Teuila Fuatai

Teuila Fuatai is a reporter for the NZ Herald

Injured brothers believe they are being 'hung out to dry'

Former soldier Damien Nepata, displaying the burn injuries he received in a petrol explosion while serving in the NZ Army. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Former soldier Damien Nepata, displaying the burn injuries he received in a petrol explosion while serving in the NZ Army. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Two brothers seriously injured in botched Defence Force exercises believe New Zealand's service personnel are being hung out to dry by the country's law makers.

George and Damien Nepata had their bid for compensation rejected by the Government last week, despite repeated recommendations they receive ex-gratia payment for injuries suffered in separate incidents.

An open reply to Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman's decision on their case, released today, said they believed - along with many service personnel and ordinary Kiwis - that politicians had little regard for the safety and welfare of current and former service personnel.

This was "a view realised after many, many years of fighting by various veteran groups against their own Governments since the end of the Vietnam War and quite possibly World War II," the reply stated.

"In my opinion, it is a callous view given they expect these same men and women to deploy to some of the world's most dangerous regions mostly for political reasons."

Damien, who wrote the reply, suffered burns to 40 per cent of his body when the tank he was driving crashed, rolled and caught fire during training at Waiouru army camp in 1994.

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

Damien addressed concerns raised by Mr Coleman about the risk of setting a precedent in granting the brothers compensation.

"There was no risk in the regard of setting precedent.

"What compensation would he expect if he were to lose the use of his legs, arms and hands, to be paralysed from the chest down, to spend 18 months in hospital and to then have to pay for his own wheelchair and mobility van at a cost of $20,000 out of his ACC compensation payment of $27,000," he said.

Mr Coleman previously said he had "huge sympathy" for the brothers, and noted they had received ACC payments and Defence Force benefits.

- NZ Herald

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