War veteran's 50-year pension fight after jungle cobra attack

Patrick Edwards and his daughter Aneta were in the Wellington High Court on Friday.
ANETA EDWARDS/SUPPLIED

Patrick Edwards and his daughter Aneta were in the Wellington High Court on Friday.

An 80-year-old war veteran who lost his eyesight after a cobra attack in the Malayan jungle has been fighting for compensation for 50 years.

Patrick Edwards and his family travelled from Rotorua to Wellington for a hearing at the High Court where he is seeking compensation from the New Zealand military pension authorities.

As a young man fighting for his country, he was in patrol in the jungle on the Thai-Malay border when a cobra spat on him and venom landed on his face, the court heard.

A 22-year-old Patrick Edwards on patrol on the Thai-Malay border in 1959.
ANETA EDWARDS/SUPPLIED

A 22-year-old Patrick Edwards on patrol on the Thai-Malay border in 1959.

Edwards is calling for a court decision granting a back-dated war disablement pension to 1966 for the loss of his eyesight.

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Speaking outside court, his daughter Aneta​ Edwards said she had been involved with her father's case for more than 20 years and the ongoing fight was terrible.

Aneta, her father Patrick Edwards, and lawyers Jenni-Maree Trotman and Ted Midlane.
SUPPLIED

Aneta, her father Patrick Edwards, and lawyers Jenni-Maree Trotman and Ted Midlane.

"We had to go to the Ombudsman, they requested the secretary reconsider the application that meant it could be reopened. 

"That's why we have come to the High Court."

Edwards fought for his country during the Malayan Emergency, an anti-communist guerilla war between Commonwealth forces, including 4000 Kiwi soldiers and the Malayan National Liberation Army from 1948 to 1960.

Edwards as a young man serving Commonwealth forces during the Malayan Emergency.
ANETA EDWARDS/SUPPLED

Edwards as a young man serving Commonwealth forces during the Malayan Emergency.

The veteran, unsteady on a walking stick and wearing his medals, had to be briefly excused from court because he was feeling unwell.

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Edwards made his first application for a war veteran's disability pension in 1966.

He sat beside Aneta​ during the hearing before Justice Joe Williams, who said there was no issue that Edwards entered service with good eyesight, which progressively deteriorated within a year of leaving Malaya.

Since the 1960s, Edwards has been arguing with military pension providers that his eyes were damaged during service, but his overall war pension package did not include compensation for loss of eyesight.

Eventually, in the 2000s, the authorities accepted a claim his deteriorating eyesight and then blindness related to military service. In 2006, his pension was back-dated to 2004 but an appeal to back-date to the date of disability, or the original war pension claim in 1966, was declined by the now-defunct appeal board.

He appealed this to the Ombudsman, who directed a reconsideration, and then Edwards sought a judicial review.

His lawyer Jenni-Maree Trotman said Veterans' Affairs has stated the Secretary-General of War Pensions' position and that organisation's appeal board no longer existed. 

She said the army failed to medically examine Edwards' eyesight when he was discharged from active service. She also said medical records showed "syphilis" but Edwards never contracted the disease.

Broadly, Veterans' Affairs say the legislation under which Edwards was considered for a pension no longer existed, there was no power to reconsider an appeal board decision and no discretion to back-date.

"They're saying this is an exercise in futility. We're saying the High Court should make a decision," Trotman said.

"Had they undertaken an assessment in 1962 they would have picked up on this eyesight disabilities and we may not be here today.

"This is a man who fought for his country."

Edwards was on patrol when he encountered a snake; on reflection he believed the cobra spat and some venom may have splashed in his eyes. But, he did not know the exact cause of his deteriorating eyesight.

He lost sight in one eye during the 1960s and by 1989 he was fully blind.

Trotman said a doctor in 1983 suggested Veterans' Affairs correct Edwards' medical records.

The Crown case will be heard on Tuesday, February 28.

 - Stuff

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