Thank you, Chair and committee. It's a special feeling of privilege and pleasure to be talking with you here today. If you go around the world, as I'm sure you have done, to the Western Front and other places, you'll see memorials to our soldiers: Canadians, Australians, British, and New Zealanders all together. So we have not only a common historical link, but we have common bonds through the defence of our freedoms. As a consequence of that, we are wrestling with some of the same issues as we go forward into the future.
When you say you want to do your best and do better for the veterans you have who are still with you from the Second World War and Korea, that is exactly the same as our agreement here in New Zealand. When you are acknowledging that you as a country are creating veterans every day, and many of them are in uniform, and you're looking to provide a lifelong system of care for them, that is exactly the same as what we have here in New Zealand.
The New Zealand starting point, though, I think would be slightly different. Our war pension system is quite unique. There are no restrictions on the type or the number of disabilities that can be applied for. Veterans can make an application for any disability they believe to be attributable or aggravated by their service.
The decision-making in New Zealand in the war pension system works on the basis of the reverse onus of proof, which simply means that if service cannot be ruled out as a contributing factor, the pension is awarded. There are a number of conditions that people pick up as a consequence of the war that you can't identify; therefore, we cover them. Obviously if a person walks down the street today in civilian life and falls over and breaks their leg, they're treated as an ordinary civilian, but if they do have some consequences of service, we will award them a war pension.
The strength of the system—and I guess some would say its weakness—is that until about two or three years ago the New Zealand government did not recognize that our veterans in Vietnam had been in an area that was sprayed with Agent Orange, so there was no official acknowledgement that they were working in a toxic environment. Despite this, Veterans' Affairs awarded war settlement pensions to people who had been in Vietnam or Agent-Orange-related conditions. So on one hand we have one system saying this did not happen; yet on the other hand, because of the reverse onus of proof, people were awarded pensions and being taken care of. I think that in itself is one of the strengths of the system.
Once a war pension is awarded, it's not permanently fixed and it can be reviewed at any particular time. It could be that the condition the veteran has deteriorates. They can then go for a review, and if the pension is found to be inadequate, it can be increased. For veterans who are seriously disabled, there are applications for additional pensions to help support them. In New Zealand, a war disablement pension is a lifetime entitlement, and it's tax-free.
Once a veteran has been awarded a war disablement pension, they get fully funded health care for any disability that is accepted as being attributable or aggravated by service. The addition I would make to that is that in New Zealand we do have a public health system.
In general, nearly all the veterans care would be provided through the public health system. But there are areas where—for example, prescriptions and doctor's visits—the ordinary citizen is expected to make a partial payment. For a veteran in these situations, the state will pay the full cost of the doctor's visit, the medications, and so on. A backup is that for something that is attributable to war service, if a person cannot get their operation done within the public system within six months, we simply pay someone to do it for us through the private system.
While the philosophy of the system is suitable to us, we recognize that the current legislation needs to be overhauled and modernized, because the current war pension system focuses on disabilities. It focuses on loss of limbs and so on. It doesn't pick up what we're understanding better to be some of the consequences of warfare, such as PTSD. Although people do get treated for it, it's not specifically or generally dealt with as a condition that comes from events in a modern war theatre—for example, Agent Orange and other difficult-to-identify conditions.
So we want to modernize the legislation, and we want to see that the general things of a physical environment, which are not yet determined but which could impact on veterans in the future, are taken into account. The review is being undertaken by the New Zealand Law Commission, and I believe they have looked at the legislation and the framework in Canada. We're always up for stealing ideas. I guess we're no different from anybody else. When we find good ideas, we want to have them.
One of the other things we do, I think particularly well, here in New Zealand is to take care of our older veterans. The emphasis is on providing services to all the veterans to keep them in their homes as long as possible, and this is done by providing government-funded assistance to support the veterans in their own homes. The program is run through Veterans' Affairs by a case management system. The case manager works with a variety of providers to put the services in place. I don't know if you have it there in Canada, but there are a series of small owner-operated businesses run throughout New Zealand such as “Hire a Hubby”, short for “Hire a Husband”, and if you can't get something done, you can ring them up and they'll come around and fix the window, fix the door, or fix this or that, and you simply pay them for the service. There are other providers similar to that.
To give you a case in point, if we have a veteran who's struggling at home because the toilet is not working properly and other things aren't working properly, and they can't fix them, they may be forced through these small decaying problems in their house to go to a rest home. We will send someone around to fix those. We don't do this for our senior citizens, our superannuitants, but we do it for our veterans. And we work very closely, very often, with the veteran's spouse, who has been probably their best case manager and case worker and support person throughout their life.
