Speech to the 88th RSA National Council
Tue, 15 Jun 2004
Hon George Hawkins: Speech to the 88th RSA National Council
Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.
I was here yesterday when the Prime Minister opened the 88th National Council, and I understand my colleague, Defence Minister Mark Burton, will speak with you tomorrow.
Today however, it gives me great pleasure to discuss some of the events and changes that have occurred over the past year from my perspective as Veterans' Affairs Minister.
I'd like to begin however, by marking the retirement of RSA President David Cox.
David has been an impressive President and one who has served the needs of the RSA, both at individual members' level and as an organisation, well.
I note that David began his involvement with the RSA more than 40 years ago in Te Atatu in Auckland.
That's a long commitment in anyone's books, and I'd like to personally thank David for his years of service to the RSA.
One of the big issues we all face as we age is our health.
I know that access to health care is an on-going concern to many of you, and I am often asked about introducing a veteran's health card similar to the Australian Gold Card.
There are a number of areas to think through around this issue.
Top of the agenda is the fact that Australia's and New Zealand's health systems are very different.
Australia operates what's known as a universal health insurance scheme.
Over here, ours is publicly funded. It follows therefore, that suits Australia does not necessarily fit our system.
This Government's focus is on reducing the cost of health care for all New Zealanders.
We want to ensure that health services meet clinical need.
We very much recognise that veterans have special health needs.
That's why health care for war related disabilities are fully subsidised through the war pensions system.
As well, veterans can access additional help through the Veterans' Affairs case management system.
Veterans will also benefit from the initiatives currently being introduced through Primary Health Organisations.
Such initiatives include more funding to lower waiting times for orthopaedic surgery and an increase in the number of major hip and knee replacements.
As a result of Budget 2004 over the next four years the government plans to double the number of major hip and knee replacement operations done in the public health system.
To make sure health and social work professionals are aware veterans' have additional entitlements, Veterans' Affairs will shortly begin sending out information and reminders to GPs, District Health Boards, Social Work and other community organisations.
This is part of a programme to reach veterans not aligned to specific organisations, including RSAs, and who might therefore be unaware there are services they can access.
War Pensions Medical Care
New Zealand has by far the most generous war pensions system, in that veterans are able to make application for a War Disablement Pension for any conditions that they believe are attributable to, or aggravated by their service.
As well, there are no restrictions on the type or number of disabilities for which veterans can apply for pensions.
Kiwi veterans are entitled to fully-funded health care for any disabilities for which they have been granted a War Disablement Pension.
This includes GPs and specialist visits, prescription costs, and private hospital care if your case is urgent and public hospital care is not available.
It also covers treatment from various alternative providers, hearing aids and wheel chairs and equipment needed to overcome disability and to enhance your quality of life.
By contrast, the Australian system is a disability compensation scheme designed to compensate veterans for injuries or diseases that have been accepted as being caused or aggravated by war, defence or peacekeeping service.
The Australian War Disablement Pension system works on the basis of statements of principles that, on the balance of probabilities, there is a connection between injuries, diseases or death and eligible service.
These statements are used to decide whether a claim will be accepted.
Disabilities that are not included in the statements of principles are not automatically accepted.
A connection between service and disability based on medical evidence needs to be established before a new condition is accepted.
The percentage of pension paid is assessed according to degree of incapacity against a pre-set scale of compensation. Case Management
In the last year there's been a steady increase in the number of veterans being helped by the Veterans' Affairs case management service.
Currently, 1245 veterans, 94 veterans' families and 40 children of Vietnam and Operation Grapple veterans receive help in this way.
It's a unique service, and one only available to veterans.
It's free, co-ordinates all services veterans can access and aims to ensure they don't have to front up to a variety of agencies for assistance.
At the moment the largest group using the service are World War ll veterans.
Many have found it invaluable in helping them keep independent, and staying in their own home, if that is what they want.
For younger veterans, the service offers an holistic approach to their care, in both the short and long term.
Primary Health Organisations
I've already mentioned Primary Health Organisations, or PHOs.
The government is putting in place programmes to improve access to, and reduce the cost of, primary health care.
>From 1 July this year if you're 65 years or over and enrolled in a PHO, you will be eligible for low patient fees, regardless of your income level.
If you are under 65, but have chronic health problems, from 1 July this year you'll be able to access a programme called CARE PLUS.
This programme aims to improve the management and care of people with chronic conditions through PHOs.
If your GP is part of a PHO, then they should have automatically enrolled you.
If your GP is not part of a PHO, ask about the timeframe they have for becoming part of a PHO.
If you don't have a regular GP, ask your District Health Board for a list of PHOs and select one that meets your needs.
