A former solider has finally received an apology and confidential payout after he was left a tetraplegic after a training exercise went wrong.
Defence Minister Ron Mark said Cabinet yesterday approved the formal apology and ex gratia payment to former soldier George Nepata after the accident in 1989.
"This payment is to recognise the New Zealand Defence Force's failure to provide Mr Nepata with a safe system of work in April 1989 when, as a result of an accident during a training exercise, he was rendered a tetraplegic.
"This is an issue I've continued to raise over the past 20 years - I've felt strongly that the Government has had a moral obligation to address this and I'm pleased there has finally been a resolution.
"I formally apologise to George Nepata on behalf of the Government and the New Zealand Defence Force for the New Zealand Defence Force's failure to provide him with a safe system of work and the 31 years he has struggled with his tetraplegic."
The payment also included the reimbursement of legal and associated costs, representative damages based on an average payment in 1989 and adjusted to include interest, theoretical interest on Nepata's lost earnings, a payment to acknowledge the lost personal opportunities to immediate family and recognising parental and whānau support provided during this more difficult periods.
"It's been approved and it's the end," Nepata told Stuff.
"Wow. It'll take a few days to sink in. I'm just glad it's all over and done with. It's a positive for us."
Nepata was paralysed when he was dropped head-first by soldiers carrying him up a slope on a stretcher during a training exercise in Singapore in 1989, leaving him a tetraplegic.
Mark said the apology reflected the fact that, as a junior soldier, Nepata was obliged to obey the commands of his superiors during the exercise and had no opportunity to challenge the conduct of the exercise.
He had been battling for compensation since, twice losing requests.
Nepata's brother, Damien Nepata, was also injured in the army, suffering burns to 40 per cent of his body when the Scorpion tank he was driving rolled and caught fire during training at Waiouru army camp in July 1994.
Parliamentary select committees recommended in 2003 and again in 2013 that the brothers should be paid compensation, but both times successive Labour and National Cabinets refused to compensate them because it would have set a precedent.
They had received accident compensation and Defence Force benefits - which a select committee inquiry in 2003 found was the "bare minimum" and both deserved compensation above their legal entitlements.
National RSA President BJ Clark was pleased to see the payout which he said was a "very wise and just decision" and hoped it would help them move forward.
"I don't think it's of value to look backwards," he told Newstalk ZB today. "I think the thing is to look at the positive outcomes. It's important the other side of this for those that are serving that their employers like any employers will look after them if they are injured in service."
Asked whether anything has changed for soldiers since 1989, Clark said they had.
"They have for some time been working very hard to ensure that supports have been put in place and certainly improved for all those that are working today."
Clark said when troops were injured it wasn't only the personal difficulties they faced, but their families, including partners and children, had also had to support them.
"It is families that often pick up the pieces and we know that through current service today when people are injured either physically or mentally we've got to be clear that we are supporting the families and not only the serviceperson."
He said there "may well be" other soldiers who may review their situation and also apply for compensation given this decision.
As whether training was safer these days, Clark said in some ways it was, "bearing in mind the training that our troops are required to do probably a civilian wouldn't use the word safer in the same context that we are talking about".
"There is an element of risk but it is a case of minimising that risk to ensure that training can be done as safely as possible."
In a statement today, Mark said the apology acknowledged the efforts and costs associated with Nepata's petitions to Parliament, "but most importantly it recognises the burden and struggles that George, his wife Kim and his wider whānau and family have borne since the accident".
"The approval of this proposal may provide some level of closure for George Nepata and his whānau."
Mark said he noted the issue of setting a precedent had been a constant factor when Nepata's case had been considered over the years, by successive Governments, however his decision was based on a moral obligation, not a legal one.
If other cases arose then they would need to be considered on their own merits.
He also acknowledged his "deep admiration" for Nepata and his whānau.
"The injury he suffered was totally avoidable and unnecessary. I hope this apology from the Government and New Zealand Defence Force, and the ex gratia payment, will help George to continue to make the best of the situation, as he has done for so long."