A New Zealand navy veteran has won a years-long battle for compensation after connecting his Parkinson's disease with chemical exposure during his military service.
In a potentially-landmark case, Veterans Affairs' has provided the ex-serviceman, who wants to remain anonymous, with an entitlement to disability compensation for Parkinson's, a condition attributed to his operational service on a Royal New Zealand Navy ship during the 1948-1960 Malayan Emergency.
During his naval career, he was exposed to toxic chemical solvents, including trichloroethylene (TCE), while degreasing and cleaning electronics.
TCE, which is now classified as a carcinogen, is linked to a number of adverse health effects including the debilitating Parkinson's.
Now, after living with the debilitating condition for years and fighting Veterans' Affairs for recognition with support by the Returned and Services' Association (RSA), the veteran is receiving compensation.
"We are very pleased that [the veteran] and his family received this entitlement from Veterans' Affairs New Zealand. There are likely to be many more people living with Parkinson's in [the veteran]'s situation, who are not aware of the link between this solvent TCE and Parkinson's," said Parkinson's New Zealand chief executive Deirdre O'Sullivan.
The veteran's decision was made on appeal to the independent War Pensions Appeal Board - now replaced by the Veterans' Entitlements Appeal Board - which considered appeals against decisions made under the War Pensions Act 1954.
Since 2014, the Veterans' Support Act has specified how Veterans' Affairs makes decisions about whether a veteran's condition may have been caused by factors associated with their service. It involves the use of Statements of Principles, which are instruments developed by the Repatriation Medical Authority of Australia and state what factors must exist in order to establish a causal connection between particular diseases, injuries or death, and service based on the best current synthesis of research published on the RMA website.
A Veterans Affairs spokesman said there was a range of possible entitlements available based on the level of impairment of any individual veteran. It could include payment of a pension, and also the cost of treatment and support services to assist the veteran to remain independent.
"Veterans' Affairs encouraged all veterans who may qualify for entitlements under the Veterans' Support Act to get in touch," he said.
"A clear medical diagnosis is required and the veteran will need to have completed service that qualifies them for entitlements."
Asked if Veterans' Affairs or NZDF had already paid disability compensation to others for Parkinson's after exposure to TCE, the spokesman replied: "In the time we have had available to check, we can only comment that there would be very few other cases."
It's not known just how many service people could be affected.
The payout comes after the veteran cited a major 2011 international study on exposure to TCE that was published in the Annals of Neurology journal. It concluded that exposure to the solvent was likely to result in a sixfold increase in the chances of developing Parkinson's.
Another factor considered in his case was the surge of recent disability compensation payments to veterans exposed to toxic water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
After decades of lawsuits and appeals, the US Department of Veterans Affairs began accepting claims earlier this year from Camp Lejeune veterans with disabilities stemming from eight presumptive conditions, including Parkinson's.
The RSA, which has advocated for veterans sickened by environmental exposures, including those from radiation exposure and Agent Orange, expressed concerns to Parkinson's New Zealand about the interpretation of evidential standards and onus of proof, which has required an "inordinate amount of research" to be supplied by current and former military personnel who may have been sickened by environmental exposures.
"These can be extremely complex issues, and beyond the capability of many of our people to deal with on their own, particularly when they are also grappling with severe illnesses or impairment," said National RSA support services manager Mark Compain.
"There is also likely to be many more serving or ex-serving NZDF people in [the veteran]'s situation, related to different types of exposures, who are unaware of any possible link."
The RSA is in the process of commissioning research on environmental exposure risk in conflict zones to improve its knowledge, support and advocacy.
• Anyone needing information or support could contact Parkinson's New Zealand on 0800 473 463 or www.parkinsons.org.nz