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Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Injured vet's move home blocks his war pension

New Zealand law is preventing injured Vietnam veteran Bill Framhein from taking his war disability pension and superannuation home to Rarotonga.
New Zealand law is preventing injured Vietnam veteran Bill Framhein from taking his war disability pension and superannuation home to Rarotonga.

Change the law if necessary to pay him his dues, says RSA president

A New Zealand Army veteran who served in Malaysia and Vietnam has been refused a veteran's pension because he now lives in the Cook Islands.

William Framhein, 70, served two years in Malaya and Borneo and did four six-month tours of duty in Vietnam.

His leg was injured during training in Malaya and "keeps bubbling up like a balloon" whenever he wears shoes. So in 2004 he and his wife Lydia returned to the Cook Islands where he can go barefooted.

But the New Zealand Government refused to pay him a veteran's pension when he turned 65 in 2007.

Auckland councillor Mike Lee, who has known the family since visiting the Cooks as a ship's officer 40 years ago, has appealed all the way up the hierarchy to Prime Minister John Key and Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae.

But he has been rejected at every step.

Sir Jerry's official secretary Niels Holm replied to his latest appeal this month, saying Sir Jerry "does indeed sympathise with Mr Framhein's situation" but had to act "only on the advice of ministers".

Cook Islands Finance Minister Mark Brown said successive Cooks governments had lobbied New Zealand ministers for more than a decade to get veteran's pensions and NZ superannuation payable to Cook Islanders who have worked most of their lives in New Zealand.

"We just keep getting the run-around from New Zealand on this matter," he said.

Although the islands are self-governing in domestic affairs, they are part of the Realm of New Zealand and the 14,000 residents are New Zealand citizens.

Mr Brown said that at most a few hundred people would qualify for NZ super if the rules were changed, and Mr Framhein believes he is the sole New Zealand war veteran living in the islands.

Mr Framhein went to school in Wellington in 1956 and later worked in a paint factory until he was called up for national service in 1961.

He joined the army fulltime in 1965 and served as a "tracker" in Malaya and Vietnam, scouting ahead to make sure it was safe for soldiers to follow.

As well as his leg injury, he lost hearing in one ear when a weapon backfired.

He returned to Wellington in 1971 and worked in the city abattoirs until he and Lydia moved to Perth in 1988. "I just wanted to go to Australia to see what it was like," he said.

He worked as a maintenance clerk at nights and in a meatworks by day until the works closed down. He continued the night job until he collapsed because of his leg problems.

"They decided they would chop my leg off," he said. "I said, 'No, it's all right.' That's when we decided we'll come back to Rarotonga."

He was refused the veteran's pension (which for married men is $536.80 a week) because he did not meet two requirements - living in New Zealand at the time of applying, and living in New Zealand for at least five years since the age of 50.

He has tried to meet those requirements by staying six months of every year since 2007 with his sister in Porirua, so he has now built up 2.5 years of residence since age 50. But every trip is a nightmare. "I have a problem every time I go on a plane, I have that DVT (deep vein thrombosis). When you come back down it takes you two months to recover," he said.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett told Mr Lee in February that the law did not give her discretion to exempt anyone from the legal requirements for veteran's pensions.

Mr Lee's appeal to Mr Key was also passed to Ms Bennett, who repeated her written reply.

Returned and Services Association president Lieutenant-General Don McIver said if the only way to give Mr Framhein a pension was to change the law, then the law should be changed.

"This guy served in Vietnam and went back again three times," he said. "In my view it warrants special consideration."

The Law Commission proposed a comprehensive rewrite of the War Pensions Act 1954 in a 2010 report.

A spokesman for Veterans' Affairs Minister Nathan Guy said the Government would respond to the report in the next few months.

Service record
- William Framhein
- Aged 70, NZ Army veteran
- Tours of duty in Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam
- Suffered leg injury in Malaya

- NZ Herald

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