George Hawkins Speech to RSA Conference
George Hawkins Speech to RSA Conference
Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. It's nearly a year since I took over the Veterans' Affairs portfolio and I am very pleased to be here to address my first RSA Conference.
Before I begin, I'd like to acknowledge your President David Cox and executive, Peter Phillips, the National President of the Returned and Services League of Australia, and indeed all delegates of the Royal New Zealand Returned Services Association, partners and everyone here with us this afternoon.
I'd also like to take the opportunity to congratulate your National Vice-President, Colin Topp.
As many of you no doubt know, Colin was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the recent Queens Birthday honours.
It's an award that is very well deserved, so congratulations again, Colin.
I'd like to start by setting the scene somewhat by presenting a snap shot of where we're at within Veterans Affairs.
I'd like to touch on a number of issues in this speech, including
· How the new case management service is going
· J Force
· Consumer Price Index Adjustments
· The Patriotic and Canteen Funds Board
Later I'd like also to discuss new initiatives as well.
It is now about a year since the CASE MANAGEMENT service was introduced for veterans and their families.
As you will be aware, this is a service that is available to any veteran.
It is available irrespective of whether a veteran receives a War Disablement Pension.
The service aims for an holistic approach to managing the needs of veterans and their families.
It operates by dedicated case managers co-ordinating the delivery of services to veterans by OTHER agencies.
Where necessary, Veterans' Affairs will provide funding for any additional services.
After just one year, I am pleased to note that the Case Management Service currently assists well over 500 veterans and their families.
I think it's fair to say it's been successful in improving the quality of life of a good number of our older veterans.
It's been a positive move because it has allowed them to keep independent and remain in their own home, if that is what they desire.
This is a unique service, and only available to the veteran community. J Force
With the benefit of modern science, it is hardly surprising that J Force veterans have become increasingly concerned as to whether their service in Japan may have affected their health.
A number of such veterans have approached me with concerns about their health and also that of their children.
I am pleased to report that the War Pensions Medical Trust Fund will fund a statistical survey of the 12,000 men and women who served in Japan between 1946 and 1948.
I am hopeful this will enable assessment of the impact of their service not only on their health but that of their children.
Consumer Price Index Adjustments
I am often asked by veterans when their War Disablement Pension will increase.
The government increases both the War Disablement Pension and Veterans' Pensions each year in line with the Consumers Price Index, with the aim of keeping those payments aligned with inflation.
The latest increase was two months ago on April 1 when the payments went up by 2.7 per cent.
For a veteran on a 100 percent War Disablement Pension, the increase was $4.23 to $159.76.
Other allowances adjusted in line with the Consumers Price Index include Attendant's, clothing, travel allowances and Funeral Grants.
Patriotic and Canteen Funds Board Late last year the government declined a $5.25m request from the Patriotic and Canteen Funds Board to help with the devolution of war veterans' homes owned by the Board. Few people seemed to realize that the government did not have an ownership interest in the homes. Despite that, the government did come up with $1.35m for the Board to ensure that the 300 plus residents in the homes had some certainty of the future.
We need to keep in mind that in addition to these veterans, a large number of other veterans are in residential care provided by other agencies around the country.
Initiatives such as phasing out asset testing for long stay geriatric care will benefit ALL veterans in residential care. Commemorations
I was pleased to grant funding to 22 members of 3rd Division veterans to attend the recent commemorations in New Caledonia.
Twelve Korean veterans also attended the national reunion of Korean veterans in Brisbane.
Funding has also been provided to individual veterans invited to various countries to attend significant commemorations of events or units of which they were a part.
Closer to home, I am pleased to note that funding assistance has also been provided to organise New Zealand-based events and national reunions.
I have also been able to provide funding to support community projects. These include:
· the restoration of the wall in the Waikaraka Cemetery,
· the Hokianga Arch of Remembrance,
· a new plaque for the Lyttelton cenotaph,
· a memorial wall at the Cromwell Services Cemetery
· a project to install a memorial in the Manukau Memorial Gardens.
Gold Card You will no doubt have noted the Prime Minister's message yesterday concerning a so-called veterans' 'Gold Card', similar to the Australian Gold Card.
I have to say when it comes to instituting such a card, it is difficult to compare the two countries.
One of the major differences lies in the two health systems each country operates.
Australia has a universal health insurance scheme, whereas ours is a publicly funded operation.
What's in place in Australia does not necessarily fit our system.
In New Zealand, $263.4 million is currently spent each year on veterans' health care via the public health system.
In addition, a further $11 million goes on fully subsidised health care for veterans who have a War Disablement Pension.
You will be aware the government committed an additional $400m towards health in this year's budget.
Of that, $165m went to primary health care, to increase over the next three years.
The introduction of Primary Health Organisations will also reduce the cost of care for some veterans.
This Government has committed $535m more in 2005/06 to fund the phasing out of asset testing for long stay geriatric care.
That's also got to be good news for many veterans.
The veteran's health card, as proposed by the RNZRSA, cannot be sustained in the long term.
