Civilian nurses call for Vietnam War entitlements

Thursday 27th September, 2012

Australian civilian nurses who served in the Vietnam War are calling for the same medical care and entitlements as members of the military who served in the conflict.

The nurses, who volunteered to go to Vietnam to care for local people as part of a South East Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO) project, say they've suffered elevated rates of cancer, post traumatic stress disorder and other conditions similar to those endured by military veterans.

Dot Angell, one of more than 450 civilian health professionals who served, says the government has failed to give nurses the same entitlements as the military.

"We're not going to go away, our numbers are thinning and now thinning quite fast," Ms Angel told the ABC.

"But we have to keep on at government to make them realise that they cannot call for volunteers without recognising that as a government they have a duty of care to look after those people who volunteer to assist their country."

David Brownbill, who joined the surgical team in Vietnam as a young registrar, says a large number of the nurses have been very badly damaged physically and emotionally.

"It's had an enormously bad effect, it really does seem that successive governments of both persuasions have acted quite reprehensibly on this subject, it's unforgivable," he said.

The Australian Government says there is a provision for civilians to be covered by the Veterans Entitlements Act, but it is used sparingly.

It says any SEATO nurses diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or any other condition which they believe developed as a result of their employment in Vietnam are able to submit a claim for workers compensation.

A government review made in 2000 recommended that nurses should qualify for repatriation benefits.

Members of the civilian surgical teams have received the Australian Active Service Medal.