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Toespraak minister Bijleveld op een conferentie over het Landelijk Zorgsysteem voor Veteranen (LZV) in Amsterdam
Deze toespraak is alleen beschikbaar in het Engels.
|Ministerie van Defensie
Ladies and gentlemen,
Before I begin my talk, I wish to thank the national health care system for veterans – the LZV - for their invitation to speak at this event.
I would also like thank Mayor Van Aartsen of Amsterdam for hosting this international symposium about such an important subject.
Proper care for veterans is one of the hallmarks of a civilised and dignified society.
As Minister of Defence, I bid you all a very warm welcome to the Netherlands.
One of the safest places on earth, yet a nation that has experienced first-hand the horrors of war and occupation.
Things change fast: whilst my parents experienced war, I have known only peace.
This does not mean, however, that my nation has turned its back on problems elsewhere.
The Netherlands is a founding member of the European Union, the United Nations and NATO.
In addition we are a trading nation.
And despite no longer ruling the waves the way we did in the 17th century, we remain very much dependent on maritime trade routes.
We have vested interests across the globe.
In short: we are engaged in the world and its affairs.
It is why we take part in UN and NATO missions.
It is why we join our European friends in EU missions.
It is why, ladies and gentlemen, we have veterans.
The first image that pops into people’s minds when they hear the word veteran is probably that of an elderly gentleman.
Medals pinned on his dark-blue suit jacket.
A war story on hand about the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes.
Or taking Hill three-two-five in Korea in 1950 …
But we all know this picture does not do justice to reality.
In my hometown, I personally know a veteran who is not an elderly gentlemen but a woman of 52.
She is not silver-haired but blonde.
And she definitely does not wear dark-blue suit jackets.
She is physically very fit, the mother of three daughters between 16 and 23 years old and is happily married.
Her husband is also a veteran.
Our daughters played on the same hockey team.
They are Erik and Lyanne and they both served in the former republic of Yugoslavia during the Yugoslav war.
Lyanne suffers from PTSD.
Erik lost part of his right arm when working with explosives at his army base in the Netherlands.
Both of them know what it is to serve.
What it means to suffer.
And both have experienced the best and the worst of our health care.
Whilst Erik’s injury is evident, Lyanne’s is not.
She is physically fit and looks very healthy.
Her mind, however, is troubled.
Back in the nineties, there was yet another complication for her: she is a woman.
Now why would her womanhood cause a problem?
This seems odd.
But our health care for veterans was not up to scratch.
It was not geared towards female veterans, as most veterans were – and still are - men.
And still today, just under ten percent of our military are women.
In the nineties, it was even less.
Lyanne could not find the care she needed, and for her and her family, things got worse.
A lot of pain could have been avoided if the care had met Lyanne’s needs.
If the care system back then had been organised around veterans, the way it is today.
So what was actually going on with our health care for veterans?
Well, for a long time: nothing.
From 1945 up until the late eighties, apart from a few private initiatives, we had no veterans care to speak of.
During that period, veterans from the Dutch war in Indonesia had voiced their complaints about this.
In 1989, a veterans union was formed and a year later the first comprehensive veterans policy was written.
Things started taking shape in the nineties, but it was still early days.
As people like Erik and Lyanne were experiencing.
In 2000, the Veterans Institute was founded.
Its job is to encourage and coordinate the cooperation between those responsible for policy and health care for veterans.
It was another step in the right direction.
Then, in 2005, Veterans Day was launched.
An important, national, annual event that acknowledges the work and sacrifices of our military.
Veterans regard this day as one of the highlights of their year, as it gives them a chance to meet up with old friends and share experiences.
In that same year, we overhauled our military mental health care.
It now ranks as one of the best mental health care systems in the world.
Two years later, in 2007, the LZV was founded.
The strength of the LZV lies in bringing together civil and military organisations.
For a veteran, no matter where he or she lives in the Netherlands, there is always a health care-provider available.
All this led up to the Veterans Act, which was passed in parliament in the spring of 2012.
An important milestone.
Let me tell you why.
The Act defines veterans in much broader terms.
We regard any serviceman or woman – active or retired – as a veteran.
As long as they have the Dutch nationality and have served our nation under wartime or similar conditions.
This includes those who served in operations abroad.
And personnel of the former Dutch East Indies Army and Dutch conscript merchant navy.
This broader definition is very important.
Because it means that military personnel are eligible for care during their careers.
This allows us to monitor our troops’ health before, during and after missions.
We are now better equipped to keep our servicemen and women in better health during their time with us.
This is good for the armed forces, it’s good for the servicemen and women and it’s good for their families.
We have a come a long way.
And now here we are.
For the first time on Dutch soil: the international conference on veterans’ health care.
Starting from nothing, via a small union and an annual day celebrating our veterans, to a comprehensive health care system for veterans.
All neatly packaged – and guaranteed - in the Veterans Act.
Our care for veterans is now professionally organised with a serious budget.
In total, we have paid 340 million euros in debts of honour and claims.
Annually, we pay almost 70 million in disability pensions and 25 million in full compensations.
The yearly cost to keep the whole veteran care system working adds up to 17 million euros.
All this for a veteran population of a hundred and eleven thousand seven hundred people.
Roughly 25.000 of these are active military personnel.
But besides money, what I believe is equally important, is that we have changed our philosophy about health care.
Whereas in the past we would focus on injury and illness, today we focus on prevention and good health.
If you start talking to people and caring for them when they are in good health, chances are they will stay healthy.
Today, our health care is organised according to the needs of the veteran.
Their families are involved too.
And the different health care professionals treating the veterans are all talking to one another.
Everyone who needs to be is involved.
After many years, the proper care did eventually reach Lyanne, Erik and their family.
Lyanne has finally found suitable psychological counselling and receives her disability compensation.
Erik is now an entrepreneur and co-owner of a security firm.
He’s still involved with veterans and helps organise Veterans Day in our hometown.
The way we treat our veterans now is based on recognition, appreciation and care.
And I strongly believe that good care is the greatest recognition.
Sure, we can organize parades and hand out medals – and these too are important.
But if we do not follow up with good care, it means nothing.
If we leave our veterans and their families out in the cold, fully dependent on charity and hand-outs, then medal parades and medals amount to very little in the lives of those who served us and risked everything.
In the past we have let veterans down.
It took too long for the proper care to reach Lyanne and veterans like her.
That is why international meetings like this one and those held before in other nations are so important.
They give us the chance to exchange experience and expertise.
To talk about our findings and research results.
And to ultimately help people like Lyanne and Erik: our veterans.
Now, before I leave the stage, I would like to sign on the dotted line of a very important contract.
It is a contract that the Ministry of Defence and the twelve parties who form the LZV renew every three years.
It seals our commitment to continue our cooperation and to honour the agreements we have made.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
I wish you an inspiring conference and hope you will carry on organising these international meetings for the sake of our veterans.