Veterans’ Affairs Minister George Hawkins offered a formal apology to Vietnam veterans for the failure of successive governments to recognise that they were exposed to a toxic environment during their service.
The Government’s decision to apologise followed a report from Parliament’s health select committee in October, which concluded “beyond doubt” that New Zealand defence personnel were exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides.
But Mr Mark said an apology fell well short of what Vietnam veterans deserved.
“After a debate over the issue that has lasted far too long, the Government is adding insult to injury by offering a weak apology and absolving responsibility for the after-effects that veterans and their families have to live with,” he said in a statement.
“It is imperative that the Government takes responsibility and accepts officially, once and for all, that these Vietnam veterans and their families deserve better treatment.”
Returned Services Association (RSA) national president John Campbell welcomed the official acknowledgment and apology but said more should be offered to veterans.
“The (RSA) proposed that the remaining Vietnam veterans be provided with a free, annual, medical check,” he said in a statement.
“Given the acceptance that Vietnam veterans were exposed to toxic chemicals and that such exposure can result in longer-term health issues, particularly some cancers, then early detection is critical.”
John Moller, former president of the Vietnam Veterans’ Association of New Zealand — set up in the 1980s to research the effects of Agent Orange — said the apology fell well short of what veterans wanted.
Mr Moller said the compensation was justified as many soldiers and their families suffered huge health problems as a result of exposure to chemicals in Vietnam, costing them thousands of dollars in medical expenses.
However, it was now up to individual soldiers and their families to seek money from the Government if they wanted compensation.
Published: 2005, Jan, 10. | Time-stamp: 7:01 PM Monday | By: NZPA | Article Link: nzherald.co.nz | Article Title: Call for compensation for veterans.