Dáil Éireann Written Answers 24/11/20 – No plans to offer medical cards to retired Defence Forces personnel

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 897

To ask the Minister for Health his plans to carry out a full health audit of former members of all branches of the Defence Forces with a view to extending a full medical card to all retired Defence Forces members. [38583/20]

Stephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)

Under the provisions of the Health Act 1970 (as amended), eligibility for health services in Ireland is based primarily on residency and means. The Act provides that persons who are unable, without undue hardship, to arrange GP services for themselves and dependents can qualify for full eligibility (a medical card). The HSE awards medical cards in accordance with the Health Act and assesses applicants on the overall financial situation of the applicant and his or her spouse or dependent.

Every effort is made by the HSE, within the framework of the legislation, to support applicants in applying for a medical card and, in particular, to take full account of any difficult circumstances in the case of applicants who may be in excess of the income guidelines. Social and medical issues are also considered when determining whether undue hardship exists for an individual accessing general practitioner or other medical services and to that end, the HSE may exercise discretion and grant a medical card where an applicant exceeds his or her income threshold. Currently, more than 32% of the population hold eligibility for a medical card.

All persons who are ordinarily resident in the state can apply to the HSE to be determined whether eligible for a medical card.

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DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 24/11/20 – No plans by Minister Coveney to audit health of Irish Air Corps personnel despite proven Health & Safety failings

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 464

To ask the Minister for Defence his plans to carry out a full health audit of serving members of the Air Corps. [38582/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

A comprehensive range of primary and secondary medical services are provided to all members of the Permanent Defence Force. This is to ensure that personnel are medically fit to undertake the duties assigned to them, and to treat any medical conditions arising which would inhibit their capacity to undertake such duties. This includes an annual medical examination which comprises a review of the individual’s medical history and a full physical examination.

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Air Corps personnel have been badly served by the Medical Corps

  • Treated chemically injured personnel as malingerers.
  • Refused to refer injured personnel for specialised consultant care for complex illnesses.
  • Used the medical boarding system as a “HR resolution tool” to dismiss chemically injured personnel.
  • Disallowed the testimony of expert medical consultants at such medical boards used to dismiss even whistleblowers.
  • Admonished chemically injured personnel for using civilian doctors even sending  military ambulances to retrieve sick personnel from their homes.
  • Attempted to access medical records of chemically injured personnel in civilian hospitals without their consent.

It must be said that the neglegence of engineering officers within the Formation Safety Office hindered the work of doctors on the ground at Baldonnel and wider afield. 

If the FSO had carried out chemical risk assessments, conducted with “proper vigor” by competent & trained personnel, they would in many instances have required risk specific health surveilance. Risks specific health surveilance would have given medics a “heads up” regarding symptoms of “at risk” illnesses.  This should in turn have lead to annual medical assessments more tailored to these risks than the “standard” annual medical that all members of hte Defence Forces undergo. 

DELAY – DENY – DIE

20 Air Corps personnel died prematurely since whistleblower contacted Varadkar in 2017, Dáil hears

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19 men and 1 woman have died since the Varadkar was approached for help. Subsequent protected disclosures to Varadkar were either ignored or forwarded to then Junior Minister Paul Kehoe.

Absolutely nothing has been done to provide targeted healthcare for  exposed personnel since this date despite damning findings by the HSA which the Department of Defence continue to try to downplay. 

Delay – Deny – Die

Dáil Éireann – Motion on Confidence in Tánaiste Leo Varadkar – 10th November 2020

Róisín Shorthall (Social Democrats)

The shortened version of the Róisín Shorthall T.D. (Social Democrats) contribution on the Motion on Confidence in Tánaiste & Minister for Enterprise , Trade & Employment, Leo Varadkar, T.D.

Deputy Shorthall raises the hypocrisy of Leo Varadkar who used the cabinet rule-book as an excuse to not assist a former Air Corps member seeking medical help to reduce the *untimely deaths of #IrishAirCorps personnel due to unprotected workplace chemical exposure at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

A similar chemical exposure tragedy in the Royal Australian Air Force saw exposed personnel suffer cancer rates up to 41% greater than a control group. But due to awareness, vigilance, screening and other coordinated medical interventions they were able to turn a greater risk of death & illness into 27% lower mortality than the average Australian of the same age. A similar chemical exposure tragedy has also occurred in the armed services of the Netherlands and their first act was to help survivors.

In Ireland Fine Gael has spent the past half decade denying any help whatsoever to exposed Air Corps personnel nor even admitting that a problem exists.

