National leader Don Brash said today New Zealand Vietnam veterans affected by Agent Orange should be given an official apology, and paid compensation.
He was also open to a cross-party approach to the issue, he told the Returned Services Association (RSA) 90th annual conference in Wellington.
RSA national president John Campbell said yesterday that the treatment of Vietnam War veterans was a blot on the nation’s record.
He challenged Prime Minister Helen Clark to resolve the issue in a fair-minded, just and generous way.
“The treatment accorded to our Vietnam veterans is a departure from the liberal approach extended to other veterans groups,” he told the conference.
“It stands in shabby contrast with the way in which all other cohorts of returning servicemen and women have been treated by this country when it sent them to war.”
Veterans claim their health and that of their children have been damaged by exposure to Agent Orange and other defoliants used in the Vietnam War.
Their pleas for help have been largely ignored by successive Governments, but two years ago a parliamentary select committee found there was evidence New Zealand soldiers were exposed.
That prompted the Government to set up a joint working group to look at the matter. Veterans Affairs Minister Rick Barker has had its report since April.
Mr Barker said in August the Government was close to finalising a compensation package for the veterans.
His spokesman said today that talks were ongoing and the parties were working towards “an agreeable position”.
Miss Clark told the RSA conference yesterday the issues were not yet resolved “but we’ll get there”.
Mr Barker’s spokesman said there would not be an announcement in the immediate future.
“Things are getting close to an agreement. We’re working with RSA but there just a few issues we need to iron out.”
In his speech to the conference, Dr Brash said National understood the recommendations of the joint working group, chaired by former State Services Commissioner Michael Wintringham, included that compensation be paid to those veterans who were adversely affected by Agent Orange.
Other recommendations were “that tax paid by personnel serving in Vietnam be refunded, that there be genetic testing of veterans’ children, and that there be an official Government apology to those veterans affected – in place of the half-hearted response following the release of the health select committee’s report,” Dr Brash said.
In particular, the Wintringham report was understood to have called for the total rejection of both the Reeves and McLeod reports “which of course have now been completely discredited”.
“These reports still remain part of the official record and their retention as such remains a lingering source of anger for Vietnam veterans and their families.
“The National Party is supportive of recommendations along those lines and remains open to a cross-party approach,” Dr Brash said.
Date-stamp: 2006, Nov, 7 | Time-stamp: 12:58 PM | By: NZPA | NZ Herald Article Link: nzherald.co.nz | NZ Herald Article Title: National wants compensation for Agent Orange vets