Susan Neuhaus

Retired army surgeon Susan Neuhaus

Retired army surgeon Susan Neuhaus says veterans should have access to government-funded healthcare, without a test of eligibility. Picture: Kelly Barnes Source: The Australian

A RETIRED army surgeon has called on the government to fund all the medical costs of Diggers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, regardless of whether their illnesses stemmed from their deployment.

Colonel Susan Neuhaus, who served in Afghanistan, Bougainville and Cambodia, said yesterday the current system was creating “secondary trauma”.

The general surgeon and surgical oncologist, now working in Adelaide, said veterans were forced to prove their injuries were caused by their service.

Veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder years after service might commit suicide while having their claims processed, she warned. And she urged the removal of such procedures to have an “uncontested” system akin to the “Gold Card”.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs issues Gold Cards – which allows holders to have all of their medical costs covered by the government – to ex-prisoners of war, veterans with certain disability pensions and those who served in World War I and World War II.

“Let’s go with ‘gold-card’ equivalent,” Dr Neuhaus said of the proposal she made in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry into the care of defence force personnel.

“It’s the idea of an uncontested healthcare liability for those that have served on active duty overseas.”

The increased medical costs for government would be largely offset by “huge layers of bureaucracy” being removed: “The idea that you would actually accept an uncontested liability means that not only would you potentially . . . garner cost savings, you de-link this issue of entitlement from care.

“You decrease all of the secondary trauma that goes with people, who are sick and are trying to put in claims years after the event, who have this enormous burden.”

A spokesman for Veterans’ Affairs Minister Warren Snowdon said the Australian Defence Force met health costs for all serving members, while those severely injured may receive a Gold Card.

“For individuals who are not eligible for a Gold Card but have a service-related condition, treatment is provided for those conditions through the DVA White Repatriation Health Card or through reimbursement of costs,” he said.

Opposition veterans’ affairs spokesman Michael Ronaldson said he would consider the findings from the inquiry, being conducted by the joint standing committee on foreign affairs, defence and trade.

“We will await the committee’s report with great interest. However it is impossible from opposition to ascertain the current or future costs of such a proposal,” Senator Ronaldson said.

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