Last-ditch attempt at compo for Māori veteran

7:57 pm on 6 July 2016

The family of a war veteran is making a last-ditch effort for compensation from the Defence Force for the cancer they say was caused by asbestos exposure in Vietnam.

Phillip Taylor-Meihana

Phillip Taylor-Meihana Photo: SUPPLIED

Phillip Taylor-Meihana died last year, just after the Department of Veterans' Affairs turned down his bid for a lump sum payment for the cancer he said had been caused by the asbestos used to line ammunition bunkers at his base in Vietnam.

Now his family is continuing its fight for compensation with the Waitangi Tribunal, which is conducting a wide-ranging inquiry into the mistreatment of Māori in the defence forces.

His daughter-in-law, Marama Meihana, said the only way Mr Taylor-Meihana could have inhaled asbestos was when he was ordered to demolish ammunition bunkers lined with the dangerous substance as his battalion prepared to leave its base in Vietnam in 1971.

Marama Meihana

Marama Meihana Photo: RNZ/ Conan Young

Her father-in-law died within a month of being diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer, she said.

"So as a family we're still trying to comprehend and come to terms with how our father, this fit and strong man, could go down so quickly with this kind of cancer."

Ms Meihana was clear about what she would like to see come out of the hearing.

"My husband still serves in the army to this day and as a wife and a mother we have been around the army camps and it's been good for us... [It's about] fairness, processes, anything to make it easier for other veterans and their whānau as well."

It should be easy for the Defence Force to establish whether asbestos was used to line the ammunition bunkers, said the lawyer representing the Meihanas, Charl Hirschfeld.

Charl Hirschfeld

Charl Hirschfeld Photo: RNZ/ Conan Young

"Once it's gone into it, it shouldn't be a difficult exercise at all.

"I think the research will definitely show that it was a common material used at the time, particularly within the armed forces, that's already well known.

"It's just really pinpointing where these particular locations were."

The claim would have wide-ranging implications for all veterans, Māori and Pākehā, he said.

The Waitangi Tribunal's ongoing inquiry is looking at injustices against Māori servicemen and women from 1840 to the present day.

Once its inquiry is complete, the tribunal is expected to make recommendations to the government on how to address any injustices.

A Defence Force spokesperson said it was unable to comment on the specifics of the case due to privacy concerns.