Brothers get closer to compo deals

By Kate Shuttleworth

Maori affairs committee to recommend payouts for men injured while in army

Damien Nepata. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Damien Nepata. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Two brothers seriously injured in separate army training incidents are a step closer to ending their 16-year battle for compensation.

Parliament's Maori affairs committee will next week recommend that Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman authorises a payout for Damien and George Nepata.

"We think given all of the circumstances, all of the history and evidence going through the last select committee report they should be compensated," said committee chairman Tau Henare.

Damien Nepata received burns to 40 per cent of his body when the Scorpion tank he was driving crashed, rolled and caught fire during training at Waiouru army camp in July 1994.

Five years earlier George Nepata was paralysed in a training accident in Singapore when he was dropped head-first by the soldiers carrying him up a slope on a stretcher.

Both men received ACC payments and other entitlements, but have never been compensated by the Government.

The brothers, who are in their 40s, gave only a cautious welcome to Mr Henare's decision after unsuccessful appeals in 1999 and 2003. On the second occasion they were supported unanimously by a select committee, only for the Government to reject the recommendation.

"It makes two select committees now unanimously agreeing to compensation but it's still very much in the minister and Cabinet's hands," said Damien Nepata, from Napier.

"We're still not letting go of our breath yet until we hear from the minister. This happened last time and we got our hopes up, and then the Government of the day just dashed them down again."

George Nepata, of Taupo, said he had heard it all before after a battle for compensation that started in 1997.

"It has been a long wait and I'm happy what people are doing for us, but we need to see something concrete."

Although Mr Henare said the committee would call on the Government to compensate the brothers, it would not recommend how much they should receive.

He said he would also raise the issue at the National Party's caucus meeting on Tuesday.

The move comes after the brothers made short but emotional appearances before the committee in May.

Damien Nepata told MPs his road to recovery had been extremely difficult and would have been "a hell of a lot easier" with compensation.

He said that for eight years he had to live on 80 per cent of his salary, about $300 a week, before he was able to return to work.

George Nepata said he had been through huge psychological trauma and even had to pay for his own wheelchair, but had managed to raise a family, including a daughter now in the air force.

Dr Coleman said yesterday he would consider the call for compensation but would not comment on an outcome until he'd been briefed by the committee.

Dr Coleman said there was no legal basis for extra compensation and any payouts would be made ex gratia.

An ex gratia payment could set a precedent for 31 other cases of Defence Force personnel who have received ACC compensation of $50,000 or more since 2000 - and there could be more cases dating to 1974.

Training accidents

• Damien Nepata: Suffered burns to 40 per cent of body when tank he was driving crashed and caught fire at Waiouru army camp in 1994.

• George Nepata: Paralysed in a training accident in Singapore when he was dropped head-first by the soldiers carrying him up a slope on a stretcher.

- APNZ

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