06 DEC 2006 MoU-SubmissionFinal-RSA
A SUBMISSION BY THE ROYAL NEW ZEALAND RETURNED AND SERVICES’ ASSOCIATION TO THE JOINT WORKING GROUP ON CONCERNS OF VIETNAM VETERANS ON THE ROAD TO PUTTING IT RIGHT
Section | Title | Page
One: Setting the Scene pg.1
Two: Introduction pg.4
Three: Desired Outcomes; and Approach pg.6
Four: Chronology pg.7
Five: Foundations and Consequences pg.11
Six: Mortality Rates pg.14
Seven: The Government and an Apology pg.16
Eight: The NZDF; and Army pg.17
Nine: The RSA pg.19
Ten: The Reeves and McLeod Reports pg.20
Eleven: War Disablement Pension pg.21
Twelve: Section 23 of the War Pensions Act pg.22
Thirteen: Surviving Vietnam Veterans pg.25
Fourteen: Illnesses to be Automatically Recognised as Resulting From Vietnam Service pg.26
Fifteen: PTSD and Stress pg.29
Sixteen: The Families: Unintended Consequences and Collateral Damage pg.31
Seventeen: Children of Vietnam Veterans pg.34
Eighteen: Surviving Spouse Pension pg.37
Nineteen: Health Professionals and Information pg.40
Twenty: War Pensions Treatment Card pg.42
Twenty One: Tax and Allowances pg.43
Section | Title | Page
Twenty Two: Medallic Recognition pg.45
Twenty Three: Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand pg.48
Twenty Four: Separation of the Secretary for War Pensions and the Director of VANZ pg.51
Twenty Five: A Commissioner (or Ombudsman) for Veterans pg.53
Twenty Six: War Pensions Advisory Board pg.54
Twenty Seven: The ‘One-Stop Shop’ pg.55
Twenty Eight: Delays in Claims and Medical Processing pg.56
Twenty Nine: A Veterans’ Card pg.57
Thirty: Acceptance of Overseas Research pg.58
Thirty One: Follow-Through pg.59
Thirty Two: Employment and Inter-Department Issues pg.60
Thirty Three: Access to the Veterans’ Pension pg.62
Thirty Four: Funeral Grants and Lump Sum Payments pg.63
Thirty Five: Allowances for Gallantry Decorations pg.64
Thirty Six: Support to RNZ RSA Welfare pg.65
Thirty Seven: A Vietnam Register pg.66
Thirty Eight: Acknowledgements pg.67
Thirty Nine: Reference Information and Costings pg.68
Forty: Reparation and Reconciliation pg.70
Forty One: Summary of Recommendations pg.77
Forty Two: Conclusion pg.85
SETTING THE SCENE
1.1 In her speech to the RNZSA National Council in 1999, Helen Clark made several comments in relation to veterans’ affairs. She said:
“Special regard must be paid to the needs of Operation Grapple veterans and to the Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange, and to the needs of their families ..
“Then there is the issue of the effect on the health of children where their parents were exposed to Agent Orange or to nuclear testing.
“It would be an understatement to say that the Report of the Committee chaired by Sir Paul Reeves has been very disappointing to the families concerned. There has been criticism of its terms of reference for being too narrow. The report appears to have been compiled much too quickly for a proper job to have been done …
“It is clear that the matter cannot rest there. A sense of injustice remains. Because a link between exposure and the health of veterans and their children cannot be ruled out, the state should err on the side of generosity and ensure that the costs of treatment for medical problems which could be attributed to exposure are met.
“Further, there must be ongoing monitoring of the health of the veterans exposed to Agent Orange and nuclear testing, and of their children. And we must closely monitor the findings of American and British research on the health impacts for their veterans and their children.
“Under Labour the books on this issue will not be closed. Nor will the veterans and their families allow them to be closed. Nor should they. The basic principle must be that the state accepts responsibility for damage done as a result of active service to the health of veterans and their families.”
1.2 Some five years on, the Health Select Committee conducted an “Inquiry into the exposure of New Zealand Defence personnel to Agent Orange and other defoliant chemicals during the Vietnam War, and any health effects of that exposure”. Reporting in late 2004, it confirmed that New Zealand troops who served in Vietnam had been exposed to a toxic environment, and that such exposure had the potential to affect their health and well-being. This flatly contradicted certain findings of the “Reeves” report mentioned above; and the later “McLeod” report as well.
1.3 A “Government Response to the Report of the Health Select Committee” was issued at the same time.
It accepted that “veterans were exposed to a toxic environment during their service in Vietnam”.
It offered “a formal apology …. for the failure of governments in the past to recognise that the veterans were exposed to a toxic environment ……”.
But it also said that “Vietnam veterans have been able, since 14 April 1964, to access War Disablement Pensions in recognition of the physical, psychological and environmental risks associated with service in Vietnam.”
1.4 That latter remark and the balance of the document read more as a defence of the statusquo than as an attempt to engage the issues raised by the Select Committee. If the system in place had been adequate, and if access to support systems had been effective over the thirty-five years since the Vietnam War, the need for a Select Committee investigation would not have arisen. The weakness of the Government Response, the wrapping of the apology inside a routine release, and the attempt to implicate past governments while defending the very system that had let so many down so badly over such a long period, rang unconvincingly hollow. Veterans had seen this kind of thing before.
1.5 At the urging of the RNZRSA and the Ex-Vietnam Service Association, work began in February 2005 on establishing a framework to consider the issues more thoroughly. Under joint Ministerial authority, this developed into the Joint Working Group (JWG) on the Concerns of Vietnam Veterans. The RNZRSA is represented on the JWG by the National President, John Campbell, and a member of the National Executive, Robin Klitscher.
TERMS OF REFERENCE OF THE JWG
1.6 Purpose of Joint Working Group To recommend to Government, for its consideration, a package of actions and procedures to address the health and well being needs of Vietnam veterans and their families and to develop an historical record of New Zealanders’ service in Vietnam.
1.7 Issues to be Considered
Public recognition of veterans’ service in Vietnam and exposure to a toxic environment
The range and availability of assistance to address health and well-being concerns and the extension of assistance to families
The status of the Reeves and McLeod reports
Knowledge of Medallic recognition of service
The adequacy of the War Pensions Act coverage in relation to exposure to a toxic environment
The impact of any action or decision on other veterans’ groups
Process for consulting with veterans and family members
Writing up the anecdotal stories of veterans as part of developing the background record
Consideration of the formation of a national register
1.8 To Examine
2004 Select Committee Report
Propositions put to Government by veterans’ groups
Any other material that might be relevant
1.9 In the meantime, in her address to the RNZRSA National Council on 11th July 2005, the Prime Minister said that on the advice of the Working Group she would offer a formal apology acknowledging that Vietnam veterans were exposed to a toxic environment during their service there. The Chair of the JWG was tasked with preparing a draft.
1.10 The issue of Agent Orange and the damage it has caused has been felt in a number of countries. The US and Australia have faced up to those issues in respect of Vietnam veterans, and have over the last two decades introduced a number of measures to enhance their benefits, allowances and compensatory payments.
1.11 But that is not the limit of it. The High Court in South Korea has ordered two American companies to pay compensation to thousands of South Korean veterans of the Vietnam War over the use of Agent Orange. South Korea sent more than 300,000 troops to fight in the 1965-73 Vietnam conflict. Dow Chemical and Monsanto have been ordered to pay $US62 million to 6,800 of them. This was the first South Korean Court ruling in favour of those affected; it overturned a lower Court decision and is part of a long-running case in which more than 20,000 South Korean veterans originally sued for damages.
1.12 Similar activity at law is ongoing in Vietnam itself. The issue of toxic exposure of all who were affected in Vietnam continues to be a matter of concern to many, and across borders. New Zealand has the opportunity through the Joint Working Group of beginning a process of closure whilst recognising at the same time that we are travelling in the wake of others who are much more advanced in dealing with these matters than we are.
2.1 This document is the RNZRSA Corporate submission to the JWG., but it serves more than one purpose. In addition to addressing the Joint Working Group’s Terms of Reference, it is the RNZRSA’s principal document of record. It contains more than just a set of proposals or recommendations for “putting things right”. But remedies to historical injustice cannot come without a grasp of history itself including the three decades and more of denial and disbelief. To understand our proposals we believe it is important that the story itself be revisited, at least in outline. The submission therefore includes statements and views of the RNZRSA on what has been a shameful episode, and makes comment on broader societal and political matters as well as on the health and welfare needs of Vietnam veterans and their families.
2.3 Some of this is set out in blunt and straightforward terms. Words such as denial, misinformation, neglect, abandonment, alienation, incompetence, anger, deceit and so on are cheap. But they are also appropriate in this case, and are very much a part of the lexicon that Vietnam veterans have used over several decades. The same veterans have also heard words used of them; words like whiner, fabrication, unreliable, mad, or bad.
2.4 Few if any groups of New Zealanders, particularly those put deliberately in harm’s way by their Government, have been so persistently labelled as being selective with the truth, or as providing only self-serving information. That was bad enough in itself. But now it is known that they were right all along, it is worse. They feel grief, hurt and anger that for so long their claims have been falsely denied. The denials and delays have themselves added to the stress.
