Key promises five star trips to battle sites for war vets

By Derek Cheng

Minister of defence Wayne Mapp. Photo / NZPA
Minister of defence Wayne Mapp. Photo / NZPA

Prime Minister John Key is making an election promise to properly fund war veterans to attend World War II commemorations in Europe in the next four years, following outrage over the previous treatment of war heroes.

The policy would include business-class flights, accommodation, meals and medical care, and is a response to the way veterans were treated last year in attending the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Crete.

The Herald revealed in July that the veterans received only $2000 worth of support from the Government and had to pay out of their own pockets, arrange their own itineraries and stay in modest accommodation.

In contrast, Defence Minister Wayne Mapp spent more than $26,000 on flights and luxury hotels for himself and his staff, and Australian Crete veterans were flown over by their Government, staying in the same lodgings as Australian Defence and Government officials, and were looked after by doctors.

Dr Mapp initially defended his travel costs but then apologised, and the Government promised to look into how it should fund veterans for other 70th anniversary commemorations for World War II.

Addressing the Returned and Services' Association national council meeting in Wellington yesterday, the Prime Minister said he strongly supported veterans attending commemorations.

"If re-elected, National will fund World War II veterans to attend an overseas 70th anniversary official commemoration linked to their service.

"The Government will pay for business- class or Royal NZ Air Force flights, accommodation, meals and medical assistance. There'll also be Defence Force staff on hand to help.

"We owe it to the people who served us 70 years ago."

Commemorations will include the anniversaries of the battles of Monte Cassino and El Alamein, the Pacific war and D-Day.

About 90 veterans are expected to take up the offer, but more may come forward.

A spokesman for Veterans' Affairs Minister Judith Collins said that for the 50th and 60th commemorations, the Government held ballots to see which veterans would have their expenses met.

But given that this would likely be the last chance for many veterans to attend such commemorations, Ms Collins did not consider balloting appropriate, the spokesman said.

The commitment is expected to cost millions, funded out of existing baselines and through the reprioritising and reorganising of the Defence Force.

Mr Key also announced a new co-ordination unit within the Defence Force to plan and co-ordinate World War II commemorations around New Zealand.

Future events the Government has its eye on include the centenary anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign and the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in 1953.

"We would also complete the development of memorial park in Wellington in time for the centenary of World War I [in 2014]," Mr Key said.

The Government also plans to modernise the War Pensions Act, following a review by the Law Commission, which recommended 170 changes.

Ms Collins will officially announce the National Party's veterans' affairs policy when she addresses the RSA national council meeting tomorrow.

- NZ Herald

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