Graham White not only gave the Australian navy ten years of his labour – that service will now cost him his life.
Mr White joined the navy as a fit 23-year-old in 1995, after working as a personal trainer and martial arts coach. In 2008, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer linked to the strontium chromate, a chemical which was used before the 1980s as an undercoat on naval ships constructed in the US.
Now aged 47, his health has progressively deteriorated since he was diagnosed in 2008 with a cancer in his ear called adenoid cystic carcinoma.
Mr White told Fairfax Media that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs had not given him any help getting or paying for medical treatment.
“They just use you and spit you out,” he said.
“They have taken every opportunity to not take any responsibility for their actions.
“They still have the same protocols and are still doing the same thing.”
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has now found Mr White’s military job contributed to his condition, making him eligible to claim compensation from the federal government.
AAT Senior Member John Sosso heard conflicting evidence about whether the cancer could be directly linked to Mr White’s service, but he decided that “the evidence is sufficient to reach a conclusion on the balance of probabilities”.
The “stark sequence of events” had led to, “or strongly suggests, a presumptive inference that his exposure to chromate dust and the development of [adenoid cystic carcinoma] are linked”.
“The fact that the applicant was inserting into his right ear canal on a relatively frequent basis over an extended period of time ear plugs that were exposed to strontium chromate dust and he subsequently developed cancer of the right ear, leads to the drawing of a common-sense inference.”
Mr White was exposed to the strontium chromate dust when he was posted to the HMAS Hobart at Sydney’s Garden Island in 1996.
He said the dust entered his ear through repeated insertion and removal of his earplugs.
“I was often required to remove these ear plugs so that I could speak to and hear orders from my commanding officers,” Mr White said in evidence.
“As the dust would often coat the outside of the earplugs, the dust would be deposited into my ear wax when I removed and replaced the ear plugs.”
Mr White also gave evidence that he was often required to dive in the water while paint was being removed from the side of the ship to feel for mines.
“This meant that there was a dust film caused by the paint on the surface of the water as I was entering the water.”
The AAT heard that the Australian Military had denied any liability to pay Mr White compensation because it rejected the cancer was caused by his exposure to the strontium chromate and other substances.
Mr White said he was concerned that the navy was failing to protect service men and women from exposure to the same chemicals that gave him cancer.
He said he has friends in the navy who are now experiencing similar health problems to him after exposure to chemicals including strontium chromate.
Georgia Plunkett-Scott from Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, who represented Mr White, said the AAT decision had given Mr White the right to pursue individual claims for time off work, medical expenses, caring assistance, compensation and benefits. She said he had so far “not received a cent” from the federal government.
“Unfortunately the nature of the military compensation scheme means that he has several other hoops that he now has to jump through in order to try to get the compensation,” she said.
A Department of Veterans’ Affairs spokesman said the department would not comment on Mr White’s case “due to privacy considerations”.
“However, in general, once liability has been accepted for a service-related condition under the [Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act], [the Department of Veterans’ Affairs] provides economic and non-economic benefits to support their health, work and independence,” he said.