General Practice Direction

This General Practice Direction outlines the core vision, values and principles concerning the operations of the Veterans’ Review Board (VRB). It establishes a consistent, national approach that:

  • ensures procedural justice for veterans, serving members and their families who seek VRB review; and 
  • aims to resolve applications for review efficiently and informally using a range of Dispute Resolution (DR) options; and
  • achieves the objective set out in the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 to provide a mechanism of review that is accessible, fair, just, economical, informal and quick.

Procedural justice at the VRB 

The VRB understands that veterans and serving members may at times face significant stress, including during the process of claiming an entitlement or compensation. The VRB recognises that its processes need to be mindful and responsive to the needs of its users, by ensuring that they:

  • have opportunities to tell the VRB (through its people) about matters they believe to be important in their application for review and their own (or family member’s) service in the Australian Defence Force; 
  • feel that the VRB’s people have listened to them and that they have been put at the front and centre of the review process; 
  • are treated fairly, courteously and respectfully by the VRB’s people; and 
  • feel the VRB provides them with an accurate, timely, and specialised service to veterans, serving members and their families. 

Application of this practice direction 

The procedures in this practice direction apply to all applications for review, unless varied by a specific direction of the Principal Member, National Registrar, VRB Member or Conference Registrar.

A veteran’s time at the VRB 

Everyone coming to the VRB is able to access the VRB’s Dispute Resolution program.  In most cases the following listing pathway will apply:

  • First Dispute Resolution event (outreach); 
  • Second Dispute Resolution event (such as a resumed outreach, conference, case appraisal or neutral evaluation, as appropriate and if required); and
  • Final hearing (if required). 

This pathway may be varied for certain cases assessed as: (1) urgent; (2) requiring application of the VRB’s Vulnerable Veteran Protocol; and/or (3) appropriate for referral to the VRB’s Online Dispute Resolution.

First dispute resolution event 

One month (or sooner as agreed) after the veteran, serving member or family member (the applicant) has responded to the ‘applicant’s advice’ notice  issued by the VRB, the VRB’s people will contact the applicant (and/or their representative) to arrange a time for an initial outreach, which can take place by phone, online, or face-to-face at a VRB location.  

An outreach is where the applicant (and/or their representative) can talk to a VRB Conference Registrar or Member about their application.  It is a private, confidential session and the VRB Conference Registrar or Member will not disclose anything an applicant or representative has said during an outreach without their consent. 

During the outreach the applicant (and/or their representative) is invited to explain why they are unhappy with the decision under review.  The applicant is also invited to say what they think is important about their application and their own (or family member’s) service in the Australian Defence Force.

The VRB Conference Registrar or Member will explain the review process, help to identify the issues and discuss the next best steps to resolve the application.  This might mean requiring the parties to obtain further evidence, and may require more than one outreach.  
In some cases, the VRB Conference Registrar or Member may recommend that the application be resolved by a favourable decision ‘on the papers’, that is, without needing any further participation in the process.

If the application can be resolved in this way, the applicant (and their representative) will be sent a copy of the draft decision. If the applicant is happy with the draft decision the VRB will make a final decision, a copy of which will be sent to the applicant (and their representative) and the other party; - either the Repatriation Commission or the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (the Commission).

Conferences 

Where the VRB considers it would be helpful to talk to the Commission, the VRB may refer an application for a conference.  Unlike an outreach, a conference involves two parties.  It is facilitated by a VRB Member who will assist the parties to see if they can reach an agreement, and if so; the member will prepare and approve a document reflecting the terms of the agreement.  

Case appraisals and Neutral Evaluations

Where the VRB considers it would be helpful to obtain a written opinion about an application, the VRB may refer an application for a Case Appraisal or a Neutral Evaluation.  A VRB Member, selected on the basis of their specialist knowledge of the subject matter, will assess the evidence and provide a non-binding written opinion on the prospects of the case and any further evidence or barriers relevant to the application’s resolution. 

