On a day the nation stops to remember the past and present servicemen and women who have fought and died in war, the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) is calling on Australia’s major political parties and key Independent MPs to officially recognise and compensate the non-military nurses who served in the Vietnam War.
ANF Federal Secretary, Lee Thomas, said today Australian nurses had supported our troops in conflicts zones across the world for hundreds of years, tending to the sick and wounded.
“We should never forget the courage of the country’s military and civilian nurses,” Ms Thomas said.
“These brave nurses are still serving in war zones today in places like Afghanistan, supporting Australia’s war efforts and the ANF and our members commend them on their commitment to nursing.”
Ms Thomas said one special group of nurses are the civilian nurses, known as SEATO nurses, who served in Vietnam from 1964 to 1972.
“They tended to shocking injuries, ranging from mine blasts and grenades, bullet wounds and horrific burns from napalm bombings,” she explained.
“The SEATO nurses were sent by the Australian Government to serve in civilian surgical and medical teams in South Vietnam during the war and spent much of their time working in appalling conditions, with a lack of proper medical supplies.
“This was a frightening experience for them, but in the true ANZAC spirit, it never lessened their courage and resolve to answer their call of duty and treat the sick and the injured.
“When they returned home, they suffered the same physical and mental conditions to other Vietnam veterans, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, auto immune disease, non-Hodgkins lymphoma and cancers.”
Ms Thomas said the SEATO nurses have continued to be denied compensation and medical treatment under the Veteran Entitlements Act (VEA) because of a bureaucratic loophole.
“Because they weren’t technically under the command of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in Vietnam as civilians, they have been denied access to any benefits and entitlements under the VEA,” she said.
“This is nothing short of a national disgrace.”
Ms Thomas said the plight of the SEATO nurses would be included in the ANF’s range of significant issues to be addressed as part of its health platform for the September election.
She said the ANF and its members were also encouraged by recent media comments by retired General Peter Cosgrove supporting the doctors and civilian nurses who served in the Vietnam War.
“For more than 15 years the ANF has campaigned for recognition of SEATO nurses to be provided with compensation and treatment for the complex physical and mental conditions they suffered after returning home,” Ms Thomas said.
“We will continue the fight but now is the time for Prime Minister Gillard, Coalition leader Tony Abbott and the key Independent MPs to make the right decision, end this national disgrace and properly recognise SEATO nurses, just like their military counterparts and we hope they take notice of General Cosgrove’s comments.”
The ANF, with over 225,000 members, is the professional and industrial voice for nurses, midwives and assistants in nursing in Australia.
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