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Statement from Liz Cosson AM CSC – Secretary – Department of Veterans’ Affairs – Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) medical teams measure

Friday 8 March, 2019


On 14 February 2019, the Treatment Benefits (Special Access) Bill 2019 was introduced into Parliament (access here (provide link)).

On 16 December 2018, the Treasurer, the Hon Josh Frydenberg MP, and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the Hon Darren Chester MP, announced that members of the SEATO surgical-medical teams who were employed in Vietnam between 1964 and 1972 would become eligible for the DVA Gold Card (Gold Card).

This measure will provide a DVA Gold Card for members of the Civilian Surgical Medical Teams who were employed by the then Department of External Affairs to provide aid and training in Vietnamese civilian hospitals in Vietnam between October 1964 and December 1972 under a South East Asia Treaty Organisation Aid Program.

These teams played a vital role during the conflict through providing much needed medical assistance and training and treating thousands of Vietnamese civilian casualties. They provided this support at a time when Vietnamese medical facilities and capability had dramatically diminished as a result of the war.

The measure recognises that, while the medical teams were not under the direct command and control of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) during the Vietnam War, they were exposed to hazards and dangers as a result of working in a conflict zone for the Australian Government. While their experiences did not parallel those of ADF members, SEATO members were not untouched by their experiences.

To date, these civilians have not had the same access to treatment and counselling for a range of mental-health conditions that ADF veterans have had.

If this legislation passes, from 1 July 2019 all eligible members of the teams will have access to a DVA health card (Gold Card), providing treatment for all medical conditions, whether or not they were caused by their service.

This measure would benefit an estimated 200 surviving members of the teams. DVA is currently working on how best to implement the measure and will provide more information to clients closer to the start date of 1 July 2019.

 

Click here to view the Bill.

 

Below are some FAQ’s regarding the new Bill.

 

What changes are being made in this measure?

From 1 July 2019, eligible members of the civilian surgical and medical teams (CSMT)—employed by the then Department of External Affairs, as part of a Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) aid program during the Vietnam War—will be provided with additional health support in the form of a Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) Gold Card.

 

When will the changes take effect?

The measure, dependent on the passing of legislation, will come into effect from 1 July 2019.

 

Who will this impact?

Approximately 240 doctors, 210 nurses and a small number of administrative and technical staff were employed on the teams during the Vietnam War. We estimate that there are approximately 200 members who are eligible.

 

What will be the impact of this change?

The measure will provide eligible CSMT members with treatment for all injuries or illnesses, not just those that may have arisen because of their employment in Vietnam, through a Gold Card from 1 July 2019.

Services available through this card include general practitioners, psychiatrists, psychologists, medication, public or private hospital treatment and counselling.

CSMT members will also be eligible for the pharmaceutical supplement and payment for reasonable travel costs related to receiving medical treatment.

 

Does this measure provide compensation?

No, compensation payments for conditions relating to CSMT service will be available through Comcare. However, a person will not be eligible to receive treatment from both Comcare and DVA.

The measure does not provide CSMT members with eligibility for the service pension or eligibility for qualifying service under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986.

 

Why was the implementation date brought forward?

The original start date of 2020 announced in December 2018 was predicated on the need for DVA to develop new eligibility criteria, processes, procedures and IT systems for a group of people outside the usual DVA client group.

Members of the CSM teams raised a number of concerns about their failing health, and advocacy was received from them and a number of associations requesting the measure be brought forward.

The Government has listened to these concerns and has brought the measure forward as a result.

 


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