2.5 After more than three and a half decades of rejection and bluster, the veterans who served this nation in Vietnam have had the fact that they were exposed to a toxic environment officially recognised. It has further been recognised that their exposure has the potential for damaging physical and psychological effects not only on the veterans themselves but also on the health and welfare particularly of their progeny but also of their wider families. Thirty years and more is far too long to wait for acknowledgement, and for reconciliation including reasonable compensation where due. The long delay in itself multiplies the need for the Government and the nation to take clear measures to assist affected veterans and their families.
2.6 Military service, especially active warfare, is usually a defining experience. It was no different for Vietnam veterans. New Zealand servicemen and women in Vietnam were imbued with the notion of serving in an honourable cause at the nation’s behest. Their training had instilled in them the belief that merit lay in doing a job well, no matter how difficult, dangerous or thankless that job may be. Theirs was an honest pride in doing what had been asked of them; they answered their country’s call as had others in the past. But in the light of what happened in the aftermath they have felt discarded.
2.7 The mood of New Zealand’s Vietnam veterans today is sad and angry. They feel betrayed by successive governments of all political persuasions. They feel betrayed by the Defence Force that employed them. They feel betrayed by veterans’ groups (including the RSA) who said they espoused “concern for all” but did not always meet words with actions. And they feel betrayed by the general populace for inattention, even rejection. The treatment of Vietnam veterans and their families is a blot on the record of a nation that honours its veterans with pride, and is a departure from the liberal approach that has been extended to other similar groups. It stands in sharp and shabby contrast with the way in which all other cohorts of returning servicemen and women have been treated by the country that sent them to war.
2.8 To be told in 2004 that they had after all been exposed to a toxic environment, and that there was potential health damage flow-on, was to be told something they had began to suspect some 25 years ago, and have known to be true for at least the last 20. Thus the Health Select Committee’s Report is not the end of a long and bitter struggle, but can only be the first step on a road to reconciliation. Indeed, unless there is reconciliation the victory will remain Pyrrhic. Beginning to put it right is now the requirement.
2.9 New Zealand did not send its young to Vietnam with a variety of life threatening cancers, with a range of other illnesses, with PTSD, with chronic stress or with other serious mental anxiety conditions. It did not send young men to Vietnam who could have expected that their mortality rate at young ages would be, and continues to be, alarming.
2.10 To borrow a term from the Health Select Committee Report, these were healthy workers/warriors; young, fit New Zealanders who were medically examined and were found well suited to service in an operational environment at war. They took no part in coming to a decision that New Zealand should enter the war and should send them to fight it. The Government of the day did that. They were not asked to allow themselves to be exposed to toxic chemicals. But, having sent them on duty into that environment, the Government of the day and its successors then dodged and denied the consequences, leaving veterans and their families to bear the brunt of involuntary exposure.
****** Something happened along the way – and we now know what it was. *******
2.11 Whatever view was taken on the Vietnam War at the time, the entire community failed these servicemen when they returned home. It is clearly not possible to undo all the harm done, but mitigation remains possible.
2.12 It is time to apologise to these men and women, and their families, for the serious physical and mental effects of their service in Vietnam and the decisions and behaviours surrounding it. But an apology on its own is just words. That compensation or reparation is merited is beyond question in the RNZRSA’s view. Our nation is founded on, and believes in, fair play. Reparation for wrongs is a principle well accepted by Kiwis, and the making of amends through such action is common in our society. It is tolerated, approved of, and often applauded.
2.13 Setting out on the road to closure on this sorry and long-running issue is essential. It is time for reparation to mitigate these wrongs; it is time to compensate those who have suffered. Though it can never be put entirely right – one can never compensate for the loss of a loved one, or for physical and mental suffering caused by their service and exposure – a caring and responsible Government and nation can significantly ease the issue. Indeed, RNZRSA believes that this Government (the one that finally shows the desire and will to bring the process to a head) is well-placed now to bring about acceptable, sensible outcomes which the veterans and the nation might view as generous but fair.
2.14 Accordingly the RNZRSA urges the Joint Working Group to make its recommendations to the Government fairly and firmly but also leaving room for further constructive engagement between veterans’ groups and the Government during implementation once the JWG’s part is done.
DESIRED OUTCOMES; AND APPROACH
3.1 RNZRSA wishes to see the nation start determinedly on the road to closure in this matter. It wishes to see a fair and sustainable outcome that will stand across time as society changes. Seeing to it that finally there is resolution of the issues that face Vietnam veterans and their families should be based on generosity and goodwill.
3.2 Our approach is to focus primarily on the concerns of Vietnam veterans. In doing so, however, RNZRSA is well aware that other veteran groups (eg, GRAPPLE veterans) have similar, if not identical problems that also lie unresolved. And beyond that again there is a wider veterans’ constituency, including future veterans, whose interests are equally important.
3.3 RNZRSA therefore has focussed on the Vietnam issue, but when appropriate we will make recommendations that reach outside the Vietnam cohort – but without prejudice to it. In fact, many of our recommendations concerning Vietnam veterans’ issues are strengthened by this approach.
3.4 In preparing this submission, therefore, the RNZRSA has been guided by the following principles in meeting its obligations not only to the Vietnam case but also to all veterans and their families:
To improve the service and funding provided for veterans’ health and welfare issues now and for the future but also, where justified, in retrospect.
To prevent erosion of the existing benefits of any veterans, either in a qualitative or a quantitative sense.
Where possible, any recommendation/outcomes flowing from Vietnam issues should have more universal application for veterans at large.
Nonetheless the treatment of Vietnam veterans in the aftermath is a unique blot on the country’s record, and this must be borne in mind throughout.
More recent and future veterans of encounters in other places may face similar health and welfare issues as the Vietnam veterans have done, and any recommendations need to take account of this.
Whilst the War Pensions Act has served the nation well for 52 years, it is overdue for overhaul, especially in the need to provide for contemporary realities of service outside the effects of shot and shell.
4.1 With the following outline chronology we wish to establish the context within which we framed our proposals and recommendations.
|1965-1972||New Zealand troops deployed on active service in Vietnam.|
|1968||During a visit to Vietnam, Prime Minister Holyoake when questioned about the aerial spraying and the effects on the troops, replied “I assure you that all is well, and the government and the people of New Zealand appreciate what you are doing and will look after you.”|
|1969||US Study released which presented evidence that 2,4,5 T could, in high doses, cause birth defects and still births in rodents. This research brought about the banning of Agent Orange in the same year in the US – except in carefully controlled areas.|
|1979||Australian chemical exposure revealed.|
|1980||Letter dated 11 February from the New Zealand Embassy in Washington to the Ministry of Defence, New Zealand, advising that:
“Attached for your information is some data received from Department of Defence on the areas and dates of spraying of herbicides in Phuoc Tuy Province. This information, together with information on other provinces, has been forwarded through the Australian Military Attaché here to Canberra, and will be processed in due course by the Australians.
“I have sent the information on Phuoc Tuy Province, as David Barber, the New Zealand Press Association representative here, had sought and received the information from the Secretary of Defence under the Freedom of Information Act. As you will note, none of the information is classified and it may, therefore, be produced in due course in papers in New Zealand.”