Recently, Veterans Affairs produced a free pamphlet VETERANS HEALTH CARE.
This provides information on PHOs, case management and war pensions medical care.
This will be distributed through the usual channels, such as RSAs, but you can also contact Veterans Affairs directly on their free 0800 number for a copy for yourself.
The War Disablement Pension and Veterans' Pensions, plus all associated allowances, are adjusted each year in line with the Consumers' Price Index to keep the payments in line with inflation.
The latest increase was on April 1, when the payments went up 1.55 percent.
Defence Personnel deployments
As you are aware, New Zealand Defence personnel are currently deployed overseas in countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Solomon Islands.
As well, our personnel are making a significant contribution in other areas such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Cambodia and the Sinai Desert.
Flooding and Defence Personnel
Closer to home, and wearing my Minister of Civil Defence hat, as you know earlier this year serious flooding hit New Zealand.
Areas including the central and lower North Island and the top of the South Island, were especially hard hit.
The Defence Force was there, with over 200 Defence Force personnel along with 40 vehicles and 3 Iroquois helicopters helping those affected.
I want to congratulate the leadership shown by the RSA in the assistance it gave to local communities during the flooding.
Given on-going concern over exposure to defoliants by troops in Vietnam, the government asked the Health Select committee to inquire into the health effects of Agent Orange.
The select committee has not as yet completed its report.
I am looking forward to receiving its recommendations and to seeing how we can resolve such issues facing Vietnam Veterans.
The Government was pleased to help 160 veterans attend the recent Monte Cassino commemoration, plus a further 52 veterans who travelled on a RNZAF aircraft to the event.
D-Day was also recognised, with the attendance of the Prime Minister, who was also accompanied by a number of veterans.
Funding has also been provided to individual veterans to attend commemorations of events or units of which they were a part.
Closer to home, I am also 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. For the financial year 2002 to 2003, these included:
· assistance with the restoration of the Akaroa War Memorial
· 'Lest We Forget' granite plaque for the new Diamond Harbour Services Cemetery
· funding to assist with the restoration of the memorial wall in the foyer of the Waitara Memorial Hall. Services Cemeteries
As I announced last year, government has made an extra $500,000 a year available for the maintenance and development of Services Cemeteries.
This has meant that the maintenance grant paid for the general up keep of cemeteries has been substantially increased, and enabled the completion of a large number of the deferred capital works.
Increased funding means a wide range of development projects that not funded in the past can now be undertaken. This extra funding enables Veterans' Affairs to better support the many volunteers that look after these cemeteries and ensures these special places are cared for in perpetuity. War Pensions
The number of applications for war pensions has doubled over the last two years, and it is pleasing to see so many veterans accessing their entitlements.
Hopefully, as communication about entitlements veterans can access spreads, these numbers will increase again.
This year, war pension coverage was put in place for New Zealand Defence Force personnel in Iraq and the Solomon's.
The current policy is to work proactively with the New Zealand Defence Force to put cover in place at the time of deployment.
Gambling Act 2003
The Gambling Act 2003 comes fully into force on 1 July 2004.
At that date, the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1977 will be repealed, more than 26 years after it came into force.
The Casino Control Act 1990 will also be repealed.
Gambling is a complex issue with the challenge to balance harm against benefits.
I believe that the Act achieves such a balance.
This is reflected in its four main objectives, which are:
· to control the growth of gambling
· to reduce the harm caused by gambling
· to ensure gambling raises funds for the community
· and to ensure community involvement in decisions about access to gambling.
The Act establishes a risk-based approach to gambling, including for instance recognising there is little risk associated with smaller community activities like raffles and housie.
So, from 1 July, RSAs can run this sort of fundraising without a licence, provided you stick to the rules.
Prize limits and game rules will be available on the Department of Internal Affairs' website and information packages will be sent to interested groups.
On the other hand, the Act focuses on gaming machines, because this is the area of most risk. Here there will be much tighter controls.
The Act says that the Department MUST REFUSE to license a society to operate gaming machines unless satisfied that :
· the applicant's purpose is to raise funds for authorised purposes
· the operation is financially viable
· and that the applicant will maximise authorised purposes and minimise the costs.
Those of you operating gaming machines, and I believe between that includes around 1,300 of the 22,646 gaming machines currently licensed, have been consulted on a number of aspects of the new regulatory regime.
I recently met representatives of the gambling sector, including your own Pat Herbert, and heard a wide range of views on some of the proposals put forward.
I would like to assure you that the matters you have raised will be adequately canvassed in any papers the Department puts to me.
Once again, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today and I wish your meeting every success.