Gradually, I started to notice that I had passed through some kind of Alice's looking glass into a surreal world where normal reality was inverted. Yes, we were still compensating battle-scarred old diggers genuinely sick or traumatized by war - and often making them worse in the process. But more and more - in fact, 90% of the time - vast amounts of taxpayers' money were being handed out for the results of lifestyle choices and old age. We were also treating the deaths of 80-year-olds as war-caused, and pretending that men were mentally incapacitated as the result of their war service, even when they had never come into contact with the enemy.
Mostly, the claimants were not even being deliberately dishonest; the government and the courts had produced a legal fiction that such things were the outcome of war, and now claimants were honestly believing the fiction. But even I was amazed when I did my sums, and discovered that the total spending on inappropriate pensions amounted to two billion dollars a year. Bit by bit, the determination arose that when I left the department, I would let the general public know what was going wrong.
What has been the response to the book?
Well, one character decided to attack the messenger. I was amused to read on a website that I was the front man for some sort of sinister government conspiracy, and that many people in the department were treating the book as their bible. I should be so lucky! In fact, I had consulted no-one before writing it, and would certainly have caught flak if upper management had known of my plans.
However, within a few weeks of the book's launch, my publisher received an e-mail:
It supports a position I have held for a number of years which actually caused me to walk out in hopeless frustration on my Voluntary Pension Officer job. . . . I just want Malcolm to know that us blokes involved in some of this stuff are well aware of what's going on. I back him all the way and I do not think he is a disgruntled former employee. I believe he sees things the way I do.He was apparently not the only one because, a short while later, I was contacted by an officer from another branch of the department. He had read the book after a friend of his, a Vietnam veteran, kept urging him to do so, and raving about how true to life it was.
Then, a doctor attached to the military reserve for 30 years contacted me to tell how he had phoned the Deputy Commission of the department in his state to discuss what he considered a fraudulent psychiatric claim. The DC then recommended the book. This confirms my suspicion that the powers that be are fully aware of the book, and the anomalies and abuses it details, but prefer not to make waves by responding to it.
Who should read it?
- Any public spirited citizen who wants to know how his/her money is being misused, and how the law and policy can produce a bureaucratic monster. Indeed, it is essential that the general public know what is going on, if any reforms are to be initiated.
- Members of the armed service, past and present, their families, doctors, and representatives. Let's be realistic: if you have regular dealings with the Department of Veterans' Affairs, and you see a book subtitled, An insider's report on Veterans' Affairs, you would be foolish not to read it. You may love the message or hate it, but at least it will give you a detailed insight into how the system works - and that can only be an advantage.
- Officers of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. I don't claim to be the only expert in the field, but if you have been employed for only 10 or 20 years, you probably don't know how the system you were plunged into actually came about. Also, unless you have served in all three levels of decision making, you probably don't know how the other levels function. And if you are an executive, you have probably never worked at the coal face.
Nor is it anti-Veterans' Affairs. I have the highest respect for my former employer and workmates.