|1980||Letter dated 7 March from Defence Medical Services initiates a survey of Vietnam veterans by individual questionnaire “concerning possible exposure to defoliants such as Agent Orange”. The Department of Health was to have collated the information and to have assessed “what further action is required”. (Whether this survey was completed, and if so its results, are not currently known.)|
|1980||Concerns among a small number of New Zealand Vietnam veterans, sometimes and pejoratively labelled “activists”, begin to arise. They embark upon a long, frustrating and thankless journey to convincing authorities (and in some cases even the veterans’ community itself) that something had gone very badly wrong.|
|1983||Mr Geoff Braybrooke, MP, in a direct oral question asked the Minister of Health (Hon Philip Burdon) if he was prepared to set up a Commission of Inquiry to correlate and analyse the facts concerning Agent Orange, as it affects former members of the Armed Forces who served in Vietnam.Mr Braybrooke further stated, “I have an official book called ‘The Vietnam Map Book’, which sets out each spraying mission undertaken by the US Forces in Vietnam and I should be happy to table it so that members can peruse it. “It lists dates, missions and every area sprayed for a period of 10 years, proving that New Zealand troops were exposed to spraying missions.”|
|1983||Mr Braybrooke’s private Vietnam War Veterans’ Health (Investigation) Bill is defeated in Parliament by a lone (Government, National) vote.|
|1989||Reference to HERBS Tapes is made in a veterans’ submission to the Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committee Inquiry into the manufacture of Agent Orange. (“HERBS Tapes” is the term in general use for the data forwarded with the letter from our Washington Embassy to Wellington in 1980; see also the entry for 2003 below.)X|
|1989||Dr James Gary, United States Air Force Scientist, revealed to the US Congress on 21st November, that:“When we (military scientists) initiated the herbicide program in the 1960s, we were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicides. We were even aware that the military formulation had a higher concentration than the civilian version, due to the lower cost and speed of manufacture. However, because the material was to be used on the enemy, none of us were overly concerned ….”|
|1989||Bill passed in the US Senate requiring the Veterans’ Administration to pay compensation to veterans and their survivors who were victims of several diseases which had been linked to Agent Orange.|
|1990||The Hon Doug Graham is recorded in the parliamentary debates on 20 June 1990 as saying: “Members will know that about 3,400 New Zealand servicemen served in Vietnam and it is estimated that about 2,400 were exposed to the defoliants.”|
|1991||The Australian Government accepts a number of cancers as being attributable.|
|1991||The US Congress passes the Agent Orange Act 1991. This directed the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Science (NAS) to conduct a comprehensive review and evaluation of scientific and medical information regarding the health effects of exposure to Agent Orange, other herbicides used in Vietnam and their components, including dioxin.|
|1993||The initial NAS report is released. It found “sufficient evidence” to conclude that there was a positive association between the herbicides used and a number of disorders.|
|1996||An NAS update is released – additional evidence – additional disorders.|
|1996||The Veterans’ Health Care Eligibility Reform Bill in the United States recognises those disorders.|
|1998||The NAS releases an update on its 1993 and 1996 reports.|
|1998||In July in New Zealand, the Terms of Reference for the “Reeves Inquiry” are framed.|
|1999||The Reeves Inquiry reports.|
|2000||VANZ commissions the McLeod inquiry.|
|2001||McLeod report dated August 2001 (but its release is delayed 15 months).|
|2003||30 April, the Health Select Committee begins its “Inquiry into the exposure of New Zealand defence personnel to Agent Orange and other defoliant chemicals during the Vietnam War and any health effects of that exposure”.|
|2003||On 2 September the Minister of Defence releases to a Vietnam veteran the 1980 letter (see above) from our Embassy in Washington, under the Official Information Act.
The Minister’s covering letter says “I believe you may be referring to a written Parliamentary question about ‘reports held by the [New Zealand Defence Force] showing that ANZAC forces serving in Vietnam were in areas where there had been aerial spraying of …. defoliants. My reply was that, in 1980, the United States Department of Defence provided the New Zealand Defence Force with information about the aerial spraying of herbicides in Phuoc Tuy Province. This report, usually known as the HERBS Tapes, is a data printout showing dates, types of chemical agent, and the quantity and location of applications.
“As you requested, I enclose a copy of this printout together with a copy of the memo that gives information about the source of the data.”
The Minister’s letter goes on to say that the “historical information about herbicide use in South Vietnam will be sent to the chair of the Health Select Committee inquiring into the effects of Agent Orange ..”
|2004||October – the Health Select Committee reports. While noting some value in aspects of the Reeves Report the Committee is “disappointed that (it) was based on limited information”. On the McLeod Report the Committee finds that “errors have discredited the report in the eyes of many readers,” and that it “makes a fundamentally incorrect assumption by stating that New Zealand defence forces were not exposed to herbicides.”|
|2005||The Joint Working Group is established in the wake of the inadequate Government response to the Health Committee’s report (see Section 1 of this submission), including failure to acknowledge the pivotal weaknesses in the Reeves Report and, particularly, the McLeod Report.|
4.2 The following are legitimate questions arising from the above:
Concerns began to arise elsewhere about links between herbicides used in Vietnam and health disorders thirty years ago. Since then, confirming evidence has steadily become available; and governments overseas have accepted it and have acted accordingly. In New Zealand, however, in spite of the international material and a few insistent local voices, successive Governments have stubbornly avoided the issue of toxic exposure. Why?
Successive reports, and successive Governments, have questioned and have even denied the applicability of overseas research to New Zealand personnel who served in Vietnam. Since New Zealanders served under exactly the same conditions as Americans, Australians and others alongside them, why has this been so?
What happened to the survey of Vietnam veterans initiated by Defence and intended for analysis by the Health Department in 1980?
Why was the Health Select Committee Inquiry necessary, with all the cost, stress and anxiety attached to it, when the Government knew 12 months before it reported that irrefutable evidence of exposure existed, (the 1980 Washington letter released by the Minister of Defence)?
Why did Defence, when charged with supporting the Reeves inquiry, not make available the clear evidence of exposure which is now known to have been on its files since 1980?
Had that same evidence been made available to the later investigation by Dr McLeod, is it not possible that the plainly wrong (and gratuitous) denial of exposure that ruined any other value in her report would never have been made? Why was that material not made available?
Is it finally accepted that the two most obvious explanations for these omissions turn upon carelessness or cover-up? Either way, is it further accepted that a prima facie case of culpability might also be considered?
Why has the Government not made clear that neither the Reeves nor the McLeod report is fit to be a platform for public policy?
4.3 Thirty years on, there should have been no contention about the exposure of New Zealand troops. The frustration felt by veterans is understandable, and their calls for compensation equally so. RNZRSA believes that because of the failings so evident here, the debt owed to Vietnam veterans is all the greater.
FOUNDATIONS AND CONSEQUENCES
5.1 A Contract for Service Personnel. Service personnel accept that certain of their rights as citizens are abridged by law. For example, they must obey lawful orders including those sending them deliberately into combat danger which, by its very nature, requires them to suspend all natural instincts for survival. Other provisions under military discipline codes have no equivalent in civilian life. Yet other breaches may be common to both military and civilian codes but some have sterner consequences of punishment under military law. Accordingly, service personnel present themselves for service, to undertake training, to obey orders and instructions, to maintain their health and fitness, and to engage without question in combat or other military activities. They can be ordered to put their lives and physical well-being at stake for whatever causes the elected government and their fellow citizens require them lawfully to do.
5.2 A Government Contract. In return, service personnel must receive the best training and equipment available to undertake the tasks; due care and consideration for their families while they are absent; fair pay and allowances; and proper treatment of any ailment or injury that is a consequence of their service should they survive.
5.3 A Social Contract. In a civilized society there is also a social contract. It is surely right to expect that those who are prepared to serve their fellows in the most desperate and dangerous of ways will be cared for in a proper and understanding manner should they need assistance.
5.4 Against this background, servicemen and women pursue their profession on the basis that the Crown will attend to their well being and to the welfare of their families. In effect, by virtue of their oath of allegiance, members of the Armed Forces enter into a undertaking to serve the Crown and State in a way that has no parallel in other walks of life. Inherent in this understanding is a contract that the Crown will look after them and their families. This is sometimes referred to as an “unspoken” contract. But that is to do the understanding – and those affected by it – a disservice. It is much more than unspoken vagueness, witness Prime Minister Holyoake’s personal promise to our soldiers in Vietnam in 1968 (see Section Four). Indeed, confidence that it will hold good is fundamental to the morale of Service people. It is crucial to their motivation to join and to remain in the armed forces and, if need be, to sacrifice their own life on behalf of the government and fellow citizens.
5.5 The nature of military service therefore places a special reciprocal obligation on governments, as agents of the Crown, to safeguard the well being of the service personnel who act in the Government’s and in society’s interests. Families, too, play an important part in maintaining our military capability; and we believe that the Government also has a responsibility to support their welfare as well.
5.6 (i) In part, the Government’s responsibility in this area is codified in the War Pensions Act 1954. Through this Act the Government reciprocates the trust Service people place in the Crown when they accept the extraordinary conditions of their employment. The Act places obligations on the Government to safeguard the welfare of those who act compulsorily in furthering its national security interests.
5.7 There is no guidance in the War Pensions Act on the criteria to be used when declaring an operational military situation to be covered by the Act’s provisions. Because very few people outside the military know the burden of a soldier’s pack, there is potential for the special nature and the associated risks of service in our country’s defence force not to be admitted. There can be a muddled understanding in New Zealand society that a unique status of members of our nation’s armed forces grows from the special demands that that same society makes of its soldiers, sailors and airmen.
5.6 (ii) In summary, the political decision to send troops overseas is presumed to serve the national interests under the conditions in which the decision was taken. Professional service folk expect to serve those national interests when required and, from time to time, to be put in harm’s way; literally with their bodies and minds. The costs of committing troops to combat include death and disfigurement, loss of life or limb, and loss of comrades-in arms. The expectation was, and still is, that service personnel will be adequately supplied and resourced with all that is required to do the job; that they will be acknowledged for having done the job when they get back; and that they will be rewarded appropriately.
THE VIETNAM CASE
5.7 Having survived their tour of duty at war, Vietnam veterans had every reason to believe that their war was over when they came home. But because of the circumstances and environment of their homecoming and subsequent lives, many have struggled to readjust; and many still feel wounded by the attitude of New Zealanders to those who served.
5.8 They were flown home often under cloak of darkness, and were dispersed having been told to wear civilian clothes and to avoid talking about where they had been. Many were vilified in public. This was followed by more than thirty years of denial of exposure to defoliants, denials of treatment, and indifference to their own witnessed accounts and experiences. Haughty disbelief and worse were used as weapons to challenge their honesty. They have been branded as liars or fantasy makers. They have had to wage a lonely campaign for three decades for help, recognition and justice. They were misled and left largely to fend for themselves.
