Meet the compensation advocates changing the lives of veterans

How compensation advocates Kerrie Lees and Bill Forsbey support veterans and their families with claims advocacy.

By Chris Sheedy

At a glance:

  • Kerrie Lees is a Level 3 Compensation Advocate from Tamworth RSL sub-Branch.
  • She says the DVA claims process isn’t always easy – but done right, it need only be done once.
  • Bill Forsbey is a Level 4 Compensation Advocate from the City of Sydney RSL sub-Branch and Terrigal Wamberal RSL sub-Branch.
  • He says anyone looking to make a claim should seek the advice of a trained advocate – their help is invaluable.

RSL NSW sub-Branches are made up of a community of helpers passionate about supporting veterans and their families.

Kerrie Lees was an Army medic for 24 years before transitioning; she later became a Level 3 Compensation Advocate. Bill Forsbey is a Level 4 Compensation Advocate who joined RSL NSW in 2006.

Both are making a tangible difference in the lives of their clients and have shared their experiences working with veterans in an advocacy role.

Kerrie Lees, Tamworth RSL sub-Branch

A couple of years ago, before I started in this role, I saw several of my friends transition out of Defence without any idea about which entitlements they might be able to access. I didn’t want to be in that situation, so I made it my business to know everything I possibly could prior to transition.

This is vitally important. It’s not trivial. It doesn’t matter which service you’re from, when you transition out you lose a part of your identity. You struggle with that, and it just makes things more difficult when you then have to worry about injuries and medical issues that will cost you money, the endless forms you have to fill in just to go to the chiropractor, and so on.

It makes the process so much easier if someone can explain exactly what is required. It takes the pressure off, so the veteran doesn’t have to spend time worrying about the little things.

I’ve come to know a lot of veterans personally through this work. One veteran and his partner came to me and they were extremely confused about the claims process. He wanted to claim for an online course but didn’t know if he could do so. I helped him through that and organised some psychological help for his mental health.

As he grew stronger, his claims started to be accepted. I’ve seen his life change over the time he’s been with me. He has bought a new house, had a baby and is getting treatment for his injuries. He’s doing really well now.

It’s not a quick process, but that’s okay. It shouldn’t be. It is a journey for both the advocate and the veteran. But if it’s done right the first time, it only has to be done once.

I was a medic for 26 years in the Army. I enjoy this work. I find it really satisfying when I work with someone who’s struggling, help them out and see the positive effects of what I do. At the end of the day, I can see in their eyes that everything’s going to be okay.

Some of my clients tell me that I have changed their lives, that I was an important part of their journeys to recovery. That’s amazing for me. To know I’ve been able to offer them some peace of mind is really satisfying.

Bill Forsbey, the City of Sydney RSL sub-Branch and Terrigal Wamberal RSL sub-Branch

I provide advice and direction to help veterans make solid claims with the DVA.

Of course, I also advise people if I don’t think a claim can be accepted. We don’t want to waste the client’s time or the DVA’s time by lodging claims that are not going to succeed. But if I believe a claim is viable, I provide service all the way through to the appeal stage. If I believe the DVA has made an incorrect decision, I will follow through to the degree allowed.

I joined RSL NSW in 2006 and worked as Treasurer at the Gosford RSL sub-Branch. One of the gentlemen at that sub-Branch was a Level 4 Advocate, and I was interested in what he did. I thought it looked like very satisfying work. And so, I worked under his direction.

I’ve now reached Level 4 myself. Along the way, I’ve had a lot of very good experiences and some very disappointing experiences – people passing away before their claim was accepted, for example.

On the more satisfying side, I once worked with a veteran who had brain cancer, or ‘malignant neoplasm of the brain’, as it’s known in the DVA’s jargon. He was having great difficulty getting the DVA to accept, particularly under the Veterans Entitlement Act, what caused the cancer.

After conversations with his specialists and through research, we were able to lodge a claim for him. We established a case that there was a contribution from his time in Defence. That was accepted by the DVA. He passed away shortly after we had the decision, but he knew his wife would be looked after with a substantial payment from the DVA. Those types of results make me realise that what I’m doing is worthwhile.

The change I’d like to see is in what veterans are told by the DVA. The DVA should tell veterans that if they’re going to make claims, it’s in their interest to seek the advice of a trained advocate. I don’t care if it’s a lawyer or a Compensation Advocate – as long as it’s someone who has the necessary training to provide good advice in relation to DVA matters.

At the moment, a lot of the work I get in regards to appeals is from people who have lodged their own claims. They used social media for advice, and most of that information is rubbish. So I’d like to see people advised to get the advice of an advocate. It’s free, and if they decide against it, that’s fine. But at least they’ve been given the best advice up front.

A version of this article was published in the December issue of Reveille magazine.

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