“The fight is only lost when you give up fighting”… We recently received these words of encouragement from a Vietnam veteran involved in a 20 year campaign for recognition under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act (VEA).
For 124 civilian nurses who volunteered to serve in the surgical and medical teams sent to Vietnam, it is now 15 long years since the campaign began but there is certainly no thought of giving up; it is simply not an option. Convenor of the Civilian Nurses Group, Dot Angell first brought the matter to government attention in 1998 following contact with a number of civilian (SEATO) nurses who were experiencing serious health problems. One such nurse applied and was denied assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs who determined that although her condition was consistent with the guidelines providing eligibility for other Vietnam veterans, she was not eligible due to a technicality which could be rectified by an amendment to the Act. Successive governments have shamefully refused to recognise their service in Vietnam and as a result they are unable to claim for medical assistance and financial support under the Veterans Entitlements Act, like other Vietnam veterans. This is despite an independent review by Justice Mohr in 2000 who recommended in their favour because the teams were “integrated with the Australian Defence Force and performed like functions”.
Approximately 450 civilian nurses, doctors, radiographers and laboratory staff served in Vietnam between 1964 and 1972. Many of the nurses (and others) have suffered and continue to suffer from the same war related illnesses and conditions as the soldiers including autoimmune disorders, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, various cancers, posttraumatic stress and other anxiety disorders. The nurses have had to curtail their working hours and nursing careers due to multiple health problems, and have had minimal superannuation savings to fall back on after leaving employment.
As a result of recent media coverage highlighting the constant struggle with poor health and financial survival, the plight of the SEATO teams has led to some high profile support from various veterans groups and notable figures including General Peter Cosgrove (himself a Vietnam veteran), adding his voice to the campaign.
Sadly, it is no longer possible to support the nurses who have since died from their illnesses and time is running out for others. As we move closer towards the next federal election the ANF is calling on the political parties, once again, to remedy this disgraceful situation and ensure the nurses have access to the medical and financial support and assistance they deserve under the Veterans’ Entitlements
Act. It’s about time!
Federal Industrial Officer