18 November 2018
It’s a week now since Armistice Day. We remembered those who fought and died in World War I. We celebrated 100 years since the signing of an armistice between the Allies and Germany that called for a ceasefire at 11am on the 11th of November, 1918. The NZDF and other agencies did a spectacular job, over four years, of commemorating the many significant events that represent our nation’s involvement in WWI. Mihi koe, expressed by Simon Ewing-Jarvie, was well deserved.
Occasions like Armistice Day and ANZAC Day also prompt us to remember those who fought and returned, too many with physical and psychological problems. It is our shame that we tend not to remember them on the other 363 days of the year, because their injuries often impacted very negatively on their future lives and those of their families.
It is important to remember, but it is also important to look forward.
Our contemporary veterans, those who have served our nation in more recent conflicts, also deserve our attention. Many of them have also witnessed terrible environments and events while contributing to the fight for peace and freedom in the world. They too are affected by their experiences. The Americans and Australians do a much better job of recognizing veterans than New Zealand does. When was the last time you heard someone thank a kiwi in uniform for their service, in the course of everyday life?
It was encouraging this week to see the Australian Bureau of Statisics (ABS) announce they have identified 8 new topics for potential inclusion in their 2021 Census. The one that stands out to me is “current or previous service in the Australian Defence Force”. The Australians recognize that it is not acceptable to ignore those who are unwell due to circumstances of their service. Raising ‘service’ as a census topic shows a commitment to gaining better information in order to identify and treat problems faced by veterans.
Statistics New Zealand, how about it? What about including questions in our next census (2023) that will provide the government, Veterans Affairs and NZDF with much better data than they currently have about our veterans? How many veterans do we have? How many have after-service issues? Are they able to access treatment when it is needed?
I’m told by those working with NZ Veteran’s Affairs that the staff are very committed and do their best to help our kiwi veterans in need. However we currently expect them to operate in an information vacuum. It’s not until we know the extent and details of the problems that our government can make informed decisions.
The Australian government will decide in mid 2019 which topics will be included in their Census 2021. I’ll be watching with interest and hope that questions about veterans are included. New Zealand has even more time to think and plan. Thinking and planning about the issues veterans face would be a new and novel concept for government, but worthy and long overdue.
It is always easier to look backward than forward, but we shouldn’t shy away from the problems of today. There are kiwis serving at this very moment in the world’s hotspots. Let’s hope they come home safely and well. For those who don’t, their sacrifice from time on duty means they should be cared for and treated fairly.