Politics

Boost for veterans on the cards

A shake-up of the support offered to Kiwi veterans may be on the way, with Defence Minister Ron Mark saying he is open to widening eligibility rules for who can qualify.

Mark’s comments came after the release of a report criticising “complex and cumbersome” processes for veterans and their families seeking Government support.

Auckland University law professor Ron Paterson’s independent review of the Veterans’ Support Act, as required by a clause in the 2014 legislation, was released on Wednesday.

Paterson said the legislation, intended to create a modern regime for supporting veterans, “does not put veterans first, nor is it family-friendly”.

Veterans, their families and organisations supporting them all found the act “complex and cumbersome”.

“An almost universal view was that the act was unnecessarily complex, difficult to understand and interpret, and hard to navigate,” Paterson said.

Unnecessary bureaucratic processes for receiving support led to long delays, with some veterans waiting more than six months for decisions.

“The issue of who is considered an eligible veteran is a fundamental one that deserves re-examination.”

Paterson said Veterans’ Affairs, a unit within the NZ Defence Force, was “under-staffed and under-resourced” and could benefit from having a ring-fenced budget.

Paterson’s report also recommended the Government consider changing some of the criteria for the veteran’s pension, such as increasing the payment or lowering the eligibility age below 65.

While the issue of eligibility for veterans’ support was outside the scope of his review, Paterson said the veteran community was “deeply dissatisfied” about who qualified for entitlements.

“The issue of who is considered an eligible veteran is a fundamental one that deserves re-examination.”

“It’s a bit of a revelation to most New Zealanders that you could have a military person standing out on parade at Anzac Day, wearing their medals, but they’re not considered to be a veteran.”

Speaking to Newsroom, Mark said he was open to all of Paterson’s recommendations.

“What this report does is it reminds us of the social contract that exists between the Crown, the people of New Zealand and the sons and daughters who put on the uniform and swear allegiance and serve our country and put themselves in harm’s way.”

It raised legitimate issues about unnecessarily bureaucratic processes, some of which were already being addressed by Veterans’ Affairs, he said.

Mark acknowledged the issue of funding for Veterans’ Affairs also needed consideration if it was to provide the necessary support.

“If we’re going to deliver a more holistic service, more of a wraparound service that takes into consideration the needs of the family...then these things are going to cost more.”

Mark said the definition of a veteran needed to be considered, with some personnel who did not deploy to a “duly recognised theatre” still placed at risk in the course of their work.

“We’ve got deployments all over the world, some of which are considered to be benign - that doesn’t mean you can’t get killed...

“It’s a bit of a revelation to most New Zealanders that you could have a military person standing out on parade at Anzac Day, wearing their medals, but they’re not considered to be a veteran.”

The weight of submissions from veterans sent a clear message about their concerns, he said.

Veterans’ Affairs staff did “a bloody good job” with the resources they had, but were “under the pump” and could benefit from more support.

RSA national president BJ Clark said the organisation was impressed with both the report and Mark’s willingness to consider all the recommendations.

Clark said he supported plans to develop a plain English version of the legislation, given it was difficult for some people to understand.

Veterans’ Affairs staff did “a bloody good job” with the resources they had, but were “under the pump” and could benefit from more support.

The question of who should qualify as veterans was “the million-dollar question”, Clark said, with the RSA encouraging younger service personnel to link up with the organisation in case they needed help in future.

“While they may not see themselves as needing assistance under the act at the moment, we know from experience that further down the track they may require support.”

One of the problems that Veterans’ Affairs faced was the difficulty in identifying and tracking the whereabouts of veterans, he said.

Mark said he had asked Veterans’ Affairs to report back to him on some of Paterson’s more complex recommendations by the end of the year.

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