Help closer in Agent Orange aftermath

Vietnam veterans should learn this year – the Year of the Veteran – what the Government will do to address issues about their health concerns and entitlements.

A 100-page report from a joint working group on the concerns of Vietnam veterans landed on Defence Minister Phil Goff’s desk last week after months of consultation.

Although it is the latest in a series of reports over the years, this one should result in measures designed to help veterans, based on the Government’s acceptance that they were exposed to a “toxic environment” in Vietnam, including being sprayed by Agent Orange. No details have been disclosed, but for veterans the pivotal issues are compensation and help for their families.

A spokesman for Goff said that because the report was comprehensive and needed to be carefully considered, it could be several months before an announcement was made.

“One thing he did indicate was that the report will be made public once the Government has finished considering it.”

In March, when Prime Minister Helen Clark launched the Year of the Veteran, she described the Vietnam War as this country’s longest and most controversial military engagement of the last century.

“I know that for many veterans of that conflict there is still a feeling that the country doesn’t fully understand the realities of New Zealand’s involvement and the aftermath for veterans and their families.”

Outstanding issues remained concerning the exposure of New Zealand forces to a toxic environment and the working group would look at those issues.

The group’s report contains 304 individual written submissions and a further submission representing 130 veterans.

More than 700 veterans attended 27 consultation meetings throughout the country, including video conferences, in 153 hours of consultation.

In 1999, a report ordered by the National Government found that New Zealanders were not in areas that had been defoliated.

Another report two years later, ordered by the Labour Government, came to a similar finding, and also said there was no evidence that exposure to defoliants would affect the health of their children.

New evidence emerged, including that New Zealanders had been in the spray zones, and a health select committee inquiry was launched.

The select committee report, known as the Chadwick Report, finally accepted that veterans had been exposed to a toxic environment.

The Government then apologised to veterans for the failure of governments in the past to recognise this.

Published: 2006, May, 06. | Time-stamp: 1:12 PM Saturday | By: Catherine Masters | Article Link: nzherald.co.nz | Article Title: Help closer in Agent Orange aftermath.

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