource
The VRB was established by the Repatriation Legislation
Amendment Act 1984 and began operations on 1 January 1985. It was
continued in existence by the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986,
which came into effect on 22 May 1986. Since then the VRB's
operations have been governed by the Veterans' Entitlements Act
1986 and its companion legislation, the Veterans' Entitlements
(Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Act 1986.
The VRB is a part of the governmental machinery for the
delivery of Repatriation benefits to veterans and their
dependants, the principal components of which are:
- the Department of Veterans' Affairs;
- the Repatriation Commission;
- the VRB; and
- the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
Although the VRB comes within the Minister for Veterans'
Affairs portfolio and for administrative purposes is included as
a sub-prograrn in the Department of Veterans' Affairs, it is an
independent statutory authority. The Minister has no statutory
powers of direction over the VRB.
The VRB's function is to review decisions of the Repatriation
Commission on such matters as:
- claims for the acceptance of injury or disease as
- claims for war widows'/widowers' pensions;
- assessment of the rate of pension paid for war/defence
caused incapacity; and
- claims for the grant of attendant allowance.
The powers of the VRB are set out in the Veterans'
Entitlements Act 1986.
Claims for the grant of pension or allowance, or applications
for increase in pension rate, are lodged with and investigated by
the Department of Veterans' Affairs. They are then decided by the
Repatriation Commission. In most cases, this decision is made by
an officer of the Department of Veterans' Affairs to whom the
Repatriation Commission has delegated its power of
In conducting a review of a decision, the VRB may, by section
139(3) of the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986, exercise all the
powers and discretions of the primary decision-maker to grant or
assess pension or allowance.
It may affirm, vary or set aside the decision under review
and, where appropriate, substitute its own decision.
Decisions of the VRB are, in turn, appealable to the
Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Appeals against decisions of the
AAT may be made, only on a question of law to the Federal Court
Decisions of the VRB must be made under and in accordance with
the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986.
Upon its establishment, the VRB adopted the aim of doing all
it could to ensure that those seeking a review, receive quickly
their proper entitlement under Repatriation law.
The VRB performs its adjudicative functions by the allocation
of members to the hearing of particular cases.
Membership of the VRB is in a number of categories - the
Principal Member, Senior Members (currently all of whom are
qualified in law), Services Members (selected from lists of
candidates submitted to the Minister by ex-service and related
organisations), and Members.
The Principal Member is responsible for the efficient
operation of the VRB and the arrangement of its business,
including its procedures and the constitution of its panels. .
The Principal Member cannot direct any member on the law or on
the decision to be made in a particular case.
For the purpose of conducting a review, a VRB panel is usually
- the Principal Member or a Senior Member, who presides;
- a Services Member; and
- a Member.
A quorum of two members may sit if one of the three members
who was to constitute the panel becomes unavailable. As a matter
of practice, every reasonable effort is made to replace an
unavailable member to avoid the need for the remaining two
members to sit as a quorum.
With the consent of the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, the
VRB may be constituted by one member sitting alone.
Depending on the number of cases available for hearing, panels
generally sit for most weeks of the year in each State capital.
As the need arises and subject to availability of resources,
panels also sit in various regional centres.
The VRB has no formal deputy structure interposed between the
Principal Member and the various categories of members. An
Advisory Council assists the Principal Member in the performance
of his statutory duties.
In performing its adjudicative functions, members of the VRB
are assisted by a number of administrative officers.
The VRB has its Principal Registry in Canberra and a Registry
in each State capital. The National Director is responsible to
the Principal Member for the direction and co-ordination of the
activities of the staff ]he National Director is assisted by two
Directors. One is responsible for the VRB's operations and the
other for the VRB's legal and information services. A Registrar
in each State is responsible to the National Director for the
administrative operations of the VRB in his or her State.
The Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 sets out the broad
procedural requirements to be followed by the VRB in dealing with
applications. In implementing these requirements, the VRB has
supplemented and built upon them with additional procedures
designed to meet the principles of natural justice and sound
In most cases, the procedures which actually govern the
processing of an application are quite straightforward. The
following paragraphs provide a brief outline in relation to the
review of decisions regarding disability or war widow'slwidower's
The parties to a review by the VRB are the applicant and the
Repatriation Commission. Each may be represented at the hearing,
but only by a person who does not have legal qualifications.
An application to the VRB has to be in writing and lodged with
the Department of Veterans' Affairs. An entitlement application
has to be received by the Department within 12 months of the
applicant's receipt of advice of the decision he or she wishes to
challenge. An assessment application (or an application for
review of a decision on a claim for attendant allowance) has to
be lodged within 3 months of receipt of the advice.
Within 6 weeks of receiving an application, the Department has
to provide the applicant with a report prepared in accordance
with section 137 of the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986. The
applicant then has 28 days, or such further period as he or she
may request, to provide the Department with written comments on
the report. At the end of that period the Department formally
transmits the relevant documents to the VRB. The documents
- the Departmental Report;
- any comments or further evidence submitted by the
applicant in response to the Departmental Report; and
- any further evidence obtained by the Department as a
result of the applicant's response.