This is despite the fact that both the HSA, and the DoD appointed independent investigator, both vindicated the claims of three whistle-blowers on this issue with the HSA going as far as to threaten legal action against the Air Corps unless they complied with specific instructions from health & safety inspectors.

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Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 85 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980
  • 72 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 48 of these deaths have occurred since 2010

Either the rate of death is accelerating or we are missing many deaths from previous decades or possibly both.

The three leading causes of death

  • 37% of deaths are from cancer
  • 30% deaths are from cardiac
  • At least 18% of deaths are from suicide

*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 51 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths nor murder.

Delay – Deny – Die

85 Untimely deaths recorded in Irish Air Corps toxic chemical exposure tragedy

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 85 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 72 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 48 of these deaths have occurred since 2010
Either the rate of death is accelerating or we are missing many deaths from previous decades or possibly both.
 

3 most significant causes of death

  • 37% of deaths are from  cancer
  • 30% deaths are from cardiac
  • At least 18% of deaths are from suicide
*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 51 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths nor murder.

83 Untimely deaths recorded in Irish Air Corps toxic chemical exposure tragedy

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 83 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 70 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 46 of these deaths have occurred since 2010
Either the rate of death is accelerating or we are missing many deaths from previous decades or possibly both.
 

3 most significant causes of death

  • 37% of deaths are from  cancer
  • 30% deaths are from cardiac
  • At least 18% of deaths are from suicide
*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 51 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths nor murder.

Seanad Éireann – 17th July 2020 – Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Exposure Scandal

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell (Independent)

Watch Senator Gerard Craughwell request that the speaker of the Irish Senate invite the head of the State Claims Agency before senators in the Upper House to explain why NAMA / NTMA / SCA have ignored an order of the Irish Supreme Court to provide critical toxic chemical exposure data to a former Irish Air Corps technician.

The technician is one of a number of seriously injured Irish Air Corps personnel who are taking legal action against the state alleging non existent chemical health & safety at the Irish Air Corps at Casement Aerodrome.

The data was originally requested in 2013 and has delayed legal cases for 7 years. 32 personnel have died young since the data was requested bringing the untimely death body count to 78 personnel with an average age 50 years.

A third of the deaths are cancer, a third are cardiovascular and a fifth (15) suicide. #DelayDenyDie 

Army Deafness Claims & the role of Independent Newspapers Group

In the early 1990s the Irish Independent & Evening Herald kicked off a campaign of ridicule against the Irish Defence Forces due to the high age profile of Irish military personnel.

In the 1990s Irish Defence Forces personnel were issued with ONE pair of disposable ear plugs annually and were fined if they lost them.

Driven by “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, the ranks of the Defence Forces had swelled in the 1970s and with a severe recession in the 1980s personnel were obviously reluctant to leave.  Subsequently the average age of an Irish soldier in the early 1990s hovered around the 42 year age mark.

Being true patriots, the Irish Independent & Evening Herald kicked off a campaign of ridicule against the Defence Forces trotting out “Dad’s Army” headlines and urging the government to reduce the age profile.

Knowing how Independent newspapers group operate they were probably conniving with some political party to bring this about. Perhaps it was Fine Gael who connived with the Indo although later the same newspaper helped topple the FG led rainbow coalition with the infamous “it’s payback time” headline the morning of a general election.

Ray Burke TD had issued an Independent Newspapers group subsidiary “Princes Holdings” with MMDS licences for the rebroadcasting of TV signals across Ireland and the Indo had subsequently gotten a bit upset that the rainbow government had failed to crackdown on community TV deflectors which ate into their MMDS profits.  As it turns out Princes Holdings had issued cheques of £30,000 made payable to “cash” to Ray Burke before he awarded them the licences.

In order to lower the age profile, the Department of Defence had to find a way of encouraging older soldiers to leave so that they could start a recruitment campaign for younger personnel. If any other state or semi state employer at the time needed to reduce headcount they offered a Voluntary Early Retirement (VER) package to entice older personnel to leave but the Department of Defence had a better idea.

Military personnel were in a somewhat insecure position in terms of employment in that they were on rolling contracts some of which were in terms as low as 3-years. It was possible that the Defence Forces could decide that your “service was no longer required” and at the end of a particular contract term you could be refused re-engagement. The Department of Defence decided take advantage of “service no longer required”.

The Department of Defence decided to introduce a stringent annual medical and a stringent annual fitness test. As part of the annual medical they introduced a hearing test and this is where the spectacular own goal kicked into play.

