Urgent changes needed to better support veterans - report

Remembrance poppy and medals on a veteran at the 50th commemoration of the Vietnam War held at Pukeahu National War Memorial, Wellington, in August. - Photo: RNZ/Kate Pereyra Garcia

The government accepts urgent changes are needed to better support Defence Force veterans and their families.

An independent review, published this week by Auckland University Professor Ron Paterson, is critical of the Veterans' Support Act, making 64 recommendations.

The Act came into force completely two years ago and Professor Paterson received about 200 submissions and hearing from about 700 people at public meetings, before he came up with his findings.

Professor Paterson said the Act didn't put veterans, or their families, first.

"The veterans themselves are having to jump through a whole number of hoops... it's not a very user-friendly system," he said.

Professor Paterson said there were significant delays in receiving support because of inadequate levels of resourcing.

"They (veterans) feel they are being sent from pillar-to-post... they're also having long waiting times sometimes for decisions... some of whom are old, or some of whom are younger veterans, but who are suffering from PTSI - post-traumatic stress injury... and they actually get more traumatised by the process they have to go through," he said.

Professor Paterson said the Act also needed to clearly state who could be classed as a veteran.

"I've said to government that there needs to be a rethink about that... that's something that has to be a national conversation," he said.

Veterans Minister Ron Mark accepted all the recommendations in the review.

Mr Mark said his preferred definition of a veteran covered anyone from the day they signed up with Defence and he was already pushing to make this change. This would bring New Zealand in line with Australia and the United States.

"I've had preliminary conversations within inside the government," he said, "and there's a high degree of sympathy around that issue."

He said he would put a case to Cabinet for more funding at Veterans' Affairs.

"We need to identify how much we need in extra resources and then I'll have to take that through in a Cabinet paper and see if we can get that factored into the next Budget."

Mr Mark said Veterans' Affairs was already making changes to how it operated.

He said he wanted to have a solid plan in place to address all the issues raised in the review by the end of the year.

"If we can get through that, then come the next Budget, I'll guess we'll be pushing pretty hard," he said.