The Commission can review its initial decision in the light of
the applicant's comments, or any further evidence submitted by
the applicant or obtained by the Department, and may delay the
transmission of the above documents to the VRB while a review is
conducted under section 3 1 of the Veterans' Entitlements Act
1986. On receiving these documents from the Department, the VRB,
in accordance with section 148 of the Veterans' Entitlements Act
1986, writes to the applicant and Commission requesting written
advice about whether they intend to be represented at the
hearing. In addition the applicant is asked whether he or she
- attend the hearing of the application;
- discuss the application with the VRB by telephone during
the hearing; or
- have the VRB deal with the application in his or her
Where neither party wishes to be represented at or participate
in a hearing ("in absentia" cases), the application is
normally placed before the VRB for a decision without further
correspondence with the parties. Such applications, where
available, are also listed under the system of Standby Cases in
substitution for hearings postponed on notice too short to enable
a hearing for another case to be arranged. Under subsection
148(4) of the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986, cases can also be
listed "in absentia" where an applicant fails to
respond to the VRB's request to advise whether the applicant
wishes to appear at the hearing.
Both parties are notified of the hearing where either wishes
to be represented or participate. A hearing is arranged as soon
as possible, except where a party is not ready to proceed or
requests a postponement.
The general practice is to list cases for hearing in the
chronological order in which they become available to list - that
is, when the applicant andlor advocate certify that they are
ready to proceed to hearing. This is done by the lodging with the
VRB of a "Certificate of Readiness for Hearing". Cases
are not listed for hearing in the chronological order in which
applications for review are lodged.
In the light of recommendations contained in the Veterans'
Entitlements Act Monitoring Committee Reports, the VRB commenced
an Administrative Screening process of applications in February
1990. The VRB decided to adopt the term "administrative
screening" instead of "call-over" as the term
"call-over" is easily confused with well-established
procedural operations in other jurisdictions.
The aims of Administrative Screening are to maximise the
productivity of the VRB by ensuring:
- effective administrative processing of applications;
- maximum listings before each panel; and
- that a maximum number of applications listed are ready
for final determination.
The achievement of these aims will be measured by:
(a) an increased finalisation rate of applications heard by
(b) administrative action leading to the dismissal of
applications that are not being actively pursued.
As stated previously, the VRB's procedures provide for cases
to be listed for hearing following the lodgement of a
"Certificate of Readiness for Hearing", by an applicant
or representative. The cases are usually listed for hearing in
the order in which certificates are received by the VRB. However,
as noted by the Monitoring Committee, "the late withdrawal
of cases, or late requests for adjournments or postponements,
often mean that substitution of another hearing is not
possible". This means that available hearing slots are
wasted. Administrative screening is therefore designed to monitor
at various intervals the progress and preparedness for hearing of
all cases with the VRB.
As part of the procedures to achieve effective case
management, Registrars have the following powers:
- Cases are examined by Registrars with a view to
clarifying the issues, ensuring jurisdiction and
standing, and checking sufficiency of information.
- At certain intervals, Registrars contact applicants or
their representatives, usually by telephone, to discuss
progress and the preparedness of their applications
with a view to listing for hearing.
- In certain circumstances, Registrars may recommend to
the Department that further investigations/information,
essential to the application being finalised but not
necessarily supportive to either party, be sought.
- While the "Certificate of Readiness for
Hearing" system still operates: applications may
be listed at the Registrar's direction in certain
- the Registrar can refer an application to a
Senior Member for Preliminary Review; and
- the Registrar can dismiss an application in
The VRB recognises that there may be circumstances in which
some cases should be afforded an urgent listing priority. An
early hearing may be arranged where medical certification
indicates that a delay in hearing may cause prejudice to an
applicant's mental or physical health or that deterioration in an
applicant's health over time may prejudice the effectiveness of a
later hearing, or where an applicant is in severe financial
distress which might be alleviated by a successful outcome to an
In these circumstances, and with co-operation between
applicants, advocates, the Repatriation Commission and the
Department of Veterans' Affairs, a hearing can be arranged at
very short notice.
The VRB is not bound by technicalities or the rules of
evidence. Hearings are informal and normally conducted in
private. The presiding member determines who may be present and,
if requested by the applicant, may permit a hearing to take place
in public. Although not usual, witnesses may be summoned and
evidence may be taken on oath or affirmation.
Apart from "in absentia" cases, all hearings are
recorded on audiotape to provide an accurate record of what is
said. Copies of these tapes are made available to the parties on
request, or the original tape recording may be listened to at the
Issues are decided according to the opinion of the majority of
members constituting the VRB panel. A copy of the decision and
reasons of the VRB is mailed to each party, the applicant's
representative and the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
The VRB decision may affirm, vary or set aside the decision
under review. If the decision is to set aside, the VRB must
substitute its own decision.
The VRB may adjourn the hearing of a review, either at the
request of the parties or of its own volition. Upon an
adjournment the VRB may also request the Secretary of the
Department of Veterans' Affairs to seek additional information,
reports or evidence for consideration by the VRB.
The applicant or Repatriation Commission may apply to the
Administrative Appeals Tribunal for a review of a VRB decision
affirming, varying or setting aside the decision under review.
Applications can also be made to the AAT for review of decisions
taken by the VRB pursuant to the dismissal legislation. From a
decision of the AAT, a party may appeal to the Federal Court of
Australia on a question of law. Under the Administrative
Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977, the Federal Court of
Australia may review any VRB decision on the basis that the VRB
has erred in law, on a ground set out in the Act.
The above paragraphs reflect the procedures followed in most
cases. In some cases, however, an application will raise
different considerations - for example, questions may arise as to
whether an application comes within the scope of VRB review as
set out in section 135 of the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986, or
whether there is some statutory bar in that Act on the VRB
reviewing the decision m question, or there may be information
provided to the VRB which may cause physical or mental detriment
to the applicant if directly disclosed. Procedures governing
these limited circumstances are set out in the VRB Procedure