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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 75

Mr EDWARDS (4:51 PM) —I want to raise a serious issue today relating to one of my constituents. It is an issue which also impacts on the broader veteran community. In this instance, I have been contacted by Mr Con Sappelli JP, who set out a very concerning experience he had recently following a heart attack. Mr Sappelli suffered this attack in September, at about 2.30 in the afternoon. I quote from a letter he wrote to me:

I am a returned serviceman with private health insurance. As a result of a heart attack in the afternoon from 1830hrs that Tuesday I found myself on a merry go round of hospitals until an eventual permanent bed was found for me at Mount Hospital at 1430 on Wednesday 8th.

When picked up by an ambulance that Tuesday evening I was informed that Joondalup Health Campus (the nearest facility) was full and on advice from the paramedics QEII was the recommended destination. Having received the necessary medical care to ensure my wellbeing at QEII I requested to be sent to the repatriation hospital as my heart condition is an accepted condition by DVA so doing my request to be taken to repat. However, I was informed that there were no beds available, then a request for St John of God Subiaco, ditto. I was then informed that a bed would be found within Sir Charles Gairdner. Wrong again.

A bed was eventually found at Murdoch at 0100 on the morning of Wednesday 8th September, after further tests to ensure my well being I was eventually transferred to Mount Hospital at 1430 that Wednesday. With the exception of the time at Murdoch I was on a stretcher until a bed became available at Mount some 20 hours after being picked up by the ambulance.

The requirements by DVA are that should you wish to partake of the services other than those approved by them without permission from them, the cost for those services becomes a liability to the patient and in my case my private fund. What would have occurred had I not been privately insured, would I have remained on a trolley in a casualty ward waiting to either die or wait until a suitable bed vacancy became available in the appropriately approved facility in accordance with DVA protocol.

The last thought in a persons mind when a crisis occurs requiring intensive care is to seek permission from a bureaucracy as to whether they will accept any cost incurred by the said crisis. As a consequence the entire doctors, hospital and ambulance accounts (a substantial amount) with the exception of the initial ambulance from home to QEII (paid by DVA) were paid by my health fund with some out of pocket cost paid by myself. One could say that ultimately that is why one has private health insurance, the fact that my medical condition is an accepted condition by DVA, by way of principal they should be responsible for all accounts, irrespective of whether the medical care provided was by an approved establishment or not.

Especially given that the majority of private hospital has similar charges, Hollywood although a repatriation hospital, it is foremost a private hospital.

Where there are not sufficient hospital beds available within the medical system, which is not a situation or fault of my making, the system should be flexible enough to allow a person to make a decision, which is in his or her best interest without having to seek prior permission as to which DVA approved facility is most appropriate.

I think Mr Sappelli raises a number of important issues in his letter. Firstly, I was under the impression that Hollywood Private Hospital was supposed to give priority to veterans, and I am surprised that he was refused admission. Hollywood Private Hospital has a very good reputation amongst the veteran community, and I can fully understand why a veteran would want to go to Hollywood hospital.

Secondly, the issue that Mr Sappelli raises in relation to veterans needing private health cover is certainly one which is causing concern to many veterans, given the demise of the gold card. Indeed, what would have happened had Mr Sappelli not had private health cover? Traditionally, in this nation, veterans who have Department of Veterans' Affairs accepted war caused disabilities or illness have had those conditions treated at the expense of DVA. In recent years, however, our nation appears to be turning its back on the proper care of veterans. Many veterans are now faced with the dilemma of whether or not they should take out private health cover to ensure they get treatment for conditions accepted as war caused. What a disgraceful situation this is!

Are men and women who have served this nation and who have suffered medical conditions as a result of that service no longer entitled to have those conditions treated through DVA? When did this change come about? Has it come about by way of government policy change or by way of sheer neglect of our duty of care to our nation's veterans? I suspect it is the latter.

I say that because many veterans will now tell you that accessing medical care with the use of a DVA card—gold or white—is becoming increasingly difficult, and this is a situation that the government must address. Why should Australia's ageing veterans have to carry the cost of their own medical care, and why should they be forced to accept second-rate treatment by this nation when they gave the nation first-class service in the prime of their youth?

I also want to take this opportunity to compliment Blue Ryan, the National President of the TPI Association, for his dedication to the cause of his members and for his personal commitment to Australia's sick, ageing and disabled veterans and T&PIs and their families. I know the issue I have raised here today is one of great concern to Blue Ryan and his members because it goes to the heart of their wellbeing. I say to Blue Ryan: Blue, keep up the good work. I call on the veteran community to get behind the likes of Blue Ryan and Tim McCombe and Graham Walker from the Vietnam Veterans Federation and be prepared to unite and fight to restore the principle of proper medical care for our veterans.

Next year we will have numerous celebrations to mark the 90th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli and the 60th anniversary of the ending of World War II. I just want to pose this question: how can we possibly mark these significant hallmarks of our history with any integrity or sincerity at a time when we are downgrading medical care for our ageing veteran community? Mr Sappelli said that this is a matter of principle. It is indeed a matter of principle, and while I know that the current minister is only new in the job I call on her to redress this serious and disgraceful situation as a matter of priority.

In conclusion, we in this nation have had a very strong commitment over a long period of time to the men and women of this nation who have gone overseas and served this nation in the armed forces and who in so doing—usually in the prime of their life—have ultimately paid a heavy penalty in later years as a result in terms of their health due to the impact of war caused disabilities and war caused illnesses. It is not good enough for this nation to now turn its back on those servicemen and their families, particularly as many of those service men and women are now ageing and in greater need of care and medical support than at any other time of their life.