Fast Track Hearings 

To avoid undue delay, at any point in the review process the VRB may decide that an application should be referred for a Fast Track Hearing. This will usually occur following the prior participation of the applicant (and/or representative) in Dispute Resolution, and will only occur with the consent of the applicant.

Directions Hearings

Where the VRB decides that an application would benefit from directions from a VRB member about the next steps in the review process, the VRB may refer the application for a directions hearing. A directions hearing can take place online, in-person or by phone.  

VRB Hearings 

If an application cannot be resolved by Dispute Resolution, it may proceed to a hearing.  Generally, this will take place one month (or sooner as agreed) after the final Dispute Resolution event. The VRB’s people will contact the applicant (and/or their representative) to arrange a time that suits.   

The VRB will not agree to a request to delay listing an application for a hearing unless there is good reason to do so, and it is fair in the circumstances.  Seeking to delay a hearing to obtain more material will often not be considered reasonable, on the basis that the proper time to gather evidence is during the Dispute Resolution process.   
 
We encourage veterans, serving members or family members to take an active part in their hearings, which can occur online, face-to-face or by phone. Attending a hearing may seem daunting but a VRB hearing is much less formal than a court and we have a number of ways of making the experience as comfortable as possible; centred on the needs of the veteran whose application is being heard.

VRB hearings generally take less than one hour, during which applicants have the opportunity to tell their stories and make submissions to the panel. Hearings are held in private and they are not open to the public. A representative from the Commission does not generally attend VRB hearings. Likewise, witnesses do not usually appear in person at VRB hearings. If a witness is to give evidence, the panel may ask to speak to the witness online or by phone.

In addition to a representative, support people (such as a family member or friend) are welcome to attend.

VRB hearings are conducted by a panel of three members made up of a Services Member, a Senior Member, and a Member. VRB Members are independent and are not public servants employed by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. All of the VRB’s Services Members (and many other of its members) are current or former defence personnel and are familiar with many practices, customs, history and language associated with military service. Senior Members have legal experience and are tasked with ensuring a fair hearing. Some members also have health professional expertise and are familiar with medical terminology and health related matters.

What happens at a VRB hearing? 

The VRB Members will do their best to make an applicant feel at ease during the hearing. One of the VRB Members will greet the applicant (and/or representative) and any others attending the hearing in the reception area of the VRB’s registry and invite them into the hearing room.

During the hearing, the VRB Members will ask the applicant (and/or their representative) to explain why they are unhappy with the decision under review, and will also ask relevant questions.
It is important that an applicant leaves a VRB hearing feeling that they have told the VRB Members everything they wanted to say about their application and their (or their family member’s) service in the Australian Defence Force.  

The panel of VRB Members will listen to the applicant and any witness who takes part in the hearing. The panel will then analyse all the evidence, both oral and written, and consider the submissions that are made.

Where possible, the panel will make its decision on the day of the hearing and tell the applicant (and/or representative) the reasons for their decision. The VRB’s people will also provide a written copy of the decision, which is sent to the applicant, their representative and the Commission. VRB decisions and reasons are not published or made public. They are only provided to the applicant, the representative and the Commission. 

If a decision cannot be made on the day of the hearing, it will be delivered as soon as reasonably practicable and usually within 14 days.  

In the case of someone covered by the VRB’s Vulnerable Veteran Protocol, careful consideration will be given as to the most appropriate way of informing them of the decision.  This may require the assistance and involvement of the veteran’s treating health professional and/or representative.

Procedural Justice at the VRB 

This General Practice Direction seeks to enshrine the principles of Procedural Justice, and place the veteran at the core of the VRB review process. It reflects the VRB’s commitment to finalise cases where possible using Dispute Resolution, and to continue to innovate and respond to the needs of the veterans who come before it.  

Further information

For further information on how reviews are conducted at the VRB, please refer to the VRB’s website