I want to talk a little bit about the framework and care for our veterans. The primary reason for making these changes is that, like Canada, we're going to be facing quite a change in the overall profile of our veterans. We still have the last group of veterans in New Zealand with us, those from the Second World War. There was a surge with Korea. We have some from the Vietnam War, but after Vietnam, New Zealand had very few deployments. This changed in the 1990s, and New Zealand Defence Force personnel have been in a range of peacemaking and peacekeeping deployments around the globe. Currently, the breakout is that approximately 20% of our veterans are from the Second World War, and then the other large group are veterans who are still in uniform, who make up about 11% of the veterans population.
For New Zealand, the care of veterans is effectively in two places. The first is Veterans' Affairs, which was a relatively small organization or department that was between the Department of Social Welfare and the Ministry of Defence. Having it split was seen at the time as a good idea, because most of our social welfare and other payments are made through the Ministry of Social Development. Defence was there because the veterans obviously had long-time connections with Defence, and there were other arrangements that needed to be put in place.
We just reviewed Veterans' Affairs, and we had a clear choice between putting it with the Ministry of Social Development or going for Defence. In the end we have decided to put it with the Ministry of Defence, for a number of very key reasons. First is that for the foreseeable future, all future governments in a democracy will rely upon volunteers for their defence force. It's difficult to see a situation in the future in which we are going to be able to have mass conscription, as we saw in the First and Second World Wars. Therefore, if we are going to have young people volunteer, they will need to be convinced about the value of a career in defence, and a very critical part of that will be how the veterans are treated.
On the problem we had in looking at veterans and how we dealt with issues, I felt that the treatment we had provided to the veterans of the Vietnam War was very telling. The veterans from the Vietnam War came home. It was an unpopular war, and once they had left the gates of the military establishment and been demobilized and put into civilian uniforms, the military said that was the end of their responsibility. They then moved on and became the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Development for the payment of war pensions and war disablement pensions.
I felt that this shift created a problem for our veterans, because the case of the Vietnam veterans was that they were constantly arguing that they had been exposed to a toxic environment. They were critical of the case because they had simply been brought home to New Zealand by plane, changed out of their uniforms, put on a bus or a train, and sent home. There was no process of demobilization and no support for them after the Vietnam War. This created a long, lingering, and very bitter standoff between the Vietnam veterans and the New Zealand government.
I'm pleased to say that in the last few weeks we have had a welcome home ceremony for the Vietnam veterans. We put in place a package of supports for the Vietnam veterans in terms of a memorandum of understanding. The Chief of Defence Force Mateparae has offered the Vietnam veterans an unreserved apology for their treatment, and we have resolved that issue.
It seems to me that if you are going to make someone responsible for the veterans, you have a choice between the chief of defence force and the Ministry of Social Development. The veterans themselves who have been in uniform for a long time look to the military and always see themselves as members of the military. That's their natural home. So we have made Veterans' Affairs a unit within the defence establishment and conferred upon the chief of defence force a lifetime duty to care for our veterans.
Whatever happens to the person in service from the point when they are demobilized and leave the service for the rest of their life in the community will be linked to the defence force. This makes it very clear that over time we will have a different approach to the treatment of veterans than we have today. By strengthening the responsibility of the CDF force, we will have an improvement in the way these people, the serving personnel, immobilize from the military, because the CDF will realize that once they leave they will always be his responsibility. This will overcome quite a number of very serious problems I've seen, where the line between the military and the veteran is where things are disjointed. The information isn't collected properly or handed over properly. There are various problems in this area, and I think this will solve them. That's simply New Zealand's view of it.
I've talked about all of life, the problems we have to overcome, the transition from military to civilian life, and the promotion of well-being. In looking at a review of the War Pensions Act in the future, one of the key things I have asked the war commission to do is look at the issue of how we rehabilitate veterans in the community. One of the problems I see when I look at regimes other than our own is that very often we have under-emphasized the value of rehabilitation, and after leaving the military, veterans are unable to look after themselves and get work. They have become quite litigious in trying to get bigger war disablement pensions and crank themselves up the system. They do this because they are looking to get sufficient money to look after themselves.
I think we here in New Zealand have been weak in the area of rehabilitation, and this is one area where I want to see us strengthening ourselves. I've been very interested to read and hear of what you've been doing in Canada in the area of rehabilitation, and I would say that in my summation you are well ahead of the rest of us in this area. If what I have read and heard is correct, you are certainly ahead of us, you're certainly ahead of what I understand is the case in Britain, and certainly ahead of what I understand is the case in the United States and Australia. So we're looking at you to learn about rehabilitation and to improve on our own services to veterans.
To come back to the point I made earlier, in the future, our ability to recruit young men and women to the military will be on the basis of volunteers who join, and part of the decision-making will be greatly influenced by the way in which we treat veterans. If they see veterans in their communities not well looked after, this will greatly influence their decision and we will not get the quality of people we need for the military today. It's not a simple job any more; we need the very finest young men and women that we can recruit to be our soldiers for the future.