Support lacking for NZ's recent veterans

Support lacking for NZ's recent veterans

With the poppy appeal underway ahead of Anzac Day, younger war veterans say they're fighting to have their voices heard.

There's a stereotype of veterans as older men, but two-thirds of Kiwi vets served after the Vietnam era.

Many are suffering from mental health issues brought on by their service, but say they're not getting the support they need.

After five tours in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, East Timor and Somalia, Aaron Wood has witnessed the horrors of war first hand, and believes the role of the modern New Zealand soldier has become misunderstood by the public.

"The term 'peace-keeping' is used very often, that all the Defence Force does is peace-keeping," he says.

"Nothing could be further from the truth. We do far more than just dig wells, hand out lollies, or do the odd haka here or there."

Fellow veteran Mark Compain says the hellish experiences of younger veterans is still largely unknown.

"I have a good friend of mine who, at 48, died a couple of weeks ago. He told me one story once.

"He was with Woody in the first push into Timor. One of the jobs he had was to recover from a well, the dead bodies of teenage girls who were raped, by ... by the 'opposition', shall we say."

Of New Zealand's 31,000 war veterans, 11,000 are from World War II, Korea or Vietnam, while 20,000 served in more recent conflicts, such as East Timor and Afghanistan.

Many of these younger veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Injuries.

So is the New Zealand Defence Force doing enough for these veterans to get the help they need?

"'No', in a word," says Mr Wood.

"Are they trying? Yes. Do they have good intentions? Absolutely they do, but they haven't cracked it yet, and they haven't cracked it for quite a while."

Mr Wood has created his own support network for his fellow veterans on social media called 'No Duff', military code for "this is not a drill".

'No Duff' works with the RSA to help younger veterans who've slipped through the cracks -- those who might suffer from mental health issues or need welfare assistance.

"These are the things that are happening to our people," says Mr Wood.

"If people understood that and acknowledged that, then our cohort would be a little bit more comfortable about saying, 'Well you know what, I am hurt, and it's okay to be hurt, and that we can come forward and ask for help when we need it'."

So ahead of this Anzac Day, spare a thought not just for the long dead soldiers of Gallipoli, but for our living veterans, from recent, but often forgotten wars.