Nats promise Vietnam vets gold-plated apology

National would apologise to Vietnam war veterans over the Agent Orange saga and would improve all veterans’ access to health and welfare services by providing a gold card, party leader Don Brash says.

Speaking at the RSA’s national council meeting in Wellington today, Dr Brash said National would apologise to veterans who were sprayed with Agent Orange.

On Monday Prime Minister Helen Clark announced details of a working group to consider issues relating to veterans — and it was likely an apology would be offered following consultation.

The Government is awaiting the findings before announcing any compensation, but Dr Brash said he would not wait for the working group.

“National commits to giving an unqualified apology to Vietnam veterans and their families for the long-delayed recognition of the effects of that exposure,” he said.

Dr Brash said National would improve veterans access to health and welfare services.

Its gold card would provide priority access to hospital services, including surgery, and access to Housing New Zealand accommodation and other services.

Veterans with appropriate qualifying service and who receive New Zealand superannuation, or are entitled to a war disablement pension, would be eligible for the card, Dr Brash said.

“The fact that at present a veteran seeking a war disablement pension expects to wait a minimum of four months for a decision, while somebody seeking a sickness benefit from Winz can have that decided within four weeks is not good enough. We need to do much better,” Dr Brash said.

A parliamentary committee confirmed last year that soldiers serving in Vietnam had been sprayed with Agent Orange, after previous inquiries were either inconclusive or rejected their claims.

Some veterans claim they and their children have been seriously affected with many complaining of health problems. Some want compensation.

Yesterday, Minister of Veterans Affairs George Hawkins announced 2006 would be designated Year of the Veteran.

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters said National was copying its Golden Age Card for the elderly that offered a range of services including full superannuation and subsidies for doctors appointments and prescriptions.

“The National Party continues to show it is the ageing dinosaur of New Zealand politics, a party bereft of original ideas and the talent to make them happen,” Mr Peters said.

He criticised National’s record on veteran issues, saying in the 1990s it had backtracked on a $200,000 commitment to help veterans take legal action against Britain after being involved in Operation Grapple — a British hydrogen bomb testing programme in the 1950s.

A spokesman for Dr Brash said the gold card had been National Party policy for nearly six years, and had been its policy in the 2002 election.

National said it would also:

work with, and give support to, all the War Veterans Homes in New Zealand.

commit to establish a Veterans Advisory Board, which would provide independent advice to the minister on veteran issues.

carry out a full review of Veterans Affairs New Zealand (Vanz) to see if it is appropriate to resources it as a one-stop-shop for the provision of services to veterans.

review the veterans’ pension system.

Details of the help National said it would give to veterans exposed to Agent Orange were:

annual free medical examinations to include specific screening for conditions known to be associated with exposure to the defoliant.

enhanced medical care for the children and grandchildren of veterans suffering form Agent Orange-related illnesses.

an ongoing review of international research relating to the effects of exposure to Agent Orange to ensure the established list of Agent Orange related illnesses is updated on a regular basis.

Published: 2005, Jul 13. | Time-stamp: 1:55 PM Wednesday | By: NZPA | Article Link: nzherald.co.nz | Article Title: Nats promise Vietnam vets gold-plated apology.

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