Wagga's ex-servicemen battle healthcare rebate rejection

A number of physicians across the Riverina are refusing to see military residents as patients, according to Wagga’s contemporary veterans. 

Former Air Force Warrant Officer (first class) Richard Salcole said the problem stemmed from a lack of understanding. 

As a result, he said many of the region’s ex-servicemen and women were facing road blocks when seeking help for both mental and physical injuries. 

To combat this, the RSL Sub-Branch vice-president is calling for greater awareness and tolerance across the health services sector. 

Mr Salcole said he had experienced the issue first-hand, when a psychologist had turned him away after he presented his “white card” as payment – a special health card provided by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA). 

He said the card was issued for specific injuries and entitled residents to visit a doctor, pharmacy or mental health practitioner at Defence’s expense. 

Despite fees for allied health and medical services being higher than Medicare, Mr Salcole said the card was not widely recognised and sometimes rejected. 

“You go through a lot to come to the realisation you need help,” Mr Salcole said. “Then when you have to turn around and start looking elsewhere, it’s frustrating.”

Mr Salcole said the rejection was adding unnecessary angst to an already vulnerable residents. 

“It has created stress, which in some cases has exacerbated the problems vets may be facing,” Mr Salcole said. “It can push them to the point of meltdown.”

Mr Salcole said it was hard for wider community to understand the challenges serving and non-serving veterans faced; the stress, anxiety, depression and PTSD that no one else could see.

“There’s a real lack of understanding about issues affecting them,” he said. “The inherent requirements of military life put pressures on us that civilians don’t understand.”

Mr Salcole said it created a larger distrust in the support DVA provided, when practitioners wouldn’t deal with them.

Riverina MP and Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Michael McCormack said he was keen to hear first-hand, the issues former-military men and women were experiencing across the region. 

He said he planned to meet with as many ex-service organisations as possible over the coming weeks and months. 

“I am ... aware of individual instances of health care providers not accepting DVA arrangements,” Mr McCormack said.

“These do not suggest this is a wide-spread issue having an impact on veterans’ and war widows’ ability to access clinically necessary treatment.”

He said overall, the number of psychiatrists providing services to DVA clients has increased over time.

He said in the event a practitioner does not accept DVA patients or there are no providers locally available, DVA could provide assistance to identify another practitioner, provide transport assistance, or consider a request from the practitioner to fund services at a cost above the DVA fee.