War hero Willie Apiata on toll of military service


Victoria Cross recipient Willie Apiata features in a short film to launch a new mental health policy initiative for Kiwi veterans in which he reveals a never-before-seen portrait of himself he describes as an image of a “broken man".

The NZ Defence Force and Veterans Affairs have just released a 60-page policy framework document which is the culmination of a year’s detailed examination of the mental health and wellbeing needs of New Zealand’s veterans.

The framework comes off the back of the Government’s 2018 He Ara Oranga report into mental health and addiction - which identified veterans as a vulnerable group.

In 2007, Apiata was awarded the highest award for gallantry in the NZ military, the Victoria Cross. He was involved in the roundtable discussions in 2021 which helped conceive the new policy framework.

The 50-year-old Afghanistan vet also features heavily in the launch video titled Coming Home, directed by Steve Baker.

In it, Apiata displays a portrait of himself in fully military uniform which he says represents the hidden mental trauma of his 23 years’ service.

“This portrait of myself is a portrait that no one has ever seen. When I look at it I see a broken man,” Apiata says.

“We’re just trying to do our best to come back home, that’s all. But we need help. I have served my country and I have served it with honour, as all my brothers and sisters have, and I left with a whole lot of injuries and illnesses that I did not start with.”

Willie Apiata and Sir Bom Gillies, the last remaining member of the WW2 Māori Battalion, appear...
Willie Apiata and Sir Bom Gillies, the last remaining member of the WW2 Māori Battalion, appear in the video. Image: supplied
Head of Veterans’ Affairs Bernadine MacKenzie said the roundtable discussions highlighted the need for system improvements in the NZDF, including increased awareness, effective prevention, and enhanced support for the mental health challenges for returning veterans.

“We realised there are problems and issues here. We wanted to look at the evidence, and identify what New Zealand can do to improve the mental health and wellbeing of veterans, their families, and whānau.”

Afghanistan veteran Maaka Mckinney also features in the launch video and speaks of his own experiences of a lack of support on his return from a war zone.

“When I left the military, to be honest, there was no support,” Mckinney said.

“The care and support that I got was from my own brothers that I’d served in the military with. I had been diagnosed to have post traumatic stress disorder and depression.”

Veteran Chantelle Locke also attests to the lack of support on returning to New Zealand from service.

“It was an honour, it was a sacrifice I made for others but I also had times where I felt alone. There’s no support from anybody unless you make the effort yourself.”

Sir Bom Gillies also appears on the video. At 97, he is the last remaining member of the Māori Battalion - an infantry battalion of World War 2 - and was knighted in 2021.

“We cannot let this to carry on, we’ve got to start, not just looking after our own families. We gotta start looking after those who have served,” he said.

Minister for Veterans Meka Whaitiri welcomed the new resource - Te Arataki mō te Hauora Ngākau mō ngā Mōrehu a Tū me ō rātou Whānau, The Veteran, Family and Whānau Mental Health and Wellbeing Policy Framework.

“I’m impressed with the hard work and dedication of so many in the sector who’ve made this framework happen,” she said.

“What they’ve produced is a great guide to the needs of veterans, and how best to improve their mental health and wellbeing – and also that of the families and whānau who support them and help to shoulder their burdens.”

Whaitiri’s support for the framework is shared by Minister of Health Andrew Little and Minister of Defence Peeni Henare.

Veterans Willie Apiata (VC), Vic Timu, Ben Peckham, Tina Grant, Andy Peters and Chief of Army Major General John Boswell were all part of the roundtable which helped create the policy document.

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