Minister thanks veterans’ health Advisory Group

Veterans’ Affairs Minister Judith Collins has thanked a Ministerial Advisory Group on Veterans’ Health set up two years ago to advise the Government on veterans’ health issues.

The Advisory Group was established in April 2009 and funded for two years. Its term was extended in April 2011 for three months to 30 June.

The Group was tasked with providing advice to the Government on prostate and lung cancer among Vietnam veterans, providing advice on the establishment of a set of guidelines on the use of American Medical Association Guides in the war pensions context, the health implications for veterans who witnessed nuclear testing in the Pacific and hearing loss among veterans.

The Minister thanked the group, which included medical specialists in oncology, internal medicine, brain injury rehabilitation, medical law and ethics, for its work over the past two years.

“The Group’s input has been valuable in ensuring a consistent approach is taken when assessing the degree of disability from war-service related illnesses,” Ms Collins said.

Ms Collins said the Government is considering the most appropriate format for any future work on veterans’ health issues, in light of the recommendations of the Law Commission review of the War Pensions Act 1954.

“I intend to create a replacement group once consideration of the Law Commission’s recommendations is completed,” Ms Collins said.

Q & A

Why was the Advisory Group set up?

To ensure that decisions relating to specific veterans’ health issues are based on sound medical evidence and are in line with best practice overseas.

What was the Advisory Group asked to do?

Vietnam veterans

The group was asked to review whether the medical classification of conditions relating to exposure of herbicides by Vietnam veterans was appropriate. After reviewing the literature the Group concluded that the current classification was correct. New Zealand uses Institute of Medicine of the United States National Academy of Sciences (IOM) categories in assessing New Zealand veterans’ eligibility for War Disablement Pension claims for conditions related to Agent Orange. Minister Collins said she has accepted the Advisory Group’s advice that respiratory and prostate cancer should remain in the “limited or suggestive evidence of association” category. These diseases remain on the presumptive list of illnesses for which Vietnam veterans will be automatically accepted for a New Zealand War Disablement Pension for these conditions.

Guidelines for impairment

The Minister asked the Advisory Group to provide advice on the establishment of a set of guidelines on the use of the AMA guides in the war pensions context. The group recommended that Veterans Affairs New Zealand (VANZ) and ACC discuss working together, particularly in the training of assessors. Work has begun on adopting the AMA Guide and VANZ has had discussions with ACC over the training of VANZ staff.

Nuclear test veterans

The Advisory Group was asked to assess the research undertaken by Massey University on Operation Grapple. The Group advised that there should be no change to the current list of conditions presumptively accepted as being service related. The Advisory Group also found that the scientific literature is technically difficult and often methodologically flawed. The Group felt that these studies have led to a fear of health consequences for veterans and their families when there is no real medical basis for such concerns. Therefore, the Group recommended a Plain English Review of the literature be written. The Minister accepted that recommendation and in February 2011 asked the Group to do this as soon as possible. VANZ has now taken over this work to ensure that issues of concern to Operation Grapple veterans, their children and grandchildren, are explained in a readable and understandable format.

Hearing loss

In December 2010 the Minister asked that the Group consider hearing loss in veterans, particularly whether hearing continued to deteriorate after exposure to a noisy environment. She has yet to receive the Group’s report on this issue.

Why will the Group not continue in its current form?

The format for future work on veterans’ health issues will need to take into account the Government’s response to the Law Commission’s review of the War Pensions Act 1954. The Government is considering the report’s 170 recommendations carefully to ensure that the law provides suitable support for elderly veterans as well as modern day veterans.

Did the Advisory group make any other recommendations?

The group made other recommendations in relation to Guidelines for Impairment. These are consistent with advice provided by the Law Commission in its review of the War Pensions Act 1954. This advice is being considered by the Government in the context of the review.

Published: 2011, July, 08.  | By: Judith Collins | Source: beehive.govt.nz | Title: Minister thanks veterans’ health Advisory Group

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