RAAF maintenance crews in landmark victory

November 17th, 2008  

Topic: RAAF maintenance crews in landmark victory

RAAF maintenance crews in landmark victory

Michael McKenna | November 13, 2008

Article from: The Australian
HUNDREDS of former RAAF maintenance workers, who have fought for almost a decade for recognition that their work on F-111 fighter-bombers made them sick, have won a landmark case that paves the way for a backdown by the Department of Veterans Affairs over its refusal to pay compensation.
Former RAAF airframe fitter John Manuel this month forced the Department of Veterans Affairs to admit liability that his work inside F-111 fuel tanks in the 1970s led to him contracting a rare cancer and depression.
Mr Manuel, 60, is one of hundreds of F-111 maintenance crews -- nicknamed the "pick 'n' patch" units -- who were excluded from a 2004 compensation and healthcare scheme after a study found workers fixing the aircraft's leaking fuel tanks had a 50 per cent higher incidence of cancer.
The study also found an almost two-fold increase in depression and anxiety, a 2 1/2-fold increase in sexual dysfunction and a two-fold increase in obstructive lung disease.
Only workers involved in the official F-111 "deseal/reseal" program, set up in 1977, were given access to the scheme, which included full healthcare coverage and automatic payments of up to $40,000 that did not preclude more substantive compensation claims being filed in the courts.
The Rudd Government launched a parliamentary inquiry into the $21 million scheme after mounting criticism by sick and suffering former RAAF workers denied payments or facing years of bureaucratic delays over their claims.
The "pick 'n' patch" workers were denied their claims, largely because the RAAF destroyed F-111 maintenance records up until 1992.
In a submission to the inquiry, headed by Brisbane Labor MP Arch Bevis, commonwealth Ombudsman John McMillan slammed the Defence and Veterans Affairs departments about the maintenance records and ongoing administration of the scheme.
"The complaints (from former RAAF airmen) made to my office highlighted several deficiencies in the original records," Mr Bevis said.
"It is clear that in some cases there were not adequate documents to support a person's contention that they qualified for a payment."
Professor McMillan said the scheme was still racked with problems, saying there was "no policy" in how to assess claims once documentation was provided.
"Our concern about poor record-keeping is that it is not clear how a decision was reached," Professor McMillan said.
The Veterans Affairs Department this month paved the way for an expansion of the scheme by accepting liability in Mr Manuel's claim for compensation.
Mr Manuel worked in the "pick 'n' patch" units for four years before his discharge in 1977.
In 2000, he contracted a rare sinus cancer. He also has depression and had attempted suicide several times in the past few years.
"It has been a long, hard struggle," Mr Manuel said.
"I have lost a few of my former workmates to cancer and the anxiety of being repeatedly rejected for claims led me to a couple of suicide attempts."
Mr Manuel's Brisbane solicitor, John Cockburn, said the legal win was hugely significant.
"This is the first time that Veterans Affairs have accepted liability with the 'pick 'n' patch' units," Mr Cockburn said.

November 17th, 2008  
A Can of Man
They deserve the compensation. Those who are terminally ill from their duties in the military also count as those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.