5.9 Many have had serious emotional fallout from the war and its aftermath. A significant number have had broken personal and unrealised professional lives. Many suffer or have suffered from serious social dislocation. Some have PTSD. Most have developed their own coping mechanisms – some turned to alcohol. Others isolated themselves or became morose and abusive, including to their families. Even so, those who made it home are not dying either of shrapnel wounds or of alcohol dependency. Instead, not one but hundreds are now ill with cancers having associative links with toxic exposure. Many have serious cardiac problems. Sadly, some 25% have died before their time, and many families have suffered as a result.
5.10 Steadily, others join the company of the terminally ill. The morbidity rates of Vietnam veterans now well surpass those of other men of similar age (see Section 6). It is hard to deny that, as a group, the Vietnam veterans still alive are now in poorer states of health than others of their own age who did not take part. Yet, unquestionably, these veterans were fit and in the best of health at the time of selection for their chosen profession – members of the healthy worker/warrior group so particularly noted by the Health Select Committee.
5.11 (i) Other, less than life-threatening suffering comes of a number of other attributable illnesses. They include a range of skin conditions, muscular-skeletal problems, prostate problems, and other results of chemical exposure and poisoning. And beyond all that there are still other effects. A significant number of Vietnam veterans have produced children with various abnormalities. At first the incidence was asserted to be within normal statistical probabilities. But the problems increased in number with time, so this argument was invalidated. Yet, repeatedly, it was denied that there was a link between their Vietnam service and the events related to that theatre of war, and what they have experienced since. These are all effects of exposure, some immediate, some delayed, some still latent, some inter-generational; and all of them just that much more potent on account of long delays woven with lies.
5.11 (ii) The general public dislike for the Vietnam war itself, fuelled by protest events overseas, created strong opposition to our involvement. But it was not the veterans themselves who had ordered that involvement; it was the Government. It is therefore a huge affront to decency that veterans should be blamed for their own predicament. The affront was not eased by the veterans’ community itself, since some whose experience was of other wars joined uncritically in the disbelief that was the Vietnam veterans’ welcome home. Thus Vietnam veterans were alienated not only from the public but also from their peers within the RSA movement.
5.12 One of the abridgements of citizens’ rights on account of military service is that the Crown Proceedings Act strictly limits proceedings against the Crown for compensation or damages in respect of the death or disablement of a member of the New Zealand armed forces. Over thirty years and more, therefore, Vietnam veterans have had no recourse but to plead for their concerns to be heard. RNZRSA believes that the government’s and society’s social contracts to those veterans have been broken. It is, moreover, difficult not to yield to an impression that, at times, the breach has been wilful rather than a consequence of mere inattention.
Governments and their agencies have, over time:
Denied that New Zealand veterans were exposed to Agent Orange and other toxic agents.
Disputed Agent Orange reports and their validity, at least in their application to New Zealanders
Discredited those who have produced evidence over the years.
Accepted incomplete information about the effects of defoliants.
Misled veterans and the public in official investigations (Reeves and McLeod) – in which the withholding of evidence seems to have played a part, whether by accident or otherwise.
Delayed any meaningful remedial action for 30 and more years.
6.1 A significant number of servicemen who returned from Vietnam have now died from cancer and heart conditions. Furthermore they have died within the 40-55 age bracket. Given that the normal life expectancy of the New Zealand male is around 80, there can be no doubt that Vietnam veterans have had a higher mortality rate, at a younger age, than similar New Zealanders without service in Vietnam.
6.2 The RNZRSA will not attempt to produce a mass of statistics in this submission. There are obvious reasons for not doing so. The actual cause of death of many Vietnam veterans is not known; many have died overseas; many are not reported to the veterans’ organisations (RNZRSA and EVSA) – and in spite of determined attempts by these organisations, no national database has been established.
6.3 However, what we can do is illustrate trends using known facts:
Deaths of Veterans Who Served With 161 Bty RNZA – 1965-1971
1. 758 served during this period with this Unit.
2. 114 have since died with known causes of death.
3. 44 have since died with causes not established
4. The majority of deaths (total 158) were in men under the age of 60
The known causes of death of the 114 are:
51 deaths from cancer – or 45%
46 deaths from Heart – or 40%
17 deaths from other causes – or 15% (includes suicides)
By way of comparison, the Heart Foundation Leading Causes of Deaths in New Zealand males (1998) was:
Cancer – 29%
Heart – 41%
Other causes – 30%
Of course it should be noted that the Heart Foundation figures related to males of all ages, whereas the 161 Bty figures relate in the main to men under 60.
From these figures:
1. The rate of cancer amongst Vietnam veterans is significantly higher than the general male population. Vietnam veterans 45%, general male population, 29% – the major difference cannot be considered statistically insignificant, or within the margin of statistical error.
2. Whilst the rate of heart deaths amongst Vietnam veterans as a percentage approximates of the general male population, these deaths clearly occurred in younger men. In a healthy group, something abnormal intruded to cause this.
6.4 Further, without claiming absolute accuracy in the figures, a more general picture corroborates the implications of the above:
1. Of the 3,280 (approximate) veterans who served in Vietnam, close to 30% are now dead.
2. Given that the majority of Vietnam veterans are yet to reach the age of 60, this is a worrying fact.
3. Using the 161 Bty figures (which represent approximately 24% of those who Served in Vietnam), it is clear that Vietnam veterans have died in disproportionate numbers of cancer and heart deaths, and at an unacceptably younger age
6.5 The implications are further backed up by the personnel statistics that are available for 1st Battalion RNZIR (these are not the statistics for the entire contribution of infantry, but only from a part of the Regiment for which reliable numbers happen to be available in a usable form).
1. Number who served in Vietnam – 289
2. Number killed in Action – 5
3. Deceased since Vietnam – 74
These figures reveal a 26% death rate post Vietnam. Again, these were “healthy warriors” who have died at an earlier than expected age.
6.6 Additional support is provided by data concerning the 74 men who served with 4 Troop NZSAS Of the 74 men who served with 4 Troop:
1. 1 was Killed in Action.
2. 14 were Wounded in Action (3 were wounded twice).
3. A total of 16 of the 74 (22%) have died since their return to New Zealand.
a. 6 have died of cancer – 42%
b. 6 have died of heart conditions 42%
c. 2 drowned, and 2 committed suicide
At least 36 of the remaining 4 Troop veterans (63% of the survivors) have a range of long term, increasingly serious medical conditions.
6.7 Notwithstanding the absence of rigorous statistical method here, these figures show variances from norms that are, we suggest, exceedingly unlikely to be explainable within normal bounds of sampling error. Vietnam veterans are dying at an alarming rate. Moreover, the impact of these early deaths on children and families is a major factor to be taken into account when considering New Zealand’s Vietnam War experience.
That the significantly higher mortality rates of Vietnam veterans at young ages be recognised.
That the significantly higher mortality rate of Vietnam veterans at young ages from cancer and heart disease be recognised.
That the impact of these early deaths on children and families be taken into account when considering New Zealand’s response to the Vietnam War experience.
THE GOVERNMENT AND AN APOLOGY
7.1 It is an understatement to say that the Government’s response to the Health Select Committee Report and its off-handed apology was received with derision growing to anger by the Vietnam veteran community. But saying sorry, of course, will not put things right unless it is accompanied by other actions. RNZRSA believes, however, that an appropriately worded, properly delivered apology is a necessary part of bringing eventual closure.
7.2 The apology needs to acknowledge the impact of denial; and lack of assistance and of recognition of service. An acknowledgement to Vietnam veterans for three decades of denial that they were exposed, for the negative effect that has had on their lives, and for grudging assistance to them and their families, is a start point. It would indeed be difficult for the Government to offer an apology that would cover all the issues in this matter. But inclusion of the simple “thank you” that has been missing so far would help. It should also include comments framed around the following:
“to record the nation’s respect for those who served, who did their duty by their country – and to regret that this nation was ungracious in the extreme in the way it treated its Vietnam veterans, and in the process to resolve never to behave like that again to people who serve this nation and do their duty.
“Our Vietnam veterans served in the best traditions of the spirit of ANZAC. They fought with courage, bravery, honour and distinction.
“They undeniably deserve the right to stand tall in the legend of the ANZACS and our servicemen who follow.”
That an apology be made by the Government to Vietnam veterans and their families.
That, while it is important for the apology to be delivered by the Government (the Prime Minister) on behalf of the nation, it is essential in a bi-partisan spirit of acknowledgement that the Opposition Parties endorse and accept the apology in full.
That the apology should be delivered on the floor of the House on an appropriate date – but not on, or near ANZAC Day.
THE NZDF; AND ARMY
8.1 Many Vietnam veterans attach some of the blame for their unacceptable homecoming, and consequentials including poor health treatment, to Defence and Army. Being brought home in the dark, being told to go on leave (sometimes with little direction or assistance), being used in menial or non-military activities on return from leave, and failure to provide post deployment medical inspections other than routine and sometimes cursory checks upon discharge, has left many Vietnam veterans alienated from the Army and all it stood for. There was certainly no attempt to deprogramme combat soldiers, the better to fit them for a return to civilian life.
