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Online crowd funding for the Commonwealth veteran who was billed more than £27,000 (US$33,000) for emergency surgery on a brain tumour, despite serving in the British army for a decade, has raised over £30,000 (US$36,000) towards his medical and visa bills.
Taitusi Ratacaucau was released from hospital on Wednesday, and is staying in a flat made available for the duration of his convalescence by a wellwisher who read about his difficulties in the Guardian.
Ratacaucau recorded a message of thanks to hundreds of donors who have contributed to his hospital bill. He highlighted the ongoing legal action, which he and seven other Commonwealth veterans from Fiji are pursuing. They allege that the Ministry of Defence failed to offer them adequate advice and support over the steps they needed to take on discharge from the army to regularise their immigration status.
“Thank you very much for your support, compassion and kindness. I feel humbled and relieved to know that there are people out there that care for me, my family and my brothers that are also fighting to stay in this country,” he said. He urged people to support his campaign to persuade the MoD and the Home Office to review its policy on charging Commonwealth veterans fees to permit them to remain in the UK after discharge.
“I hope that justice will prevail and the visa fee policies for the armed forces veterans and their families will be abolished.”
Government lawyers rejected an initial claim last week; the veterans plan to continue with the case by submitting a judicial review.
One of numerous organisers of online crowdfunding for Ratacaucau, Thomas Janke, an army veteran and a liberal democrat councillor for Telford and Wrekin council, helped raise £15,000 (US$18,474) towards the hospital fees in five days.
“This really outraged me. I worked alongside Fijians during my service. I had no idea that they would have to jump through these hoops,” he said. “It is despicable that he has had to pay these medical bills after a decade in the army. I was appalled and many people were equally appalled. The government should listen very carefully.”
He called for visa fees for Commonwealth veterans to be abolished, and for indefinite leave to remain to be granted automatically to veterans, after four years of service.
Supporters still hope that NHS England and the Department of Health will review the decision to classify Ratacaucau as an overseas patient and charge him for treatment. In that scenario, organisers of the crowdfunding initiatives will discuss how best to use the funds raised.
“We are overwhelmed by the support from the general public. We can’t thank everyone for their generosity and sense of justice in trying to bring this to the spotlight,” Esita Tuimanu, the co-founder of Commonwealth Neglected Veterans, which has been supporting Ratucaucau during his hospitalisation, said. “With their ongoing support, we hope that justice will prevail for these veterans.”
Although Commonwealth veterans have the right to remain in the UK once they have served for four years, they must apply for this status, and the Home Office application process is expensive and complex. Those who have been unable to afford the visa fees have been categorised as illegal immigrants, unable to access free NHS treatment, facing unemployment and homelessness and fearing deportation.
A government spokesperson said: “We cannot comment on the individual case because of ongoing legal proceedings.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN/ PACNEWS
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