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11. Exposure to a traumatic event -
If the element which concerns the traumatic event, is not satisfied, it may be because either the claims assessor:
- is not satisfied that an event occurred which meets the description found in DSM-IV/DSM-5 or the SOP; or
- found that the event occurred but the claimant was not present; or
- wishes to verify that the claimed stressor did occur and that the claimant was present at the time because there is contradictory evidence; or
- found that the event occurred and that the claimant was present, but that the claimant's response to the event did not meet the requirements of the SOP.
To be satisfied on these points the claims assessor may need to take one or more of the following courses of action:
- request more detailed information about the traumatic event from the claimant/representative; or
- request additional service documents or historical information (eg inquiry reports, personnel files, psychological records, official histories, nominal rolls, etc); or
- request a Research Report into the claimed traumatic event.
Care should be taken if pursuing this avenue for reasonable hypothesis cases as there is no onus of proof on either a claimant (or Commission) under the MRCA or VEA. Unless a researcher's report convinces that the stressor event relied on by the claimant did not happen as stated, it is unlikely that the delegate would be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the facts relied on by the claimant are not true.
In making this decision the delegate has to consider all the material before them, including the claimant's evidence, the research report, the service documents, the psychiatric history and any other relevant evidence. The delegate also has to consider whether or nor the facts relied on by the claimant are implausible, internally consistent or supported by other evidence.
An absence of positive evidence cannot, of itself, be interpreted as proof that the alleged stressor did not happen, unless the nature of the alleged stressor and the characteristics of the record keeping system are such that the type of event relied on as constituting the stressor would have been recorded as a matter of certainty. Service records are invaluable in assessing whether or not an alleged stressor event might have occurred.