8.2 The indifference of the homecoming, and the Army’s part in it, are not easily explained. They reflect very badly on an organisation that prides itself in its attitude and approach to human resource issues. Many Vietnam veterans believe that the senior command had no fortitude, nor much concern about them. They believe the Army had the capacity to “welcome them home”, at least into the Army family. They believe that senior officers should have strongly advised Government of the inadequacies of the process and of the likely poor outcome. It is possible of course that the homecoming procedures were neither directed by politicians nor known to them. But, since that would mean the practices were devised and approved by the Army itself, it would put the Service in an even less favourable light.
8.3 Whilst some Vietnam veterans remained to serve the Army well for many years, the majority left after their initial 3 years. The impact of the peremptory homecoming fell much more heavily on this group than on the longer-term soldier who at least enjoyed a familiar environment for the remainder of his service. Even so, both the long-termer and the short-termer were treated by their Service in a manner that no returning troops before or after have had to endure.
8.4 In 1998, years after the officially-organised Welcome Home Parade in Australia, New Zealand Vietnam veterans, acting largely on their own, arranged an event called Parade 98 in Wellington. Political support was desultory and only lukewarm. Conspicuously, however, the military of the day once again failed to support veterans in the venture. An opportunity for healing was lost.
8.5 RNZRSA believes Defence and Army must share culpability for some of the alienation felt by Vietnam veterans. This needs to be taken into account when the cost is counted, and when the process for repair is decided on. Defence and Army should be, in fact should be eager to be, part of this process. A quote from George Washington still resonates:
“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by the nation” George Washington
That Defence and Army accept that their performance related to Vietnam veterans has been less than satisfactory, and consider how they might help repair things by playing a role in the process now under way
8.7 In February 1980 a very full report was sent to New Zealand Defence from our Washington Embassy (refer also to Section 4). The information included with it – the “HERBS Tapes” – was explicit on the areas that had been sprayed, and the amounts of defoliant used. Handwritten notations at the foot of the covering letter show that it was received and noted. The Deputy Secretary of Defence at the time noted ‘very interesting!!’ Consultation with the Director-General of Medical Services was directed. Obviously the package raised warning signals, yet it appears that the warnings were not carried through.
8.8 Perhaps by coincidence, perhaps not, a survey of Vietnam veterans was initiated by the Defence Medical Services a month later. The results were to have been collated and analysed by the Department of Health, but what happened to the study is not to hand; certainly results (or even if there were any) are not known.
8.9 An understandable and perfectly reasonable question that Vietnam veterans ask is,
“Why was the letter from Washington not treated with the level of concern and action it required – and, if the survey was abandoned, why was it abandoned?”
They also ask ‘Who is responsible for this; who should have followed-up on the letter itself?”
At the least, its implications should have led to a medical follow-up including directed medical inspections of Vietnam veterans – especially since post-tour medicals were not always done at the time; and those that were done on discharge were perfunctory.
Further, in later times, it is hard to believe that the Reeves and McLeod inquiries would have reached the conclusions they did had this letter and the accompanying information been given to them. The several layers of questions that arise from all of this need answers.
9.1 The treatment accorded to returning Vietnam veterans by the RSA at large was as patchily unsatisfactory as the treatment offered by governments and by citizens at large, at least in kind if not in degree. As had other veterans, Vietnam veterans had served their nation and had stood in harm’s way. But they were not always afforded the expected courtesies and recognition by those who had gone before them. Indeed, not a few veterans of other wars sought to diminish their effort – “yours wasn’t a proper war, so what’s the fuss?” – and, in some instances, even resorted to abuse. Though these attitudes were by individuals who should have known better, they created an angst that lingers today and has resulted in some Vietnam veterans feeling alienated not only from the general community but also from their own kind.
9.2 While it might reasonably be said that the RSA movement did not do enough, or did not do it early enough, what cannot be said is that it failed altogether to assist Vietnam veterans on the toxic poisoning issue. Although there are some instances where assistance at the local level was minimal or grudging, there has not been the same impenetrable deafness shown by successive governments and their bureaucracies.
9.3 That the RSA movement was not always as sympathetic or as energetic as it should have been is a matter of great and genuine regret. Sadly, it is not possible to turn the clock back on this issue. Nevertheless, that was then; this is now. RNZRSA wishes it to be clearly understood that its support for Vietnam veterans, their families and all affected is total, genuine and without reservation.
9.4 In starting down the path to putting things right, the RNZRSA and the EVSA have joined in partnership to press for action to ensure that Vietnam veterans have the strongest possible advocacy base, and the strongest possible organisational support. Though it is likely that neither of these two groups could have pushed the point sufficiently on its own, there is no doubt that the Joint Working Group and all it represents would not have been established without the combined influence of the RNZRSA and the EVSA.
9.5 And there lies an earnest of RNZRSA intentions. Indeed we go further. In order to be true to its founding ethos and principles, the RSA movement as a whole must now undertake never to permit the shameful treatment accorded to returning Vietnam veterans to be repeated in the case of other returning veterans, including those the country has yet to create.
THE REEVES AND McLEOD REPORTS
10.1 The Reeves and McLeod reports contained many misinterpretations and mistakes. On Reeves, the Health Select Committee considered that time constraints and lack of resources faced by the Advisory Committee contributed to inherent selection and recall bias in the survey methodology used. Further, the HSC noted the Advisory Committee failed to consider the healthy worker/warrior effect, or the implications of latency. On McLeod, the HSC condemned the report as lacking credibility, and as containing serious flaws. It said the report “does not provide a sound basis for advice to Government on formation of policy relevant to children of New Zealand Vietnam veterans”.
10.2 The official record must show acceptance that the serious mistakes in each of these reports disqualify them as instruments of policy. The formal apology mentioned elsewhere (Section Seven) would be a good vehicle by which to achieve this. Both reports must be superseded by the findings of the Health Select Committee. Although both have contributed to the broad knowledge base in some respects, they are so fundamentally flawed in others that neither should ever be permitted to be the basis of public policy. That said, the RNZRSA does not propose that they should be destroyed, because it is important that they remain accessible to future historians as examples of intentions gone wrong.
That both the Reeves and McLeod reports are consigned to the dustbin of history, and are withdrawn from Parliamentary literature for all but purely historical interest, so they can never be used as authoritative documents when references are required regarding issues related to Vietnam veterans and their families and children.
That the Parliamentary Health Select Committee Inquiry into the Exposure of New Zealand Defence Personnel to Agent Orange and Other Defoliant Chemicals during the Vietnam War and Health Effects of that exposure, be the authoritative reference for any further investigations or inquiries.
WAR DISABLEMENT PENSION
11.1 War Disablement Pensions are granted under the War Pensions Act 1954, the War Pensions Regulations 1956, and subsequent amendments. Pensions for death or disablement as a result of war service were first introduced in New Zealand with the introduction of the Military Pensions Act 1866, which was replaced by the War Pensions Act 1915. These Acts formed the basis of New Zealand’s current legislation.
11.3 According to the written brief by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to the incoming Minister after the election in 2005, “A War Disablement Pension is not compensation for an injury, it is a compensatory payment designed to counterbalance the impact of the injury on a veteran’s quality of life.” The RNZRSA asks an early question here – how can a compensatory payment counterbalance the impact on quality of life if the veteran is dying of a dioxin-linked cancer at age 50? How can this pension, which is set at rates that provide such a veteran with perhaps $8,500 pa, counterbalance a sentence of death by unconventional injury attributable to service?
11.4 A veteran can have War Disablement Pension coverage for any number of disabilities, from a range of disablement levels from 0 to 100 percent. The assessments can aggregate to more than 100%. Normally, however, the maximum rate paid is pegged to 100%, except that this may be extended up to 160% where a veteran’s quality of life is severely limited by disablement (see Section 23 of the Act: and Section Twelve of this paper).
11.5 Payments currently range from $8.33 per week for a 5% disability, to $166.62 per week for 100% disablement ($8,664.00 pa). Thresholds over 100% are payable in cases of severe disablement, up to 160% disablement and over 65 years of age, or $293.26 per week ($15,250 pa). Below 65 years of age (the age of universal superannuation), the rates are sharply abated according to other earnings.
11.6 Currently there are approximately 16,174 veterans in receipt of a War Disablement Pension, with the largest group being World War II veterans. As the age of this group continues to rise, there is a corresponding attrition rate. Steady reductions in the numbers receiving War Disablement Pensions will result. Therefore modest enhancements to percentage rates and recognition of contemporary war disability issues should not put great upward pressure on the total amount paid out in War Disablement Pensions. The attrition rate will balance any positive adjustments or enhancements.
11.7 The Act was designed for servicemen returning from World War II. The current context is shorter, often intense deployments to a variety of different locations. Whereas the current legislation was written with a focus on physical injuries, the impact of operational employments from Vietnam onward has been psychological and environmental as well as physical. Not all injuries on the modern battlefield are caused by shot and shrapnel.