However, veterans eligible for New Zealand Superannuation can receive a Veteran's Pension if they receive a War Disablement Pension of 70 per cent.
This means automatic entitlement to a Community Services Card, without asset testing.
We are investigating the threshold for Veteran's Pension and how Community Services Card entitlements can maximize the health care veterans' receive.
The government is introducing Primary Health Organisations as a way of providing primary health care.
They will cover a broad range of out-of-hospital services.
The recent Budget provided extra funding for Primary Health Organisations.
The priorities of these Organisations will include reducing the costs for senior people and others with high health needs.
When it comes to new initiatives, the Government is committed to ensuring Veterans' services are reviewed and improved.
For instance, several veterans have raised concerns over the hearing aids they receive from War Pensions.
I have asked Veterans' Affairs to look at the way hearing aids are allocated.
If you have concerns in this area, I'd ask you to contact Veterans' Affairs.
In this year's budget an additional $500,000 was allocated to maintain and develop Services Cemeteries.
This will allow for an increase in maintenance grants paid to Cemetery authorities.
It will also allow for more cemetery capital works to be carried out.
Your National Executive has raised concern that recipients of gallantry awards can't receive the gallantry award allowance unless they are also receiving a War Disablement Pension.
While I will look at this, I must say that this is likely to require an amendment to the War Pensions Act 1954 and as you are no doubt aware, law changes always take time.
Entitlement to coverage under the War Pensions Act 1954 remains under constant review, as does eligibility for interment in Services Cemeteries.
I am delighted to announce that I have extended the eligibility for War Pensions cover and burial entitlement in Services Cemeteries for New Zealand Defence Force personnel who served in Angola.
The current coverage for Angola ceased in March 1993 with the withdrawal of the UN monitors.
Coverage was not reinstated when the UN re-entered Angola to oversee the implementation of the 1995 peace agreement.
The War Pensions Act 1954 also allows cover for civilians who have served in Wars and Emergencies.
It is my intention to extend this cover to members of the New Zealand civilian surgical team who served in Vietnam between 1963 and 1975.
I have also extended eligibility to burial in a Services Cemetery to those who served as part of OPERATION MIDFORD.
This Operation monitored the cease-fire in Rhodesia between 23 December 1979 and 5 March 1980, and there will be many here who remember it well.
On 15 February 1980, the Honourable Frank Gill , then Minister of Defence said..
... there was no doubt that New Zealand troops often operated in areas where defoliants had previously been used..
In 1983, the Right Honourable David Thomson, the Minister of Defence of the day, effectively acknowledged that Agent Orange was used in Vietnam when he said.
..the fact is that the work done so far indicates that there is no causal relationship between Agent Orange and birth defects in the children of those men.
The Prime Minister and I have long held the view that soldiers who served in Vietnam fought in areas where defoliants had been used.
This Government is determined to hear Vietnam Veterans' story and to bring out into the open all the information around this issue.
Vietnam Veterans' want closure - to use a word currently much used - and I believe by having an open and frank approach to the issue, this Government will see that happen. My colleague, the Minister of Defence, has recently asked the Defence Force to research the use of herbicides in South Vietnam.
The aim is to formally determine whether New Zealand units operated in areas subject to aerial spraying of herbicides.
It also seeks to establish if there were any occasions where our personnel were directly sprayed.
The research will be undertaken by examining · Commander's diaries, · After Action Reports · and other archival material, including reports from New Zealand and other nations' armed forces.
Material already examined indicates that New Zealand units did operate in an area that had been defoliated and that some of our personnel were exposed to spraying on at least one occasion. I repeat, material already examined indicates that New Zealand units did operate in an area that had been defoliated and that some of our personnel were exposed to spraying on at least one occasion. The Parliamentary Health Select Committee will also be looking at this topic.
This Government has always been willing to recognise the fact that New Zealand personnel were exposed to such spraying in Vietnam.
We commissioned the McLeod Report so that we could consider the health needs and concerns of children of Vietnam Veterans' and veterans' of Operation Grapple.
This Report was not a definitive paper about the use of defoliants, but rather its emphasis was on the needs of these children.
The Report made some recommendations.
This Government thought it important to do even more than what was recommended.
The Government has offered assistance to these children.
This assistance specifically includes assistance if there is any sign of adrenal gland cancer or acute myeloid leukaemia.
It is also important to note that New Zealand is the only country to provide support for the children of nuclear test veterans.
This Government has always recognised the importance of our veterans' and their children's health needs.
And as an overall comparison, NZ veterans can claim for ANY disability they believe to be attributable to their service in Vietnam.
In Australia and the United States veterans can only claim for specified disabilities, and even then only at a specified rate of disability.
Finally, I want to add that I consider it an honour to be here today, and to be the Minister of Veterans' Affairs.
I am proud of the many initiatives that this Government has introduced that supports the needs of Veterans.
I look forward to having more discussions with you about how this Government and veterans' can work together. THANK YOU.