Recog­nis­ing atomic vets

Weekend Courier - - Street Watch -

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.

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