Recognising atomic vets
BALDIVIS MLA Reece Whitby and Veterans Issues Minister Peter Tinley have been advocating for former servicemen exposed to deadly levels of radiation off WA’s North-West coast during the 1950s.
Mr Tinley said they were not entitled to a Veterans Gold Card to help with their medical expenses.
Mr Whitby’s father Ray was one of eight servicemen sent in 1958 to an atomic weapons testing site on the Montebello Islands off the Pilbara Coast to help scientists collect samples.
He is the last surviving veteran from that party and has been involved in a 20-year battle with the Department of Veteran Affairs for recognition.
“When we arrived on the island, the scientist told me the Geiger counter was at the maximum reading for radiation levels; the island was deadly and there we were in short sleeves and sandals,” Mr Whitby said.
“There was no vegetation, no birdlife, just thousands and thousands of dead sea turtle shells.
“We should have not been there. I’m not happy; out of that party I am the only survivor.”
Ray said some of the party members died later aged in their 30s and 40s. He has spent about $400,000 on hospitals for cancer treatments.
“I was furious. My wife had five miscarriages before Reece was born. I was successful for compensation but the government immediately appealed it as I was 85 days outside of the cut-off point for claiming,” he said.
A Department of Veterans Affairs spokeswoman said people on the HMAS Fremantle were 85 days outside the cut-off point and based on scientific evidence at the time there was no evidence to suggest they would be affected.
Baldivis MLA Reece Whitby with his father Ray.