Vietnam Veterans Day in Evans Head.
Vietnam Veterans Day in Evans Head. Susanna Freymark

DVA health care for skin cancer denied by Lismore clinic

SECOND World War veteran Rex Page received a startling letter from his doctor.

The 93-year-old Kyogle man was told his skin cancer checks and treatment were "financially unsustainable” for Lismore Skin Clinic to continue treating.

Existing patients were advised that, from July 31 this year, their Department of Veterans affairs card would not be accepted at the clinic and they would be offered appointments as private patients.

Mr Page served as a wireless operator in New Guinea and has had skin cancers cut out of his leg and arms and needed skin grafts.

"I've had two knee replacements too,” Mr Page said. "I toddle along.”

His gold DVA card covered his medical expenses. Or so he thought.

The letter from the Lismore clinic stated:

"Since 2012, the DVA repatriation medical fee schedule for specialist consultations and procedures has been frozen, with this freeze to remain until July 2020.

"In addition, specialists are prevented by DVA from charging veterans a gap payment if they accept the relevant DVA card for medical services.

"As a result of the fee schedule freezes, it is now financially unsustainable for the practice to continue to accept DVA cards.”

Vietnam Veterans Day in Evans Head.
Rod Hatcher's hat on Vietnam Veterans Day in Evans Head. Susanna Freymark

Dermatologist and skin surgeon Dr Ken Gudmundsen said the decision to see DVA card holders only as private patients was not taken lightly.

"I came to Lismore in 2000, and for 16 and a half years I have been charging DVA patients nothing when they attend me,” Dr Gudmundsen said.

"I have not made this decision easily. I also understand that it is difficult for some patients to comprehend all this, when they are used to attending doctors for free.”

The Lismore Skin Clinic was affected by the floods in March.

"We sustained a large amount of damage to the building and equipment. A decision had to be made whether we could actually afford to re-open the practice or not,” he said.

"In the end we were closed for eight weeks, to rebuild, and repair; and this cost us over $100,000.”

As a solo practitioner this took a large financial and emotional toll, he said.

"When I tell my DVA patients of the situation many are quite surprised by the relatively low rebate doctors receive in treating them.”

Fortunately Mr Page's son David Page, who served in the Vietnam war, rang a Ballina skin clinic who was willing to treat both men on their DVA cards.

"I'm happy to go down there,” Mr Page said although it is more than an hour's drive away.

Minister for Veterans Affairs Dan Tehan was contacted for comment but none was receievd.