Personnel who had served the Defence Forces during a very difficult period in the history of the Irish state started to be informed that their service would be no longer required because their hearing was not up to the required new standard.

Anyone who served in the Defence Forces during this period knows that Health & Safety was nonexistent. There are stories of soldiers bringing civvy ear defenders to range practice only to be told to take them off because the were not “issued”.  All personnel, including those firing heavy weapons , such as artillery, mortars & naval guns, had to make do with stuffing cotton wool into their ears if they were lucky.

When some basic disposable foam earplugs were eventually introduced there were occasions where these were handed out on the ranges only to be collected again and handed out again “used” to different personnel the next day. Yes, some personnel received disposable earplugs that had been inside someone elses ear.

The Defence Forces commenced informing personnel that their service would no longer be required and indeed some were discharged on medical grounds for hearing loss. This spread panic amongst serving personnel as they faced losing their livelihood in a country still in tough economic circumstances.

When personnel started to compare the printed results of their audiometry tests they started to notice a consistent common pattern in the hearing loss. The loss was most pronounced at the frequency range that matched gunfire.

Considerable rules & military law existed for the protection of hearing in the Defence Forces stretching as far back as the the Defence Act of 1954 but these had been utterly ignored. Similar to how the Irish Air Corps ignored legislation relating to chemical Health & Safety, the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence simply ignored their own rules on protecting serving soldiers hearing to save money.

Internal DoD/DF communications came to light where it was revealed that spending of £2 million on full hearing protection for all personnel was refused on cost grounds.

The threat of job losses spurred personnel to take legal action for the hearing loss they suffered. This later spread to FCA/RDF personnel as they were treated in an equally appalling manner.

Eventually the Department of Defence did introduce a Voluntary Early Retirements scheme which ironically was used to bully Irish Air Corps personnel out of SAR squadron at Baldonnel. A SAR winchman who had been injured likely by exposure to aviation fuel & exhaust gasses was treated as a malingerer and returned from sick leave to find an already completed VER form in his locker…all that was left was to sign the dotted line.

Even today the Department of Defence still try to paint the biggest own goal in the history of the state as a scam perpetrated by soldiers and the Independent who helped kick off the whole scandal are happy to keep spreading this misinformation.

Perhaps the Indo can investigate how thousands of serving, retired & reserve personnel were able to spoof deafness at 4kHz?  Anyone who has ever sat an audiometry evaluation knows that the frequencies are fed to you randomly so either thousands of personnel are pitch perfect at spotting 4kHz signals or perhaps it wasn’t a scam at all and through decades of neglect the hearing of thousands of personnel was damaged.

We know who the courts believed!

Incidentally with 78 untimely deaths in the Irish Air Corps workplace chemical exposure,  the Irish Independent are more than willing to look the other way and completely ignore the tragedy. No shareholders interests are being harmed obviously and you only have to consider their anti Sinn Fein headlines to understand how politically directed the Indo currently are.

Delay – Deny – Die

It is interesting to note that the Independent have trotted out former Minister for Defence Michael Smith and there are two things worthy of note.
Firstly Minister Smith,  who paints himself as a hero who defended state coffers from greedy, cheating Defence Forces personnel, was a member of the Fianna Fail cabinet who struck a deal in 2002 to indemnify religious orders from legal action due to clerical child abuse. It has estimated that this deal which Smith’s cabinet signed off, has cost the state in the region of €1,500,000,000, yes folks Smith was party to actions that left the irish state liable for claims totalling €1.5 billion so far. 
Secondly, a serving member of the Irish Air Corps was knocked down and left for dead in a hit & run collision outside Templemore in October 1994 This man was badly injured suffering fractured eye sockets, haemorrhaged eyes, thirty fractures to his upper & lower jaws, his back was broken in four places, his hips were dislocated and his internal organs bruised.
This motorist drove over his head, did a U turn, stopped to look at him and then drove off leaving him to eventually fall into a coma.

The injured Air Corps technician, who had represented the Defence Forces as an athlete at national level, worked hard to make a good recovery . He subsequently attempted to carry out a fitness test required to extend his contract but the Air Corps refused to allow him take the fitness test saying he wasn’t medically fit to conduct the test.

The Air Corps technician sought the assistance of Minister Smith to intervene and overturn the decision to not allow him to conduct his fitness test but the minister never intervened and the airman was effectively sacked.

The motorist was charged with leaving the scene of an accident/crime by Gardai. The victim’s legal team called the Gardai seeking to know when the case was coming to court, as their client was obviously the chief witness, but the Gardai informed the victims legal team that no date was scheduled. 

