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Tribunal: Deputy President P Britten-Jones and Member R Ormston

The applicant served in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) from 1968 to 1973. This included two periods of operational service in Vietnam as a diver on HMAS Swan and HMAS Derwent. In March 1970, his ‘diving buddy’ died during a night diving exercise in Manila harbour. The applicant was greatly affected by his friend’s tragic death and claimed he later developed anxiety disorder and alcohol use disorder.

His application for a pension by way of compensation under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 (the Act) was first submitted in 2000 citing ‘anxiety’ as his impairment. This was reviewed and refused by the Repatriation Commission (RC) and was later appealed at the Veterans’ Appeals Board (VAB) where the pension was again refused. The applicant applied again in 2007 and 2009 citing ‘emotional behaviour’ and ‘emotional / psychological condition’ and was refused through the same channels as his first claim. In 2017, the applicant applied citing ‘anxiety disorder, alcohol abuse and nicotine abuse’ and was refused again at the RC and VAB.

The applicant appealed for a review to the AAT in 2019. He claimed that, in 1970 when serving on the HMAS Derwent in the Vung Tau Harbour in Vietnam, he suffered a mental breakdown because he ‘felt like a sitting duck and feared diving in the fast flowing and dark waters’.

The Tribunal considered evidence from the RC that HMAS Derwent had not sailed to Vung Tau Harbour and if accepted, this would mean a liability does not arise in any event under the relevant provisions in the Act.

The AAT concluded that the applicant did not have operational service in Vietnam at the time specified. It also noted that, although there was medical evidence to support his claims, he did not experience any of the factors that must exist as a minimum before a connection can be made between his conditions and the circumstances of his relevant service.

The AAT affirmed the decision under review.


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