More Talk before Compensation for Vietnam Vets

A working group to finally resolve the Agent Orange issue wants to hear Vietnam veterans’ concerns before recommending a reconciliation package.

Prime Minister Helen Clark yesterday announced that the group would be chaired by former State Services Commissioner Michael Wintringham.

After hearing submissions the group – formed in February by Government officials and the Ex Vietnam Services Association – would recommend action to the Government.

While Helen Clark did not use the words “reconciliation package”, the Ex-Vietnam Services Association said yesterday that the group would recommend just that.
The Prime Minister refused to be drawn at yesterday’s post-Cabinet press conference on whether the Government would be open to offering compensation.

However, she denied the working group was a “compensation commission”.

Later she used the RSA’s annual national council meeting in Wellington to announce Mr Wintringham’s appointment.

She said the group would oversee consultation to hear veterans’ issues and suggestions to resolve them. Once consultation was finished she would offer veterans a formal apology, acknowledging they were exposed to a toxic environment in Vietnam.

An apology made last December by Veterans Affairs Minister George Hawkins was greeted dimly by many veterans.

RSA president John Campbell said at the time the concern was who delivered it, pointing out that in 2002 Helen Clark personally apologised to other groups – Chinese immigrant workers, Samoans for New Zealand’s inept governance last century, and gays.

The Ex Vietnam Services Association representative on the working group, Chris Mullane of Auckland, said the body would travel the country hearing veterans on measures to include in a “reconciliation package”.

“That is the whole purpose of the consultation process,” he said.

Hearings were yet to be organised but consultation would also include a questionnaire and a website.

The Prime Minister’s announcement was essentially the association’s plan put forward months ago to try to resolve the issue once and for all, Mr Mullane said.

Last October the health select committee concluded veterans were exposed to a toxic environment in Vietnam, sparking calls for compensation.

Agent Orange – the story so far:

1964-72: 3368 Kiwi servicemen and women served in Vietnam War. The US sprayed millions of litres of defoliants, including Agent Orange.

Reeves report ordered by National Govt says Kiwi personnel were not in defoliated areas.

McLeod report ordered by Labour Govt makes similar finding and says no evidence exposure to defoliants affected health of veterans’ children.

New evidence of exposure comes to light. Health select committee decides on an inquiry.

October 2004: Select committee identifies major flaws in both reports and says veterans were exposed to “toxic environment”.

February 2005: Ex Vietnam Services Association and officials form Agent Orange joint working group.

Yesterday: Helen Clark announces former State Services Commissioner Michael Wintringham will chair the group, which will consult veterans to find ways to finally resolve the issue.

Published: 2005, Jul, 12. | Time-stamp: 7:33 AM Tuesday  | By: By Kevin Taylor | Article Link: nzherald.co.nz | Article Title: More talk before compensation for Vietnam vets.

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