11.8 RNZRSA also believes the War Pensions Act, as currently written, is age discriminatory in that it pays steeply abated rates in some circumstances for those under the age of 65 compared with those over 65. Disablement allowances are compensatory payments designed to counterbalance the effects of injury on quality of life without mention of age, so such abatements should not apply.
That a review of the legislation needs to be undertaken urgently to ensure that the coverage available to veterans is applicable and appropriate to all groups of veterans.
SECTION 23 OF THE WAR PENSIONS ACT
12.1 Section 23 of the WPA provides for an additional pension in certain cases of severe disablement. It applies to every case where:
1. There is total blindness, or,
2. If the veteran is suffering from 2 or more serious disabilities, or,
3. Is totally disabled and permanently bedridden, or if not permanently bedridden, is in the opinion of the Secretary so restricted in his activities and pursuits that he is prevented from engaging in normal and recreational activities
12.2 SCHEDULE 1 of the Act provides a scale of maximum rates payable under these conditions. SCHEDULE 9 lists pensions that are payable for specific disabilities, but provides no pension coverage for disabilities other than blindness, incurable insanity, severe facial disfigurement, amputations, permanent loss of speech, total deafness, and loss of eyes and fingers. The maximum pension payable under Section 23 is 160%. At this extreme % level, the current annual payment is a modest $15,249.00 pa.
12.3 RNZRSA contends very strongly that, whilst Section 23 covers a range of serious conditions, it does not adequately cover contemporary service conditions. Not all modern battlefield injuries are caused by shot and shell. They are caused to both body and mind by exposure to biological, chemical or radiation hazards as well as physical injuries. And, as some physical injuries are life-threatening while others are not, so it is with these other hazards. In particular, as is now clear, exposure to the generally toxic environment encountered in Vietnam is associated with a range of cancers that are life-threatening. Whether an attributable amputation with good life expectancy should be treated as a more serious disablement than an attributable terminal cancer with limited life expectancy can have but one answer.
12.4 The definitions of disabilities that attract higher/additional rates than other disabilities are enshrined in the WPA, which presumably is intended to foster objectivity and consistency. But the Act also allows for subjective decisions based on the Secretary’s opinion (Section 23 (1) (c)) in some cases. There appear, however, to be no further guidelines beyond institutional memory or precedent. Given that we are talking here of serious life-threatening outcomes that had no precedent when the Act was framed, and indeed have been without precedent until recently, such considerations seem very much open to risk of whim or unevenness. There are two choices here – either provide better guidance to the Secretary outside the Act, or add to the Act a list of the additional conditions that require higher payment levels.
The RNZRSA strongly recommends the latter route as being the least disruptive and the most manageable; that is, Section 23 and consequentials should be updated to accommodate the realities of modern operational service disablements more subtle than losing an arm or a leg. The Act must reflect contemporary causes of disablement. Clear definitions of serious unconventional war injuries must be set out in the Act, including such as life-threatening cancers with long latency.
12.6 SECTION 23 – PROPOSAL RNZRSA provides below a draft of a new Section 23 and an accompanying proposed linked Schedule 9A.
23. Additional pension in certain cases of severe disablement
(1) This section applies to every case where a member of the forces,
a. Is suffering from total blindness; or
b. Is suffering from 2 or more serious disabilities (whether specified in Schedule 9 to this Act or not); or
c. Is suffering from one or more of the list of disabilities noted at Schedule 9A, which relate to exposure to nuclear, biological or toxic environments; or
d. Is totally disabled and is permanently bedridden or, if not permanently bedridden is, in the opinion of [[the Secretary]], so restricted in his activities and pursuits that he is prevented from engaging in normal social and recreational activities
and a pension for total disablement in respect of such blindness, disabilities, or disablement is for the time being payable under section 19(1) of this Act.
(2) Notwithstanding anything in this Part of this Act, in any case to which this section applies [the Secretary may, in the Secretary’s] discretion, increase the rate of the pension that would otherwise be payable to the member in respect of his disablement by not more than the appropriate rate specified in Schedule 1 to this Act.
(3) In the case of personnel who have been exposed to nuclear, biological or toxic environment and have disabilities that are listed in Schedule 9A, the limits of Section 1 shall not apply. For each disability listed in Section 9A the War Disablement Pensioner shall receive the full amount of assessed percentage of Whole Person Impairment.
(3) Notwithstanding anything in this Part of this Act, but subject to subsection (4) of this section, if a person receiving an additional pension under this section is of or over the age of 60 years, that person shall be entitled to be paid, in addition to the total amount payable under section 19 of this Act and subsection (2) of this section, a further amount equal to 10 percent of that total amount.]
(4) In each case entitlement to the further amount provided for in subsection (3) of this section shall commence on the earliest date that the Secretary considers practicable, being a date not earlier than the date of commencement of the pay period during which this subsection came into force during which the pensioner attained the age of 60 years, whichever is the later.]
PROPOSED SCHEDULE 9.A
1. Disabilities in relation to exposure to a toxic environment
• Hodgkin’s Disease
• Multiple Myeloma
• Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
• Respiratory Cancers (lung, bronchus, larynx and trachea)
• Soft-tissue Sarcoma
• Prostate Cancer
• Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia
2. Disabilities in relation to exposure to nuclear fallout and waste
Note: In relation to Vietnam veterans, those conditions listed in 1 above should be known as the ‘Prescribed Conditions’
12.7 As this would require a change to the Act, which could take some time, RNZRSA further recommends that all those currently in receipt of a War Disablement Allowance for one of these conditions immediately be the subject of an automatic review adjustment (the mechanics for this exist) and be placed at the 160% level within Section 23. Many of the veterans with these cancers are already in the terminal stages of the disease – many others will move toward terminal condition, or death, in the short term. Natural justice and compassion demand that there be absolutely no delay in attending to the matter of enhancing Section 23 to cover specified life-threatening conditions without making sufferers wait for a formal change to the Act.
12.8 The enhancements must also be applied in retrospect, thus providing proper recognition to existing specified conditions, and to surviving spouses. All cases where veterans already have a War Disablement Pension for prescribed conditions, and those who have died but should have been drawing a War Disablement Pension for those conditions, should be lifted immediately by administrative review to the maximum allowance under Section 23. Furthermore, that allowance should be back-dated to the date on which the condition was first diagnosed as one of the attributable ones. Delays between the initial diagnosis and the administrative notification of the initial allowance are not the fault of the veterans, and they should not be penalised in such a way.
12.9 The authority to correct these matters is within the power of the Secretary under Section 23(1) (c), who should be directed by Government, pending amendment of Section 23 and the attendant Schedules, to conduct the administrative reviews of veterans with listed conditions without delay, and accordingly to amend their War Disablement Pension to the 160% level forthwith. A target of 2 months after Government acceptance of this measure should be established. Delay would see more of those veterans die before they reach their 60th birthday. They must be given the opportunity to see that their society does indeed understand there is no greater impact on their and their family’s quality of life than for them to be dying from conditions induced by exposure to a toxic environment while in the military service of the country.
12.10 An amended Section 23 can, therefore, be an element of the compensatory framework for Vietnam veterans and their surviving partners. The automatic granting within Section 23 of the maximum payment would provide ongoing compensatory and financial support to those very sick veterans. Furthermore, through the application of the Surviving Spouse framework, it would provide proper levels of compensatory recognition to the partners of veterans who have provided care and support to those with such serious disabilities – the carers whose quality of life has also been badly affected thereby.
SURVIVING VIETNAM VETERANS
13.1 The War Pensions Act is framed to recognise all attributable disabilities (illness both physical and mental, and injuries). RNZRSA takes the view that all Vietnam veterans have suffered through a shameful 35 years of neglect. As pointed out elsewhere, the War Pensions Act provides for compensatory payments that set out to counterbalance the impact of disabilities on the veteran’s quality of life. The quality of life of all Vietnam veterans has been affected.
13.2 Accordingly, all surviving Vietnam veterans should be awarded a 10% base-line War Disablement Pension to recognise the mental anxiety and stress – and the pre-disposition factor of these leading to other illnesses both physical and mental. This baseline 10% should be additional in the case of Vietnam veterans already receiving a War Disablement Pension for other conditions. It would cover the unknown, uncertain illnesses and conditions that afflict Vietnam veterans.
13.3 The annual cost of this recommendation would initially be $2.3m ($918.00 per annum for each veteran). The expenditure forecast for War Disablement Pensions for FY 2006/2007 is $110.031m. This proposal would see an increase merely of 2% to the forecast.
13.4 Acceptance of this recommendation would provide tangible, ongoing proof of acceptance of the overall negative impact the Vietnam experience had on those who served there – it would give strong evidence to Government’s desire to seek closure on a fair basis.
RNZRSA strongly recommends that all surviving Vietnam veterans be immediately awarded a base-line 10% War Disablement Pension in recognition of the mental anxiety and stress that is inherent in their service, and the aftermath of rejection, denials and delays.
