Department of Veterans Affairs admits to releasing medical information by mistake

THE Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) has admitted its error in releasing another man’s medical information to a Ballarat client.

John Skewes requested medical records via Freedom of Information relating to a claim his current mental health issues were caused by physical assaults and bullying at the RAAF Laverton base in the late 1960s.

However, as well as receiving his own records, he was given the medical details of another DVA client.

Mr Skewes said he was concerned he had been given someone else’s personal information.

“This is a not easy thing to just cover up. It’s much more serious than that,” he said.

DVA deputy head Shane Carmody admitted a mistake had been made, which he said was detected almost straight away via their quality assurance process.

“We knew the wrong material had gone out and that’s the truth of the matter,” Mr Carmody said. “We’re being upfront about it.”

But Mr Skewes said he believed he had alerted DVA to the issue instead.

Mr Carmody said DVA currently had 300,000 clients and was the second largest Australian government agency for FOI requests.

He said the matter would now be referred to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, who would advise on an appropriate course of action.

“When a mistake like this is made, we follow the guidance of the office of the commissioner as to notifying affected individuals ... we lost the ball and we were very clear about it. We knew we had made a breach of someone’s privacy.”

However, Mr Skewes said he had never been directly asked for the information back, but was instead asked to return a 10-page document referring to a specified doctor.

“They weren’t being honest with me. It would have been more helpful if they were,” Mr Skewes said. “They didn’t even call it medical information.”

Mr Skewes said he had also experienced two other instances of confidential information being mixed-up – including someone else’s criminal record being included on his file, which he believed had seriously damaged his claim process.

fiona.henderson@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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