13 February 2024
Gordon Legal has today announced it will investigate a potential class action against the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) for breach of confidence arising from the unauthorised disclosure of the medical information, personal information and contact details of up to 300,000 service men, women and their families.
The investigation comes after the DVA-led Medicines Advice and Therapeutics Education Services Program (MATES Program) was shut down following revelations that the program involved the mass disclosure over two decades of identifiable data to the University of South Australia.
The disclosed data included the medical histories of veterans and their family members, including their mental health diagnoses, pregnancy terminations, sexual health diagnoses, surgeries and alcohol and drug addiction issues. Their names, addresses and dates of birth were also disclosed.
Gordon Legal has also filed a representative complaint with the Information Commissioner on behalf of all those affected by the disclosures. Recently, the DVA conceded that it misled the Information Commissioner about the extent of the disclosed information in an earlier investigation of the MATES Program.
“What concerns me the most about all of this is the complete disregard by the DVA of the right of veterans to choose what happens with their own personal information. The DVA could have sought their informed consent at any time. Not once did it do this in the two decades that the MATES Program was in operation,” said Julie Anderson, OAM, veterans advocate, and wife of a Gulf War veteran.
“There are serious questions to be answered by the DVA regarding the manner in which it has handled the extremely sensitive personal information of those who have served in our armed forces and their families. We have spoken to many people who have been affected, and what has become apparent to us from those conversations is that this issue is having a significant and adverse impact on the veteran community.
This matter highlights the crucial need for government bodies to be held accountable for protecting Australians’ sensitive information. Our investigation will look at legal options to protect the privacy of veterans and their families and attempt to rectify these injustices. The investigation will also consider avenues for compensation,” said Seb O’Meara of Gordon Legal, the lawyer leading the investigation.
Gordon Legal urges any Australian veterans or their families to register here for further information: https://gordonlegal.com.au/dva.