Two very serious issues have come to light recently in a Family Court matter in Townsville.
In a matter before the court a wife in a dispute with her estranged husband, subpoenaed the psychologist’s records of her estranged husband’s new partner.
The new partner, a veteran with service in Iraq and a daughter of a Vietnam Veteran, has been referred to the psychologist by VVCS since 2008. In a moment of stress and distress triggered by the wife’s harassment and intimidation, including while on duty as a police officer, she had rung the Vet Help Line which resulted in a Welfare Check. The end result of this was the estranged wife, a police officer, obtained this confidential information from the Queensland Police Communication Centre. This raises serious concerns over the confidentiality of the Vet Help Line.
However, as well as that, there is the concern for all veterans that the estranged wife successfully subpoenaed the new partner’s confidential psych records from a psychologist appointed by VVCS using the information gained from the QPS Communication Centre. DVA and VVCS objected in writing to the subpoena but did not attend the hearing.
Any lawyer would be concerned with the validity of the Family Court Registrar’s decision to uphold the subpoena. The new partner was not a client of the psychologist, VVCS was. They referred the veteran and paid the psychologist for the service provided. Therefore, the subpoena should have been on VVCS, not the psychologist.
Even of more concern is the Pandora’s Box of confidentiality. VVCS holds itself out to both serving and ex-serving members and their families as the mental health service specifically for them, where all is confidential. This is now proven to not be the case. ESO’s have always been concerned about the confidentiality of veteran’s mental health issues to both DVA and the veteran’s current employer, whether that is Defence or any other. VVCS has always espoused the absolute confidentiality of the service.
It is alleged, that when the new partner complained in the hearing about her records being made available for anyone to read, she was told by the Registrar that “your file is just one of many, we have more files here than DVA”. He continued to say “you could be an axe murder but I would suggest that you have PTSD”. She and her partner felt that her objection was not heard as the Registrar was too enraged by that fact that DVA had failed to appear.
It is an absolute disgrace that this veteran was left to fight this matter alone. The legal department of DVA was aware and so was the Minister’s Office. They did nothing.
The precedent is now out there. Veteran’s psych records are fair game in the Family Court. VVCS confidential records are available to be subpoenaed in the Family Court. This veteran is not a criminal nor does she pose a threat to children. She has done nothing but commence a relationship. Apparently her mental health is now a pivotal issue in this Family Court matter.
The whole saga is disgraceful. Defence, DVA and VVCS must appeal that subpoena, and take urgent steps to safeguard the confidential mental health records of veterans AND the Vet Help Line.
Chris Mills RFD
Secretary, VVF Townsville Inc
11 November 2012
In relation to comments regarding the subpoena of VVCS records posted on our Facebook page today, the Department cannot comment on matters before the courts and comments related to court proceedings will be removed.
However, it is important that we make some general comments about access to VVCS records.
VVCS clients are advised at intake of the circumstances in which counselling records may need to be disclosed in accordance with the law.
Where a subpoena is validly served for the purpose of obtaining VVCS counselling records, there are a number of factors to be considered prior to the release of records to a court.
Importantly, the VVCS has always operated on a basis of confidentiality between the clients and its counsellors. Maintaining such confidentiality, so far as legally allowable, is essential to the integrity of the service.
However, in criminal matters or some matters involving children, VVCS materials may be provided to a relevant court. These matters are very infrequent.
In all other cases, the Department strongly resists the release of VVCS records.
Finally, any suggestion that VVCS records will be available to third party applicants under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) is not correct. VVCS records are exempt under FOI on the basis that their disclosure would be an unreasonable breach of personal privacy.