Four years ago, Harvey Tutauha was ready to hand his medals back. Now, he is preparing to wear them with pride this Anzac Day and is hoping to inspire and encourage other veterans to wear theirs too.
The former Chief Petty Officer served in the Royal New Zealand Navy for 20 years, says for a while it was unclear with the award of the New Zealand Operational Service Medal (NZOSM) and New Zealand General Service Medal 1992 (Non-Warlike) (NZGSM 1992) whether he was entitled to the Veterans Super Gold Card when he qualified for New Zealand Superannuation (NZ Super) when he turned 65.
Harvey who is now 69, realised the awards of the NZOSM and the NZGSM 1992 (Non-Warlike) with 20 years of service was not enough to be called a veteran.
"I applied for the Veterans Super Gold Card, at the time it was pretty obvious to me I was entitled to it, given my years of service, the NZOSM, but was declined and told I wasn't eligible."
He was frustrated and ready to send his medals back he says.
"What was the point of them if they didn't mean anything?"
Harvey says the devil was in the detail when it came to the Veterans' Support Act 2014 and the new legislative definition for veteran status which included "Qualifying Operational Service". Before this definition there had been no legislative definition.
While that definition included numerous operations and missions, it did not include Operation Armilla, which Harvey was part of, along with about 400 others. Those servicemen were sent to patrol the Indian Ocean on board frigates, thus releasing British Royal Navy vessels which were needed to join the Royal Navy task force tasked with freeing the Falkland Islands from the Argentine invasion. Then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher praised the Armilla Patrol, mentioning it by name in the British parliament.
Harvey served on board the HMNZS Canterbury during her first deployment, patrolling the Indian ocean for two months. Been awarded the NZOSM for that service had presumed this made him a veteran, and eligible for the Veterans Super Gold Card.
"I was pretty shocked to find out it wasn't considered to be good enough. I am proud of my service and had always seen that medal as the most important one of the medals I received for my service in the Navy. To be told it didn't count was a real kick in the teeth."
Last year, this changed. A notice in the New Zealand Gazette, the official newspaper of the New Zealand Government, stated that service in the Indian Ocean from June 21, 1982 to September 20, 1983 aboard either HMNZS Canterbury or HMNZS Waikato, is now considered Qualifying Operational Service for the purposes of the Veterans' Support Act 2014.
The then Minister for Veterans Ron Mark stated he was "satisfied that there was a significant risk of harm to those that undertook this service, as required by the Act".
With the service now recognised, Harvey and his peers can now access some entitlements and services specified in the Act and the Veterans' Support Regulations 2014 through Veterans Affairs New Zealand (VANZ).
"It's not just for me, it's for all the other guys who served during those deployments, these chaps here, they are coming up for eligibility for New Zealand Super and I want them to know that they're entitled to the Veterans Super Gold Card."
"These chaps" are Former Petty Officer Phillip Hammerton (from Kaitaia) and Former Leading Mechanical Fitter Paul McLean (from Motueka) who now both live in Hāwera.
Like Harvey, they served on Operation Armilla and were awarded the NZOSM and NZGSM 1992.
Harvey, Paul and Phillip caught up in Stratford recently, enjoying a meal at The Bridge on Fenton, housed in the old RSA building, and the opportunity to share memories of their time in the Navy.
The laughs were coming thick and fast as the trio of ex-servicemen shared their tales of times at sea, and on leave, in the 1970s and later.
Their memories included tales of being in or near noisy engine rooms on board, with no ear protection to be had. They remembered being near various chemicals and contaminants, with no masks, and it was only in later life they realised the impact on their health this had, says Phillip.
"It was only when I was looking into having a test at the doctors, I realised I wasn't entitled to stuff other veterans were, and that surprised me."
Thanks to the efforts of Harvey and others in raising awareness of this, Phillip, Paul, Harvey and all the others they served with, are now entitled to the Veteran Super Gold Card and the benefits it brings.
For Harvey and co however, the battle was never about the benefits, but the recognition, says Harvey.
"It's not about money as such, but the prestige, it's about the country saying our service mattered."
This year, he says, he will be wearing his medals with pride, especially the ones he received for his service in the Indian Ocean.