ILLNESSES TO BE AUTOMATICALLY RECOGNISED AS RESULTING FROM VIETNAM SERVICE
14.1 The following health conditions should be automatically presumptively recognised as Prescribed Conditions under the amendment to Section 23 of the WPA proposed in Section Twelve:
Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, including any diagnosis of a lymphoma [except Hodgkin’s lymphoma], mycosis fungoides, and old terms such as lymphosarcoma, reticulum cell sarcoma and Kaposi’s sarcoma
Respiratory cancers, including cancer of the
Soft Tissue Sarcomas, including
• Adult fibro sarcoma
• Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans
• Malignant fibrous histincytoma
• Liposarcoma – Leiomyosarcoma
• Epithelioid Leiomyosarcoma (malignant Leiomyoblastoma)
• Angiosarcoma (hemangiosarcoma and lymphangiosarcoma)
• Proliferating (systemic) angioendo-theliomatosis
• Malignant glomus tumour
• Malignant hemangiopericytoma
• Synovial sarcoma (malignant synovioma)
• Malignant giant cell tumour of tendon sheath
• Malignant schwannoma, including malignant schwannoma with rhabdomyoblastic differentiation (malignant Triton tumour), glandular and epheliod malignant schwannoma
• Malignant mesenchymoma
Chronic Lymphocytic leukaemia
14.2 As accepted international research amends/modifies/expands this list, so should New Zealand (see below).
That the above list of Prescribed Conditions be accepted by the Government as associatively linked to exposure to a toxic environment in Vietnam. (Elsewhere in this submission RNZRSA recommends that on diagnosis of one of the Prescribed Conditions, a Vietnam veteran be classified at 160% under Section 23 of the War Pensions Act.)
Noting also that the War Pension Review procedure provides that reviews can be made on the basis of retrospectivity, RNZRSA further recommends that all War Disablement Allowances payable to Vietnam veterans for the Prescribed Conditions should be backdated to the date of confirmed diagnosis.
14.4 There is a range of other than the prescribed conditions which are presumptively linked to service in Vietnam. These might be called “associated conditions”; and diagnosis of any of them should mean automatic approval for a War Disablement Allowance. International research may add other conditions to this list, as should New Zealand, through monitoring of this research. The known ones are:
Peripheral neuropathy (transient, acute or sub-acute; a nervous system condition)
Diabetes Type II
Chloracne (skin condition)
Porphyria cutanea tarda (disorder characterised by liver dysfunction and by thinning and blistering of the skin in sun-exposed areas)
PTSD or other serious mental conditions
14.5 If a Vietnam veteran is diagnosed with one of the above conditions, the merry-go-round of repeated medical/specialist checks and panel approvals needs to be taken out of the process. He should have automatic coverage under the War Pensions Act. This and an immediately applied percentage level together with immediate treatment should be the norm.
14.6 All other conditions presented by Vietnam veterans should be based on the current principles and operation of the War Pensions Act, though always in accordance with the much-improved processes and delivery recommended elsewhere in this document.
That the above Associated Conditions are automatically linked as attributable to Vietnam service for War Pensions Act purposes.
MONITORING OF RESEARCH
14.8 The Institute of Medicine (US) refers to the latency period in relationship to exposure. The prediction that 30 years from initial exposure would see an increase in dioxin related illnesses and an increase in mortality rate is unfortunately becoming evident.
14.9 Recommendation 8 of the HSC Report stated:
‘We recommend to the Government that it ensures that VANZ monitors the list of diseases and conditions that may have been caused by herbicide exposure during the Vietnam War and update and extends it whenever international research indicates this is appropriate!
14.10 Again, the Government response was deficient. It referred only to the list of conditions applicable to children and grandchildren. The ongoing monitoring and acceptance of credible overseas research must apply to the list of conditions not just applicable to the children and the grandchildren, but also to the veterans themselves.
That Recommendation 8 of the Health Select Committee Report be implemented immediately and in its entirety (monitoring overseas research and updating the lists of attributable diseases and conditions).
That in the interests of transparency VANZ be directed to publish a 6-monthly report on its activities related to monitoring and updating the list of conditions.
PTSD AND STRESS
15.1 The psychological consequences of the Vietnam war on our veterans are not widely understood. Overseas research, however, has clearly demonstrated long term deleterious effects on their Vietnam veterans. Likewise many of our own Vietnam veterans suffer effects upon both their physical and mental health. Many have clearly developed and diagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder even at this distance of time. Indeed, research elsewhere now suggests that the passage of time is no proof against PTSD. Its onset can be delayed many years from the events that gave rise to it; and can be sudden, distressing and disabling. The symptoms include re-experiencing the traumas faced by way of intrusive memories and dreams; emotional numbing to other life experiences; irrational behaviour; social instability or withdrawal; and depression and cognitive difficulties.
15.2 A number of Vietnam veterans have developed other negative mental health consequences short of PTSD. These include high levels of anxiety, depression, withdrawal from normal family and social interaction, and outright anti-social behaviour. Alcohol often becomes the “escape route”. Studies on New Zealand Vietnam veterans have indicated that a significant number are in trouble. One of them (Department of Psychology, Massey University 1994) showed that about 10% of veterans suffer from PSTD, 20% have moderate to high levels of depression, and 44% have moderately high levels of anxiety.
15.3 As the years have gone by, more mental health problems amongst our Vietnam veterans have become obvious. Recognition must be given to the poor mental health of some of our Vietnam veterans, including complex interpersonal functioning problems, serious somatic problems, low levels of positive affective states, violent behaviour in relationships and within families, employment difficulties, and high levels of marital and family dysfunction. Recognition must also be given to the issue of increased levels of stress leading to chronic illness –mental health stresses can be a predisposing factor to other illnesses both mental and physical.
THE EFFECTS OF UNCERTAINTY, AND OF DELAY
15.4 A high degree of uncertainty coupled with veterans’ increasingly strong belief that exposure has harmed them and has caused, or will cause, adverse health effects to them or their progeny elevates stress levels among Vietnam veterans. The veteran cannot determine if he is in danger because of latency and the absence of predictive diagnostics. There is no precise timetable for the effects of dioxin poisoning to emerge. Thus in addition to being ambiguous the threat is also invisible. It cannot be removed; and adjusting or adapting to it is impossible. Those affected can be proportionally more depressed, have poorer perceived general physical and mental health and possibly poorer memory function. Stress levels may be further exacerbated by the veterans’ and family’s’ frustration at the lack of progress in resolving the issues arising from their exposure more than three decades ago.
15.5 Chronic stress can result in depression, increased muscle tension, and disturbed judgement and problem solving skills. It is also well known that it can affect physical health, either directly as in hypertension and circulating stress hormones, or by compromising the immune function. Vietnam veterans not only suffer distress from the fear of what exposure might do to them, but also from the frustration, anger and bitterness associated denials and the strong perception that they and their issues have been deliberately ignored. There is clear evidence that at least some of the Vietnam veterans are living with a compromised quality of life in comparison with NZ men of similar age. Chronic stress and its outcomes must be recognised as a serious consequence of service in Vietnam.
15.6 In the case of Vietnam veterans, chronic stress cannot be shrugged off as a normal consequence of life. Service in Vietnam and exposure to a toxic environment has a definite causative link to chronic stress; and resultant predispositions to other illnesses (for example, hypertension) must also be appropriately recognised within the War Disablement framework.
That the predisposition effect of chronic stress in terms of susceptibility to certain other conditions, both psychological and physical, be appropriately recognised within the War Disablement Pension framework. That cases of diagnosed PTSD attributable in Vietnam (and other operational deployments) be recognised as a serious consequence of service – and that in assessing percentage coverage under the War Disablement Pension framework, specialists, panels and the Secretary/Director accept it as such.
THE FAMILIES: UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES AND COLLATERAL DAMAGE
16.1 Alongside the veteran stands his partner and family. Research now indicates that trauma and the symptoms associated with it can be passed from one generation to the next. Researchers describe this as ‘intergenerational transmission of trauma’ (National Centre for PTSD Fact Sheet). It results often in depressive episodes in partners and progeny. We have a significant number of Vietnam veterans who suffer from mental as well as medical problems. Many rely on medication to control their behaviour – but others have not sought and will not seek treatment. And so families have suffered too. But they have suffered in ways far beyond direct manifestations of PTSD. They have had to endure, and often to nurse, serious physical illnesses among veterans whether or not the condition is accompanied by PTSD or other mental ill-health. Families too must be included as an integral part of a just resolution.
FAMILY MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
16.2 The higher rate of physical ailments suffered by children of Vietnam veterans, in particular spina bifida, cleft lip, leukaemia and other cancers, are already known. In addition, however, behavioural matters – physical trauma, anxiety and mental stability displayed by many children of those who served in Vietnam – must be recognised and considered. Some partners are also affected.
16.3 The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2000 Study, Suicide in Vietnam Veterans’ Children (Supplementary Report No. 1), found that sons and daughter of Vietnam veterans are three times more likely to commit suicide than those of a similar age in the general population. They are also more likely to die by accident, experience depression and abuse alcohol or other drugs.
