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Landmark decision by Veterans’ Affairs

Press release - Parkinson’s New Zealand

6 October 2017

Veterans Affairs’ New Zealand has recognised that Parkinson’s is linked to a toxic solvent used within the Navy, both on ships and on shore, and will now be paying disability compensation.

The Royal New Zealand Navy used a number of chemical solvents on ships beginning in at least the 1950s. Among the chemical solvents was trichloroethylene (TCE), which is thought to be among the most damaging to human health, with links to a number of adverse health effects including Parkinson’s.

In the 1970s Parkinson’s New Zealand member George* (George’s name has been changed to protect his confidentiality) served on a Royal New Zealand Navy ship. Decades later, he is living with Parkinson’s, and Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand has recognised there is a connection.

In a landmark decision, Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand has agreed to provide George with an entitlement to disability compensation for Parkinson’s, a condition that is attributed to his operational service on a Royal New Zealand Navy ship during the Malayan Emergency.

The link between exposure to the chemical solvent TCE and Parkinson’s has been recognised by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, but George’s case is the only known case in New Zealand in which this link has been recognised.

The recognition from Veterans Affairs’ New Zealand that disabilities stemming from Parkinson’s can be attributed to exposures to TCE means that George will be entitled to receive disability compensation.

“Researchers have shown that this solvent TCE may be associated with an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s,” said Parkinson’s New Zealand Chief Executive Deirdre O’Sullivan.

“We still don’t know exactly what causes Parkinson’s.  It’s most likely to be a combination of genetic susceptibility and environmental factors.”

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurodegenerative condition. It is caused by insufficient quantities of dopamine - a chemical in the brain. Dopamine enables quick, well-coordinated movement. When dopamine levels fall, movements become slow and awkward. Parkinson’s has both motor and non-motor symptoms, and while it cannot be cured it can be treated.

Despite receiving his Parkinson’s diagnosis several years ago, George’s entitlements were not paid until this year. The family learned that Veterans Affairs’ decision rested largely on the science supporting a connection between exposure to TCE and Parkinson’s. 

During the appeal process, George said that he received significant support from the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association (RSA), which has been a vocal advocate for veterans sickened by environmental exposures, including those from radiation exposure and Agent Orange. Over the years Parkinson’s New Zealand and the RSA have worked in partnership to support service personnel including George. 

“We are very pleased that George and his family received this entitlement from Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand. There are likely to be many more people living with Parkinson’s in George’s situation, who are not aware of the link between this solvent TCE and Parkinson’s,” said O’Sullivan.

“We are working very hard with our friends and partners at the RSA to raise awareness so people do not need to deal with these issues on their own.”

If you need information or support, Parkinson’s New Zealand can help.  Freephone 0800 473 463 or visit www.parkinsons.org.nz.

 

ENDS

For media enquiries: Julianne Ryan, Communications Manager, 0210703308 

 

Notes for the editor

About Parkinson’s

  • One in every 500 New Zealanders has Parkinson’s – around 10,000 people.
  • People with Parkinson’s tend not to refer to themselves as ‘sufferers’, opting for a more positive ‘people living with Parkinson’s’.
  • Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition that occurs when insufficient quantities of the chemical dopamine are produced by the brain
  • A large number of people with Parkinson’s are aged over 65, however the average age of diagnosis is 59, and many New Zealanders are diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s in their thirties and forties.
  • The main motor symptoms of Parkinson’s are:
    • Tremor (shaking)
    • Stiffness and rigidity
    • Slowness of movement (bradykinesia)
    • Other symptoms can include changes in mood and anxiety, poor balance and altered speech

About Parkinson’s New Zealand

  • Parkinson’s New Zealand is a national not-for-profit with 20 divisions and branches throughout the country and 32 Community Educators who work with people with Parkinson’s as part of multi-disciplinary teams
  • Contact details for Parkinson’s Community Educators are available on www.parkinsons.org.nz or by phoning 04 801 8850 or 0800 473 463. 
  • Parkinson’s New Zealand is a community based, non-profit organisation, registered with the Charities Commission and reliant on funding from grants, bequests and donations.