New medals for many but not for some

Australian Governments are always finding new ways to give new medals and new forms of recognition to veterans.

Some of them are welcome; some are essential such as DVA Gold Cards which allow veterans to access free health care at a time when their health needs are greatest; and some of them are more about trying to demonstrate that they care about and honour veterans than anything else.

Sometimes you even get the situation where a Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, intervenes in consideration of who gets a VC.

….and the Australian War Memorial is going to need to be dragged screaming and kicking into providing appropriately extensive recognition and commemoration of our foundational wars – The Frontier wars in which First Nations warriors were defending their country.

On the other hand, governments can be positively intransigent about recognising some forms of service.

David Brown, a retired Lieutenant Colonel, had to conduct a long campaign to be awarded an Army Combat Badge and is still campaigning for others who were in the same situation as he was. Recently he contacted the relevant Ministers and various MPs about his situation and that of some his comrades. He wrote:

“I am a Vietnam veteran who became a career officer, retiring as Lieutenant Colonel and Head of the Australian Army Public Relations Service, formally known as RAAEC (PR). The specialist contribution of our officers and men in Vietnam would be familiar to you in the thousands of combat and operational black and white photographs and film footage frequently seen in documentaries and held in Australia’s official war records.

Although long retired, for many years I have been assisting my Vietnam veteran Public Relations colleagues to apply for various awards, including the Army Combat Badge (ACB), our eligibility for which Army refused to acknowledge for decades.

This refusal stemmed from flawed Army records which showed us posted to the non-combat HQ Australian Force Vietnam in Saigon without recording that we were subsequently on-posted to the 1st Australian Task Force, at Nui Dat and were frequently in the midst of combat during our 12-months tours of duty.

After a long battle with bureaucracy, I was successful in overturning the Army’s determination not to recognize the specialist combat support role we played in Vietnam.

Subsequently, as the first RAAEC(PR) Vietnam veteran to be eventually awarded the ACB, I assisted four of my colleagues to apply for and receive the same recognition.

However, I am disappointed to report that a further six eligible veterans’ applications remain unprocessed some 10 months after they were submitted.

Four of the six have serious health issues and sad to say, some may not see another Anzac Day.   These men represent the last six living eligible PR Vietnam veterans who have not been awarded the ACB.

You will appreciate that in my capacity as former Head of Corps, I remain committed to ensuring these men receive the recognition to which they are entitled.  In that context, I have assisted with their applications and more than once provided supporting evidence of the applicant’s eligibility directly to the Army, which the Army was happy to receive and process with successful outcomes.  In this respect, Army has long been aware of my intimate involvement in these applications.

Despite the failing physical, emotional and cognitive health of these men (in two cases Alzheimer’s/dementia), and my obligation as leader and advocate for these men, Army has recently announced that it will no longer engage with any intermediaries in this matter.  “Army will only deal directly with the applicants”, I have been advised.

Minister, it has taken almost 50 years for Army to formally recognize the unique combat role played by this small number of specialists.

Despite their eligibility and the pressing need to address the issue, in the 10 months since their applications for the Army Combat Badge were made, the Army has failed to reply to several requests for updates on the applications, and has ignored pleas for expedition based of their failing health.  Another Anzac Day has now just past without these men being about to wear the ACB to which they are entitled.

If Army now denies the legitimate role I have in representing the interests of these applicants, then perhaps they will respond to you, as the appropriate Minister (Shadow Minister / MP etc)

This year, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War with a special medallion and other ceremonies.

But in the midst of this commemoration, these six men have grown old and infirm and, as the sun sets on their lives, they must not be allowed to be forgotten. Lest we forget.”

Basically, the refusal to deal with intermediaries, as the blog was also advised by an MP it approached about the issue, means that anyone so seriously disabled as to be unable to make representations of their own would be denied a hearing. This is callous nonsense.

None of the six are yet in this position but it could arise while bureaucrats are sitting in comfortable chairs thinking of new decorations while simultaneously thinking of reasons to deny people decorations to which they are entitled.

It should also be remembered that there are many examples of courageous photographers and journalists who have brought home to the world the reality of wars and have died doing so. Some of them were civilians and some in uniform – but whichever they were embedded in forces and shared their risks and fears.

We need to honour and remember them.