Vietnam Vets Win Battle

Vietnam war veterans will finally get what they’ve been fighting 30 years for when the Prime Minister tomorrow announces a compensation commission into the health impact of Agent Orange.

Helen Clark is expected to express regret at the veterans’ wartime exposure to the toxic defoliant, though she is not expected to offer a full formal apology until the commission has completed its work.

Sources said the commission, whose chairman will conduct about 15 hearings with veterans and their families, is to discover what impact Agent Orange has had on the health of the veterans and their children.

Clark is to make the announcement to the Returned Services Association annual conference in Wellington tomorrow, with Defence Minister Mark Burton and Veterans’ Affairs Minister George Hawkins.

And Mr Burton has been invited to attend the 40th anniversary of the arrival of the 161 Battery in Vietnam, this Saturday in Palmerston North.

Veterans’ groups have asked for former Parliamentary Speaker Sir Peter Tapsell to chair the inquiry, but he has declined to comment.

For some veterans, like Katikati’s Colonel Alistair Ross who died in September, the apology comes too late. For John and Sharmaine Jennings, whose 32-year-old daughter Marakech is awaiting a heart-lung transplant, it is too little.

“The wives and children it affects are forgotten – this is far-reaching,” said Mrs Jennings.

Helen Clark is to acknowledge that the defoliant was sprayed on soldiers like Mr Jennings, now 61, who, along with his seven children and grandchildren, has suffered serious health ailments such as blindness. But Mr Jennings accused the Government of prevaricating, and said families should be fully compensated.

“We’ve been seriously socially and financially disadvantaged, what with medical costs and lost opportunities. And the stress means many other families are not the same entities they were 20 or 30 years ago. The stress has broken them up.”

A select committee inquiry last year confirmed the soldiers had been sprayed by Agent Orange, overturning the findings of earlier reports to Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand.

Returned Services Assocation president John Campbell expressed disappointment at the apology from Veterans’ Affairs Minister George Hawkins last year. He said Helen Clark had personally apologised to other groups like Chinese immigrant workers, Samoans for bad governance last century, and gays.

Tomorrow he will “applaud” this Government’s leadership in finally moving to resolve the troubled issue.

“This fight has been very traumatic for many – some veterans will never get over it. It’s a fact of life.”

Ex-Vietnam Services Association member Chris Mullane, 58, of Devonport, said it was good to see some progress towards resolution. Three of his children have suffered serious skin problems and birth defects, and he lost a baby boy to unexplained breathing difficulties.

Ross Miller of Kaitaia said veterans would assess the merits of the Government’s package against an eight-point compensation package expected to be announced by National on Wednesday.

National Party veterans’ affairs spokeswoman Judith Collins said the veterans had been through three inquiries.

“They have made it perfectly plain what they need for themselves and their affected children,” she said. “They don’t need another half-hearted, half-pie, so-called apology and yet another round of consultation after 30 years of being dismissed, ignored and lied to.”

– HERALD ON SUNDAY

Published: 2005, Jul, 10. | Time-stamp: 9:26 AM Sunday | By: Jonathan Milne | Article Link: nzherald.co.nz | Article Title: Vietnam Vets Win Battle.

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