Story: Veterans’ assistance

Page 1. War pensions

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New Zealand and South African wars

Since the 19th century New Zealand war veterans and their families have been given special government assistance to acknowledge the risks of their military service and their role in the country’s development.

After the New Zealand wars of the 1860s, the Military Pensions Act 1866 granted pensions to wounded or disabled members of the colonial forces, and to the widows and families of troops killed. The amount of each pension was calculated on the basis of the soldier’s rank and degree of disability. A panel of doctors also decided whether the veteran was ‘deserving’ of a pension. Pro-government Māori troops were eligible for this war pension, but at a lower rate than Pākehā veterans.

The amount of these pensions was generally low, and many veterans and their families were excluded from receiving them. The same pension scheme was used after the South African War of 1899–1902, the first war in which New Zealand troops fought overseas.

First World War

The large numbers of New Zealand troops taking part in the First World War, and the heavy casualties they suffered, required a more comprehensive war pension scheme. The War Pensions Act 1915 set up a network of war pensions boards to decide whether a veteran’s death or disability was due to their military service. The requirement for veterans to be ‘deserving’ was dropped, and Māori veterans received the same pension as Pākehā veterans.

Second World War

The War Pensions Act 1943 improved pension rates and made it easier for war veterans and their families to receive compensation for death, disability or financial disadvantage. From 1951 this pension scheme was integrated into the social security system, and veterans qualified for extra benefits such as free travel. Veterans’ associations and the media campaigned for further veteran assistance, and a commission of inquiry recommended a range of improvements in pension rates and conditions. These were incorporated in the War Pensions Act 1954.


Jayforce, the 12,000 New Zealand troops who served in Japan as a peacetime military force from 1946 to 1948, were later treated differently from Second World War veterans. Their military service was at first not officially recognised, and until 1964 they were not eligible to receive war pensions or join the RSA (Returned Servicemen’s Association). A special medal for Jayforce veterans, the New Zealand Service Medal 1946–1949, was finally issued in 1995. By 2010 this medal had been awarded to nearly 5,000 veterans or their surviving families.

However, veterans of Jayforce were only granted the same pensions and benefits as Second World War veterans after many years of lobbying.

Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand

From the late 1980s war pension boards were abolished and pensions were assessed by representatives of the Social Welfare Department and the RSA. In 2008 responsibility for war pensions was transferred to Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand, a unit of the New Zealand Defence Force. Veterans with a disability resulting from war service before 1974 were paid a war disablement pension and received free medical care. Those who qualified for New Zealand superannuation could also receive an additional pension. Both civilians and military veterans held prisoner by the Japanese during the Second World War could receive a one-off payment of $30,000. These pensions were also paid to the surviving spouses or partners of veterans.

In 2010 surviving veterans of the Second World War still made up the majority of the veteran community, although war pensions were also paid to veterans of recent deployments, such as in Afghanistan.


New Zealand veterans who have had operational service, and their spouses, are eligible for burial in a Services Cemetery. Veterans’ Affairs may also provide a headstone or plaque, free if the death is attributable to war service, and otherwise at a subsidised rate.

How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Veterans’ assistance - War pensions', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 January 2022)

Story by Mark Derby, published 20 Jun 2012