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SEATO nurses forced to wait for DVA card unjustifyable, says ANMF

Photo: Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation
Twenty years after an application made by a Southeast Asian Treaty Organisation nurse for access to Veteran’s benefits was rejected by the Veterans’ Review Board, the Australian Government has recognised and awarded SEATO nurses a Department of Veterans’ Affairs Gold Card.

While the move is welcomed by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, the organisation says nurses should have access immediately rather than wait until 1 July 2020, as announced by the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and the Minister for Veterans Affairs Darren Chester.

“It is shameful and totally unjust that the nurses have been treated this way,” says ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler.

During the Vietnam War, about 240 doctors and 210 nurses worked in Vietnam under contract with the Department of External Affairs as part of Australia’s contribution to a SEATO aid program in South Vietnam between 1964 and 1972.
The program aimed to provide medical aid in Vietnamese civilian hospitals and training to local medical staff.

“They volunteered their services at the request of the Australian government, worked in appalling conditions in a war zone, and during that time were exposed to the traumas of war, horrific injuries, the constant fear of attack and chemical agents used by the allies. 

“When it became obvious many years later that most of the nurses were suffering from the same illnesses and health conditions as Vietnam veterans, successive governments refused to recognise their service and provide access to the same support and medical services received by other veterans.”

Ms Butler says previous justification that medical teams were not under the command of the Australian Defence Force was a technicality that government has always had the authority to resolve. 

“How is it acceptable that nurses are refused access to assistance because, administratively the teams were established under the then Department of External Affairs and not Defence?”

In 2000, an independent review into service anomalies chaired by Justice Mohr, recommended that the teams be deemed as performing qualifying service for repatriation benefits.

“The Mohr review recommended the teams be deemed as performing qualifying service for repatriation benefits.  Unlike many of the recommendations made by the review, the Government refused to implement the recommendations relating to recognition of the SEATO nurses.”

The ANMF has been involved in the campaign, lobbying for recognition of the SEATO nurses, since 1999. 

“The Gold Card will provide access to medical treatment for all their health care needs.”

However nurses will be forced to wait another 18 months before being able to use the card.

“This cant be justified, the necessary legislative changes will not be contentious and can be done before the next election. 

“Nurses cannot wait another 18 months, they have waited long enough. 

“Many have died already and the sad reality is that others may not be with us in July 2020.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.