There’s a lot going on in the veteran space at the moment. In mid-2017, during the term of the previous Government, the then Chief of Defence Force commissioned a review of the operation of the Veterans’ Support Act 2014. This was a legislative requirement as part of the introduction of the Act. Professor Ron Patterson was appointed as the independent reviewer. His report – Warrant of Fitness – an independent review of the Veterans’ Support Act 2014 was released on 23 May 2018 and highlighted dozens of area for improvement. In particular, he identified the lack of clarity as to what constituted a veteran.
Minister of Veterans’ Affairs, Ron Mark, subsequently appointed a range of new faces to the Veterans Advisory Board. Their main task is, according to his media release, to determine who should be considered a veteran. This work is scheduled for completion on 30 June 2019.
Meanwhile, things are also changing for veterans in Australia. On 27 October last year, a joint media release by the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Darren Chester, announced a new package of initiatives for veterans and their families. At the core of this is the Australian Government’s intention to develop an Australian Veterans’ Covenant that will be enacted in legislation so the nation can recognise the unique nature of military service and support veterans and their families. This follows the UK Govt’s work in this area and is something I have written about as a ‘must do’ for New Zealand.
There’s a lot of good stuff in the Aussie package, ranging from a revamped Veterans’ Card to money for a National Centre for Veterans Health plus accommodation for 40 vets and their families attached to a revamped rehabilitation centre in Sydney. There’s also an extra investment of $7.6 million for the Kookaburra Kids Defence Program to boost targeted support to children of ex-defence force members who are experiencing mental health issues due to their service.
Then there’s the eligibility criteria. It’s just one day if you’re in the regular force. No eligibility if you’re a reservist of 20+ years service (unless you do specified operations or are seriously hurt in training). A lapel badge for ‘Veterans’ and a separate one that says ‘Reserve’. This is a prime example of plucking defeat from the jaws of victory. It just reaffirms that reservists are considered second class citizens by the full-time officials who advised on this policy and the politicians who signed it off.
The NZ Defence Force has described, in multiple documents, the virtue of its Total Defence Workforce comprising full-time, part-time, civilian and uniformed personnel. Let’s hope the ‘Great Aussie Divide’ between its full-time and reserve elements is not replicated here when considering what constitutes a veteran. We need to focus on what all service personnel, past and present, have in common, rather than what separates us.
This was well summed up in a speech by Associate Defence Minister, Hon Heather Roy, to the 60th anniversary gathering of the NZ Compulsory Military Training and National Service Association in August 2009. In it, she stated:
“To serve your country is an honourable and unique undertaking. It does not matter whether your entry into the profession of arms is by the passing of a law, a ballot or a personal career choice. Neither does it matter whether your service is full-time, part-time; of long or short duration nor which service or unit you are employed in. What matters is that you served.”
New Zealand, and particularly its defence force and veteran community, is too small to be exclusive in any field. So, let’s learn from the Aussies. Spend more on veterans and their families. They’ve earned it. Reduce the bureaucracy around that support. Let’s develop an Armed Forces Covenant and get it into legislation and by all means have veteran’s cards and lapel badges. But when deciding who is a veteran, don’t be like the Aussies…be inclusive.
After all…you wouldn’t take them on at rugby without a reserve bench would you? And those guys on the bench are wearing the same jersey as the ones on the field.
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