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File number: 2016/2250

Tribunal: Senior Member Theodore Tavoularis

The Veterans’ Review Board affirmed a decision to refuse a claim by the applicant for his Post-traumatic Stress Disorder to be accepted as service related. On 4 December 2017, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal affirmed the decision.

The applicant, Mr Stevens, served in the Royal Australian Navy from 1968 to 1972 during which time he made four visits to Vietnamese waters on the HMAS Sydney to deliver troops, supplies and equipment to Vung Tau harbour within the war zone of the Vietnam conflict. Mr Stevens had previously rendered service on board HMAS Melbourne and witnessed the horrific collision of HMAS Melbourne and USS Frank E Evans. However, this incident was not within the Applicant’s period of eligible (operational) service for the purposes of the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986. Mr Stevens claimed the trips to Vung Tao were service-related in that they aggravated the PTSD he developed as a result of witnessing the Melbourne-Evans collision and therefore that he should be entitled to a pension. 

It was not in dispute that Mr Stevens suffered from PTSD, which was diagnosed by two doctors. The Tribunal accepted, based on the doctors’ evidence that the condition originated from the Melbourne-Evans collision. The chief issue before the Tribunal was whether or not the PTSD was ‘war caused’ as defined by section 9 of the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986. Thus, consideration was limited to the applicant’s operational service, namely his four trips into Vietnamese waters. Furthermore, the Tribunal had to be satisfied that Mr Stevens’ claim that his PTSD was aggravated during these trips reasonably fit with the Statement of Principles concerning Posttraumatic Stress Disorder No. 82 of 2014 (the SoP). The applicant argued that this was indeed the case as he experienced a category 1A stressor before the clinical onset of posttraumatic stress disorder which fits under paragraph 6(a) of the SOP.

A category 1A stressor is defined in paragraph 9 of the SoP. This includes severe traumatic events such as a life-threatening event or being threatened with a weapon. The applicant claimed he had experienced a category 1A stressor during his trips to Vung Tau and provided examples of enemy divers being found near the ship, scare charges being deployed, dangerous duties he undertook as an LCM Bowman, and discussions he had with returning military personnel.

The Tribunal found that none of these examples reasonably pointed to the applicant having experienced any category 1A stressors during his operational service and before the onset of his PTSD. In coming to this decision the Tribunal noted the applicant did not point to any specific event that was supported by independent evidence and that one of the doctors who assessed the applicant did not consider the experiences could be classified as category 1A.

Therefore, as required by section 120(1) of the Act, the Tribunal was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the PTSD was not war caused and therefore no pension was suitable.