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Abkhazia: War Pensions Attract Fraudsters

Defence ministry trying to check all lists of veterans compiled during the 1992-93 war.
By Anaid Gogoryan

Many people in Abkhazia are fraudulently claiming benefits intended for those who fought in its war against Georgia, while real veterans complain of poverty.

Officials have been trying for years to establish accurate lists of veterans from the 1992-3 war. According to official figures, some 20,000 veterans are living in Abkhazia, but the number is considered exaggerated.

Abkhazia broke free of Georgian control during the war, and declared independence. Russia recognised it as an independent state in 2008, although Tbilisi still considers it a renegade province.

Veterans and their widows receive pensions and benefits, which explains the desire for others to get onto the lists.

“People find loopholes, so as to get benefits,” said Mzia Beya, a veteran holding the republic’s highest decoration, Hero of Abkhazia.

“After the war, you could not get a single document without papers to show that you fought, then all our problems started. Everyone used truth and lies to get these papers. People got on the list who were practically not participants in the war. This problem continues to this day,” said Garik Samanba, Hero of Abkhazia and chairman of the parliamentary commission for defence and national security.

The ministry of defence has been trying to check all the lists of veterans compiled during the war, and invited all unit commanders to confirm the names. Samanba thought this was insufficient, however, and parliament has set up a commission to draft a law regulating veterans’ affairs.

Veterans’ pensions depend on the degree of injury they suffered, or what medals they earned. The amount of money paid out is increased yearly.

In March this year, the first pensions were paid to the family of volunteers who came from outside Abkhazia and died in the war. Invalids with the worst injuries now receive up to 5,000 roubles (160 US dollars), up from just 700 roubles in 2005.

“The state is doing all it can to improve the condition of those people who gave us victory,” Samanba said.

The veterans themselves welcome the financial support, but say the state needs to do more to create a social support system for them.

“The pensions are useful support, but there is no comprehensive approach,” said Alkhas Tkhagushev, a veteran of the war and head of Inva-Sodeistve, an invalids’ group.

He said that Abkhazia had no coherent system for supporting veterans, including the 1,200 left disabled by the war.

“We are dealing with the fact that veterans are always being asked for money for treatment and medicine. A veteran should not have to hunt around to support himself,” Tkhagushev said.

The health system being created in Abkhazia declares that Abkhazians will have health insurance, but this could prove difficult for veterans since many of them are unable to work, meaning they will not be able to pay for it.

“The government should, in dealing with these questions, give more attention to social organisations with an idea of how to solve these people’s problems,” Tkhagushev said.

Abkhazia also lacks the specific medical services that veterans need. For physiotherapy, there is only one state centre in Gagra, apart from Inva-Sodeistve’s facilities in Sukhum. Activists also say veterans need psychologists to help them return to civilian life, as well as programmes to help them get back into work.

Beya does not currently work, and survives on his pension of 3,500 roubles.

“This is not sufficient. It is hard to survive on this,” he said. “A man who does not work does not just have material trouble, he also gets depressed.”

Particular attention, he said, should be paid to female veterans who share the problems of their male comrades while also being under-represented in government.

“Many women have not been decorated, which is a mistake by the commanders. I would very much like to see the authorities paying more attention to female veterans,” he said.

Tkhagushev said veterans were lucky that local non-governmental organisations had launched programmes to help train them in using computers, or other equipment that can lead to employment. However, he insisted the government should have stepped in before now.

“Pensions are very good, but you have to give someone the chance to reach his potential. A person must sense that society and his family need him,” he said.

Anaid Gogoryan is a correspondent for Chegemskaya Pravda.