The package includes $60m of new monies (over the next five years) which, combined with the ever shrinking veteran demographic, means that the veteran community will be substantially better off.
The announcement represents the Government's response to the Report by the Law Commission into the War Pensions Act 1954. The report contained 170 recommendations. The package adopts, in full or in part, 132 of those recommendations.
The main changes include:
- New and updated legislation replacing the existing War Pensions Act.
- The introduction of two coverage schemes with the creation of ACC on 1 April 1974 being the point of division between the two schemes.
- Increasing the War Disablement Pension and Surviving Spouse Pension rates by 5% beginning on 1 April 2013 (on top of the forecast CPI increase of 1.8%).
- The War Disablement Pension to continue for four weeks after the recipient's death (currently ceases on date of death).
- Veterans diagnosed with a terminal service-related injury or illness to be able to elect to receive one years worth of the maximum rate of the War Disablement Pension (worth $19,466 at the new rate) paid as a lump sum following the terminal diagnosis.
- Increasing eligibility for support services such as home help and lawn mowing will benefit an estimated 3,000 additional veterans and 1,100 surviving spouses or partners.
- A new 'Veterans Weekly Income Compensation' for veterans under the age of retirement and unable to work to be paid at 80% of the average wage (significantly higher than the currently available Veteran's Pension rate).
- A veteran's advisory board ands specialist medical advisory board will be established to provide the Minister with independent advice.
It is intended that the legislative package giving effect to these changes will be introduced to the House early next year (the 5% pension increase does not require legislative approval and will happen automatically). I am aware that the Veteran's Affairs Minister (Nathan Guy) is keen for as many veterans as possible to have their say during the Select Committee Phase and will be encouraging the Select Committee considering the legislation to travel to at least the four main centres provided always that the numbers and geographic spread of submission justifies this.
In the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to visit a number of RSAs around New Zealand. The reaction I am getting to the announcement is a positive one. Veterans are generally a pragmatic lot. They acknowledge the economic constraints faced by Government. To get this package through cabinet is a major and welcome achievement.