| Siobhain Ryan | September 29, 2009
Article from: The Australian
SOME families would be left financially better off if their loved ones died in an industrial accident than in armed service for their country.
Australia Defence Association executive director Neil James said yesterday that soldiers traded away many of their compensation rights in court when they chose to put their lives on the line in the defence force.
In doing so, they risked leaving themselves or their dependents out of pocket if killed or injured.
"Under our system of law, you can't sue the government for wartime death and injury. You can, of course, sue in civil situations," Mr James said.
He was speaking amid continued controversy over the treatment of pregnant war widow Breeanna Till and other service personnel under Canberra's military compensation system.
More than 50 submissions have been lodged with the ongoing government review of the payment regime, most critical of the gaps and inconsistencies in the way claimants are treated.
At least three different acts govern the delivery of military compensation, with the latest - the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 - lauded by the previous government as a vast improvement on its predecessors.
Law firm Slater and Gordon warned that the latest bid to provide adequate compensation for service personnel had not lived up to its promise.
"It has been our experience that benefits under the (Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Scheme) do not 'at least match' those provided under the Veterans Entitlement Act and the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. In many (but not all) cases, benefits and rights have been substantially eroded or abolished," it said in its submission.
Instead, soldiers had been denied access to rehabiltiation and compensation, including medical treatment and incapacity payments, which would otherwise have been granted.
Concerns over legislative flaws had been compounded by problems of administration.
RSL national president Ken Doolan called for a "one-stop shop" to help families of servicemen hit by tragedy. He said the RSL supported better co-operation between government agencies and families.
"The bridge between when people are in service and out of service and these sorts of things is, unfortunately, a little too bureaucratic and we would certainly encourage a one-stop shop."
War Widows' Guild of Australia (NSW) chief executive Patricia Campbell said the laws needed reviewing to take account of the needs of younger dependants of servicemen killed or seriously injured on duty.
For example, young widows such as Mrs Till, with children, could face extra housing costs that some of their older peers did not.