April 17, 2011

Payout delay angers F-111 ex-workers

Payout delay angers F-111 ex-workers

The imposing figure of A8109, an RAAF F111.

AN IPSWICH man who has suffered from depression, erectile dysfunction and debilitating rashes as a direct result of working with F-111 fighter aircraft says the government is dragging its feet in paying out compensation to victims.

The federal government accepted full liability last year for the hundreds of cases of ex-servicemen who were exposed to chemicals while working on F-111s at the RAAF Amberley base, 50 kilometres west of Brisbane, between 1977 and 2000.

Last year's federal budget allocated $55 million to compensating and supporting victims.

However Peter Grayson, 51, who spent 24 years in service at the RAAF, said he feared he would never see a ''red cent'', despite the government's admission of responsibility.

He said the time it was taking to give financial and mental assistance to the victims was ''a joke'' and that no consideration was being given to how long victims had already waited.

''Finally, they have accepted some of my claims after 10 years of heartache but it's still an uphill battle.

''This has dragged on for so long and, yes, we finally got them to admit what had happened - but no one's getting any compensation for it,'' he said.

Mr Grayson, a trained electronics technician, speculated on what his life could have been had he not been in the RAAF.

''It absolutely ruined my life. I could have been working in a great job earning great money. My marriage was ruined as a direct result of this,'' he said.

''Everyday tasks that other people take for granted are now extremely difficult for me. My life was not meant to be like this.''

Mr Grayson is unemployed, having quit his most recent job three weeks ago.

He said he could not handle the pressure of driving to and from work every day and, as a consequence of his anxiety, would salivate continuously on the drive to work.

''I had to bring a box of tissues with me to wipe my mouth down. I'd be gagging on my own saliva. It was disgusting. Once I got to work, I had to spend the first 20 minutes calming myself down,'' he said.

''This was just because of the drive to work in a job that was quite menial. I should have been in a high-paying job at this stage of my life, rather than being unable to carry out a basic one.''

Adding pressure to his unemployment status are the debts he has accumulated over the past 10 years, seeking advice from a solicitor as well as his medical treatment.

''In all this time I haven't had any financial assistance from RAAF or the DVA [Department of Veterans Affairs] but I keep watching the bills mount up.

''The financial toll from my illnesses is huge and the legal bill keeps climbing higher the longer this drags on.''

The department said ex gratia and compensation payments had been made to date, although they were being handed out slowly.

''Since the 2010 budget announcement, a further 23 ex gratia payments have been made, totalling $1 million, as a result of reviews of existing claimants and decisions on new tier applications,'' a spokesperson said.

Once a service person is formally clasified by the department, they are advised of the decision and invited to lodge claims for compensation and healthcare.

''Those claims may take some time to assess and determine, because a medical assessment of the effect of the conditions claimed is required,'' the spokesperson said.