It turns out that the information the Gardai passed to the victim’s legal team was untrue and the case went to court a few days subsequent to the phone call without the victim being present. With no witnesses the charges against the motorist were dismissed. 

By sheer coincidence the woman who knocked down the Air Corps technician and left him for dead happened to be a niece of Minister Michael Smith, the same minister who would not help him save his job. 

Former Defence Forces mechanic wins appeal over order halting damages claim

Court of Appeal overturns High Court finding over action time limits

A former aircraft mechanic with the Defence Forces has won his appeal against an order halting his damages action over injuries allegedly suffered as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals at work.

The Court of Appeal overturned a High Court finding that Ian Coughlan’s action was brought outside the applicable time limits and thus bound to fail.

The High Court relied on inadmissible evidence in coming to that finding, the three judge Court of Appeal held in its judgment on Wednesday.

The application to halt the case must now be reconsidered in line with the Court of Appeal’s findings.

 

Mr Justice Noonan said Mr Coughlan, both during and after his employment with the Defence Forces, attended a large number of doctors about his complaints. Mr Coughlan himself has long believed there was an association between his complaints and his working environment but says he was repeatedly assured by doctors he was wrong about this, the judge noted.

Mr Coughlan says it was only in November 2011, when he got a verbal opinion from a clinical toxico-pathologist, a Professor Howard, that he became aware of a causal link between his symptoms and his employment.

He claimed that was his date of knowledge for his cause of action and, because his proceedings were issued in 2013, they were within the two – year limit stipulated in the Statute of Limitations Act.

The defendants argued his date of knowledge long pre-dated the November 2011 opinion. They said he had seen a toxicologist, a Dr Wood, in London in 2008 and exhibited a January 2009 report by Dr Wood in arguing his claim was statute barred.

The judge found an objection by counsel for Mr Coughlan to the admissibility of the Wood report on hearsay grounds was “well-founded”. The Wood report had the same status as a document produced in the course of discovery, it does not prove itself and it was inadmissible as hearsay, he held.

Even if the report was properly admitted and properly proved, fair procedures required its contents should have been put to Mr Coughlan in cross-examination to give him a fair opportunity to deal with it, he also held.

Read full article on the Irish Times website below…

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It should be noted that in order to comply with a recent Supreme Court order in relation to a separate case the Irish Air Corps have until the 6th of April to provide a full list of toxic workplace chemicals they have withheld from former personnel. 

Delay – Deny – Die

Former Defence Forces mechanic wins appeal over order halting ‘chemicals’ damages claim

A former aircraft mechanic with the Defence Forces has won his appeal against an order halting his damages action over injuries allegedly suffered as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals at work.

The Court of Appeal overturned a High Court finding that Ian Coughlan’s action was brought outside the applicable time limits and thus bound to fail.

In proceedings against the Minister for Defence and the State, he alleges he was exposed to toxic chemicals used for degreasing aircraft parts, was not provided with proper protection against the effects of those and suffered personal injuries.

Among various claims, he alleges he suffered dizziness, skin rashes, nasal irritation, sores, sleep disturbance, chronic fatigue and headaches, skin yellowness and bloody diarrhoea.

Mr Justice Noonan said Mr Coughlan, both during and after his employment with the Defence Forces, attended a large number of doctors about his complaints. Mr Coughlan himself has long believed there was an association between his complaints and his working environment but says he was repeatedly assured by doctors he was wrong about this, the judge noted.

Mr Coughlan says it was only in November 2011, when he got a verbal opinion from a clinical toxico-pathologist, a Professor Howard, he became aware of a causal link between his symptoms and his employment.

He claimed that was his date of knowledge for his cause of action and, because his proceedings were issued in 2013, they were within the two year limit stipulated in the Statute of Limitations Act.

The defendants argued his date of knowledge long pre-dated the November 2011 opinion. They said he had seen a toxicologist, a Dr Wood, in London in 2008 and exhibited a January 2009 report by Dr Wood in arguing his claim was statute barred.

Mr Coughlan said in an affidavit Dr Wood was “very much limited” in expressing an opinion as to any causal connection between his employment and his injuries because of a lack of information available to the doctor concerning the chemicals and solvents to which he had been exposed.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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It should be noted that in order to comply with a recent Supreme Court order in relation to a separate case the Irish Air Corps have until the 6th of April to provide a full list of toxic workplace chemicals they have withheld from former personnel. 

Delay – Deny – Die