AN ARMY veteran who fought with the British military in Afghanistan and Iraq has been slapped with a £27,000 hospital bill after undergoing emergency brain surgery.
Fiji-born Taitusi Ratucaucau was told he did qualify for free NHS treatment as had been classified as an overseas patient by hospital bosses. The 49-year-old is recovering in a London hospital after an operation to remove a brain tumour on April 30. Friends say he is meant to be focusing on his physical rehabilitation but was spending most of his time worrying about how he would meet the demand for payment.
He has no savings, is the main breadwinner for his family and is currently too unwell to work.
And the hospital bill is increasing by around £1,500 for every day he remains an inpatient.
He told the Guardian: “Where can I get money to pay for this treatment when Im in hospital?”
He said he had felt proud to be accepted into the British army, after officers visited Fiji to sign up new recruits in 2001.
He said: “I gave up years of my life to fight for this country. We cant believe that the Home Office could be like this. I feel sad and angry.”
In a witness statement given to his lawyer, Vinita Templeton of Duncan Lewis, before he became ill, he 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.
“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.”
Mr Ratucaucau served for more than a decade in the British army after joining up in 2001.
He has lived in the UK continuously with his wife and three daughters since being discharged from the military in 2011 and insists he has always paid tax and national insurance.
Mr Ratucaucau is one of a group of Commonwealth-born military veterans who launched legal action against the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence earlier this year.
The ex-servicemen claim there was a systemic failure to advise them of the need to apply for settlement in the UK on discharge and a failure to assist them with complex, expensive immigration rules.
This has left them categorised as illegal immigrants, unable to access free NHS treatment, facing unemployment and homelessness and fearing deportation.
They are unable to regularise their status owing to the cost and complexity of the immigration system.
Foreign national soldiers have the right to remain in the UK after leaving the army if they have served for at least four years, but claimants say they were discharged without being given clear guidance about how to regularise their immigration status.
Most assumed the immigration process was automatic.
Mr Ratucaucau, who also served in Belize and the Falkland Islands, was given an “exemplary” conduct record when he was discharged from the army and described as a “very capable, loyal and trustworthy individual” with an “impeccable work ethic”.
The armed forces employ about 4,500 Commonwealth citizens and recruitment in Commonwealth countries has recently been stepped up “to build on the long-held links Britains military has with Commonwealth countries”.
A Government spokesman said it would not comment on the individual case because of ongoing legal proceedings.
He said: “The service of all members of the armed forces, including Commonwealth nationals, is highly valued.”
A JustGiving page set up to help raise cash to cover Mr Ratucaucau’s medical bills raised more than £7,000 in 12 hours.