Cook Islands war veteran Bill Framhein feels as if he has just been let out of jail after a surprise pre-Christmas Cabinet decision to grant him a special annuity.
Mr Framhein, 70, served in the NZ Army in Malaya and Borneo and did four tours of duty in Vietnam.
His leg was injured in Malaya and "keeps bubbling up like a balloon" whenever he wears shoes, so he and his wife, Lydia, returned to the Cook Islands in 2004, after 16 years in Perth, so he could walk around in open footwear.
He was given a veteran's pension when he turned 65, but on the basis that he lived in New Zealand. He has stayed for six months of every year since then with his sister in Porirua or a niece in Wellington.
But the Cabinet decided on Monday to grant him a special annuity at the same rate as his pension as long as he remains in the Cook Islands.
"I feel very good about it. It means I don't have to come back to New Zealand," Mr Framhein said yesterday from his home in the Rarotongan village of Nikao.
"It felt like a jail sentence for six months away from my wife. I found it awkward in winter because of the cold, I had to elevate my leg up, and wear shoes. Here at least I can wear jandals and I do my own bandaging."
His health is still "up and down". "I might have to go through cutting one leg off by the look of it," he said. "I hope I don't have to go through that, but if it doesn't heal up again I might have to."
Veteran's Affairs Minister Nathan Guy said the annuity was a non-statutory payment that was not made in accordance with any law. "It has been done before but not often," he said. "The issue I had, and my Cabinet colleagues supported, was that there was a risk, with his age and disability, with him flying down to New Zealand.
"Here's a guy that served for us on four occasions, a very stoic individual; he needs to live in the Cook Islands ... and we have come up with a solution that will secure his future."
Auckland councillor Mike Lee, a family friend who took Mr Framhein's case to ministers and ultimately to Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae, said he spoke to Mr Guy and to War Pensions Secretary Brigadier Rick Ottaway at an Auckland Museum ceremony marking the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele in October.
"I said, 'It's an exceptional case, I suggest you think of a way of doing things that the Government doesn't lose face but Mr Framhein gets his due for his loyal service to New Zealand'," Mr Lee said.
He said Sir Jerry took a personal interest in the case, writing to Mr Lee again in late October to say he had followed up Mr Lee's earlier plea with Social Development Minister Paula Bennett, who had advised that the case would be "progressed" by Brigadier Ottaway's office.
"The Governor-General was in the same army unit as Mr Framhein - not at the same time, but I'm sure as an old soldier it would have resonated," Mr Lee said.
"It's a nice thing to know that if you persist, you can get things done."By Simon Collins Email Simon