Vindication for Vietnam vets

New Zealand troops who have long maintained they were exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam were today vindicated by a new report which concludes they were.

Retired colonel Raymond Seymour conducted an investigation into the spraying of herbicides in Phuoc Tuy province, in South Vietnam, at the request of the Chief of Defence Force, Air Marshal Bruce Ferguson.

It found that New Zealand troops serving in the Vietnam War came into contact with the defoliants Agent Orange, Agent White and Agent Blue at least 356 times.

Today he gave the results to Parliament’s health select committee, which is carrying out an inquiry into the health effects of Agent Orange. Successive governments had for years denied that use of the spray caused any problems for the soldiers who served there.

“I have identified a total of 356 occurrences when our troops came into contact with Agent Orange, Agent White or Agent Blue,” Mr Seymour said.

However, of those occurrences, one location had been sprayed at least eight days before New Zealand troops were in the location, 34 between one and six months before their arrival, 48 between six and 12 months and the remaining 273 more than 12 months earlier.

Mr Seymour’s investigation applied only to “Trail Dust” missions — spray missions planned and controlled at the highest military level.

That meant other forms of herbicide spraying, such as those planned at subordinate military headquarters and carried out by air or hand, were not investigated.

Mr Seymour found that 1.8 million litres of agents orange, white and blue were sprayed in Phuoc Tuy between November 10, 1965, and June 30, 1968.

As well as the 356 instances of New Zealand troops being exposed to previously sprayed areas, Mr Seymour also found New Zealand’s Victor Company was “most probably sprayed with an unknown herbicide, possibly Agent Blue”.

Victor Company had reported on September 15, 1967, that they had been “crop dusted”.

Further investigation showed two Australian army officers that day discussed a “crop-dusting job” would be done in the area Victor Company was operating.

“My investigation did not find any other reference to this incident in any other report apart from a report … that the foliage in the area that Victor Company had been operating had been cleared back to about 200m on either side of Route 2 and along nearly 8000m of the road’s length,” Mr Seymour said.

“I submit that Victor Company, or elements of Victor Company … were most probably sprayed by Agent Blue in an aerial operation conducted by a rotary winged aircraft.”

The investigation contradicts two previous reports, one by former Governor-General Sir Paul Reeves in 1999 and the other by Deborah McLeod of Otago University’s Wellington School of Medicine, that New Zealand troops were not significantly exposed to Agent Orange.

National MP Judith Collins, who was instrumental in instigating the current inquiry, said Mr Seymour’s conclusions had been drawn from material available for both the Reeves and McLeod reports.

“This is absolute vindication for the soldiers and their families, that for 30 years they’ve been telling the truth and for 30 years they’ve been patted on the head and told ‘well, we don’t think it happened but if you think it did we’ll make out it did too’,” she told NZPA.

“For 30 years they’ve been told that they weren’t living, working, sleeping and drinking Agent Orange when they most certainly were.

“They wanted the recognition. They want those (previous) reports (which disputed exposure) thrown out.”

Earlier, Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand director Jessie Gunn told the committee New Zealand’s Vietnam veterans were better cared for than those in Australia and the United States.

“The New Zealand War Disablement Pension system places no restrictions on the types of conditions that can be applied for and works on the basis of the reverse onus of proof,” she said.

“If attributability or aggravation to service cannot be ruled out then a war pension is awarded.”

The US system worked on a list of conditions, and the Australian system defined specific disabilities, Ms Gunn said.

“The New Zealand government has taken an open-ended approach to providing assistance to Vietnam veterans and their families.”

Agent Orange inquiries

2003 Health Select Committee:
Inquiry into the Health Effects of Agent Orange

August 2001 Office of Veteran Affairs, Ministry of Defence:
The Health Needs of the Children of Operation Grapple and Vietnam Veterans [PDF] (Dr Deborah McLeod, chair)

June 1999 Inquiry into the Health Status of Children of Vietnam and Operation Grapple Veterans
(Sir Paul Reeves, chair)

Published: 2003, Dec, 3. | Time-stamp: 11:03 PM Wednesday  | By: NZPA | Article Link: nzherald.co.nz | Article Title: Vindication for Vietnam vets.

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