• Kia Fullerton

British army veteran faces £27,000 NHS hospital bill

A Common-wealth veteran who served for more than a decade in the British army including destinations in Afghanistan and Iraq, has been told he must pay more than £27,000 for NHS hospital bills after an emergency operation to remove a brain tumour.

Hospital staff referred Taitusi Ratucaucau, 49, as an overseas patient and therefore ineligible for free NHS care. Ratucaucau joined the British army in 2001 and continuously served for the UK since being discharged from the military in 2011.

Originally from Fiji, Ratucaucau is recovering in a London hospital after major brain surgery in April. With no savings, too unwell to work and main breadwinner for is family. He is unable to give the demand payment, which is increasing around £1,500 for every day he remains an inpatient.

Like many other Commonwealth-born veterans, Ratucaucau has launched a legal action against the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence earlier this year. Over an alleged failure to allow settlement in the UK on discharge and for failing to assist with complex, expensive immigration rules.

Because of this, Ratucaucau and many others have been labelled as illegal immigrants. Which means unable to access free NHS treatment, facing unemployment, homelessness and fearing deportation. In addition to this, they are unable to change their status due to the cost and complexity of the immigration system.

On discharge from the army, Ratucaucau said he was given unclear advice and was later unable to afford the cost of visas for himself, his wife and two daughters, 13 and nine.

Ratucaucau's daughters were born while the family were living in British military bases in Germany, which at that time was around £5,000. Now he would need to pay £2,389 for each applicant, a total of £9,556 for the whole family to secure indefinite leave to remain here.

In a witness statement given to his lawyer, Vinita Templeton before he became ill, Ratucaucau said: "As I had served for 10 years, I expected that I would be able to remain in the UK after being discharged. I feel that the position I have had to endure since being discharged from the army is very unfair.

"The army let me down badly by not giving me enough notice about steps that needed to be taken in order for me and my family to remain in the UK, and also about the cost of the Home Office applications."

He added, "I feel that the fees that the Home Office charge foreign national veterans for the right to remain is extremely unfair, considering the committed service we have given to this country."

Templeton and Ratucaucau are now waiting for a response from the Ministry of Defence.

Esita Tuimanu, the co-founder of Commonwealth Neglected Veterans, which has been supporting Ratucaucau during his hospitalisation, said:

"It breaks my heart to see someone who has served for more than 10 years being treated like this. They have sacrificed so much of their life for Queen and country; they risked so much in Afghanistan and Iraq. I don’t think these men and women should ever be left in this position."

The armed forces employ about 4,500 Commonwealth citizens. In regards to recruitment, Commonwealth countries has recently stepped up “to build on the long-held links Britain’s military has with Commonwealth countries”, according to the MoD.

A government spokesperson who would not comment on Ratucaucau's case said, “The service of all members of the armed forces, including Commonwealth nationals, is highly valued.”

Source: The Guardian

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