16.4 Since these alarming figures were discovered by accident during a 1998 Department of Veterans’ Affairs study into the health of Vietnam veterans (AIHW 1998, Morbidity of Vietnam Veterans, Vol 1), momentum has been building for a wider investigation into the mental and physical health of their children. A government-funded feasibility study recommending this should be done is about to land on the desk of the Australian Veterans’ Affairs Minister. Whilst no corresponding study has been proposed in New Zealand, their war was also our war, and it would be surprising if a similar situation did not exist here.
16.5 The Minister of Veterans’ Affairs in Australia recently stated: “Our starting position is we recognise that children of Vietnam veterans do experience higher rates of some illness and disease than the wider population. The Government has a pretty good record in responding to the concerns of Vietnam veterans and their families, and I am keen to see what the feasibility study identifies.”
16.6 Professor Hedley Peach, who is a member of the scientific committee advising the Australian Government on the feasibility study, has said, “Conducting research into veterans’ sons and daughters is vital, not only to examine in detail the reasons behind their poor health, but to set up support services that work for them.”
He also stated:
“That the Government should also consider studying grandchildren of Vietnam veterans to avoid more problems spiralling down through the generations.
“If the sons and daughters have got mental health problems and have young children themselves, what effect will that have on the grandchildren? We have to break the cycle.”
He suggests stressful familial environments could be behind the children’s mental health problems, already highlighted by existing research. While many people with mental illness have a genetic predisposition to their condition, veterans were screened for mental illness before they went into the service, making stress a more likely factor in the children’s ill health.
“In studies done by clinical psychologists running PTSD clinics for Vietnam veterans, children have recorded a high level of dysfunction in families,” he says. “When we focused on Agent Orange, so much in the past, we missed the bigger picture.”
16.7 The Australian Gulf War Veterans’ Health Study conducted in 2003 by researchers at Monash University, supports this view. The research found that Gulf War veterans had a greater risk of PTSD, other anxiety disorders, depression and substance abuse compared with a control group – similar problems to those found in Vietnam veterans. This has wide ramifications for the results of a study finding conclusive links between war service and the health of veterans’ offspring. The Government could be looking at a major overhaul of the way it deals with returning soldiers.
16.8 Margot Prior, Professor of Psychology at the University of Melbourne, says the effects of their father’s service on the children of Vietnam veterans are very real and harsh. “I believe it is possible for the effects of war service to affect the development of children because the way the fathers feel about life has some influence on their families. The psychological and physical health of the parents affects the children.”
16.9 Studies in the US have also found that children of Vietnam veterans are unusually prone to depression, mood swings, anxiety and other behavioural disorders. US studies concluded that there was a lot of marital disharmony and conflict within the family, and behavioural problems in children. The studies also predicted that such behavioural problems could, in turn, affect the children of the children. Even the grandchildren of Vietnam veterans may suffer indirectly from the dysfunctional behaviours of their parents and grandparents.
That the Government follows overseas research closely and, in keeping with the announced intention of accepting it, adopts any recommendations flowing from it. When we as a country are involved in military activities either in a peacekeeping role or in combat, we must accept that the consequences of sending young people to war are going to be visited not just upon those going to war but also upon those close to them. We should be thinking of providing services for the entire family for life.
PROVIDING FOR CHILDREN
That actual legislative cover (i.e., a proper legal framework – not the present arrangement which has an element of ‘grace and favour’ in it) be put in place for the protection of progeny. The logical place for this legislative definition framework is the War Pensions Act. Furthermore we argue that the Government needs to take steps to help all children born to Vietnam veterans after their return from Vietnam and who suffer deformities and illnesses, either physical or psychological – and not just those who have a disablement that is currently recognised as dioxin-linked. Some machinery for this is recommended in later sections of this document.
PROVIDING FOR WIVES AND PARTNERS
That spouses and partners of Vietnam veterans be able to access needs-based counselling services without charge. This would recognise the collateral damage caused to spouses, partners and families. Other recommendations for better WPA coverage of, and delivery to, spouses and partners are contained in later sections of this document.
CHILDREN OF VIETNAM VETERANS
17.1 The submission of the Director of Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand (VANZ) to the Health Select Committee concentrated on what the War Pensions Act 1954 does for veterans in general rather than on what services and benefits are provided for Vietnam veterans’ children. When asked directly about help available for children, the Director pointed to welfare agencies available to all.
17.2 Subsequently the deficient Government Response to the Report of the Health Select Committee said:
“The children of Vietnam veterans, who were conceived after their parent’s service in Vietnam, and who suffer from spinal bifida and/or cleft palate/lip, acute myeloid leukaemia or adrenalin gland cancer, will continue to receive fully funded care for those conditions. In addition, genetic counselling is available to any children with ongoing concerns over the impact of latency.
“Support is also provided to the children of Vietnam veterans to address any mental health issues.
“This package of assistance maintains parity with the support offered to the children of Vietnam veterans by the Commonwealth Government of Australia.”
17.3 Let us examine these responses.
1. The assistance to Vietnam veterans’ children is limited to a prescribed list of 5 serious conditions.
2. The assistance has been available only in recent years. During the upbringing of children with those and other conditions over the past several decades, parents have borne the brunt of the social and financial penalties involved.
3. Given the latency issue and the early deaths of Vietnam veterans, RNZRSA would believe all Vietnam veterans’ children born post their Vietnam service, and their children’s children are well justified in having concerns over latent inter-generational effects. The availability of genetic counselling is not widely enough known, and needs to be made known to all Vietnam veterans’ children, grandchildren and, if applicable, great grandchildren.
4. This also applies to more general support for mental health issues – again RNZRSA believes the availability of this is not widely enough known.
5. The statement of maintaining parity with Australia invites a question. In the area of health and welfare for Vietnam veterans, is the benchmark for New Zealand now to become parity with Australia? Many Vietnam veterans would welcome the Government adopting such a gold-standard policy for all Vietnam veterans as well as their progeny!
17.4 RNZRSA has the strong view that the matter of one law for the parent and another for his son/daughter where both are afflicted by reason of the same service to the country, is a moral and social irregularity that requires addressing urgently. RNZRSA believes that progeny of veterans who have been exposed to nuclear, biological and toxic environments and who suffer from health conditions that may have been caused by genetic mutation or other factors that may be linked to such exposure should have similar coverage to the veterans themselves. They should receive the same benefit of doubt and reverse onus of proof in accepting their condition or disability as is accorded to veterans under the War Pensions Act.
Since such an approach would require amendments to existing legislation, RNZRSA proposes the following amendments to the War Pensions Act to provide cover for children so affected.
PROPOSED SECTION 23.A
17.6 23.A Pensions to descendants in certain cases where the parents of the descendants have been exposed to nuclear, biological or toxic environments.
1. Where descendants of veterans, who have been exposed to nuclear, biological or toxic environments, have health conditions that are linked to such exposure they shall be compensated by the award of a War Disablement Pension at a percentage to be determined by a medical specialist trained in the use of the American Medical Association Guides to Permanent Impairment.
2. Health conditions attracting an award of a War Disablement Pension are listed in Schedule 9.B.
17.7 PROPOSED SCHEDULE 9.B
1. Disabilities in descendants of veterans who were exposed to nuclear, biological or toxic environments eligible for a War Disablement Pension.
• Spina Bifida
• Cleft Lip/Palate
• Acute Myeloid Leukaemia
• Adrenal Gland Cancer
2. Sequelae to Spina Bifida where links have already been established.
Neurological Disorders including
• Arnold-Chiari malformation (affects the brain, brainstem and cerebellum);
• Hydrocephalus – including secondary Blindness, Seizure Disorder,
• Syingomyelia (a disorder in which a cyst forms with the spinal cord;
• Decubitus ulcers (pressure sores)
• Foot deformities
• Hip dislocation
• Kyphosis (curvature of the spine)
• Lordosis (an abnormal inward curve of the lumbar spine)
• Scoliosis (sideways curvature of the spine)
• Kidney Disease
• Neurogenic Bladder
• Solitary Kidney
• Urinary Tract Infection
3. Sequelae to Spina Bifida where links must be medically established
• Cardiovascular Disorder
• Eye disorder, including Strabismus (squint)
• Balance Disorder
• Dislocated Joints
• Respiratory Disorder
• Anxiety Disorder
• Attention Deficit Disorder
• Central Auditory Processing Disorder
• Hearing Disabilities
• Learning Disabilities
• Mental Retardation
• Limb Deformity
• Immunological Disorders
• Diabetes Disorders
• Chronic Pain
SURVIVING SPOUSE PENSION
18.1 A Surviving Spouse Pension is paid to the surviving partner of a Vietnam veteran if his death occurred during active service in Vietnam. It is also paid to a veteran’s partner if the veteran was in receipt of (or could have been in receipt of) a War Disablement Pension of at least 70% at the time of his death. The pension at the current rate is $6,391.32 pa; but it ceases if the recipient remarries or enters into a new relationship. Currently there are 4,963 surviving partners of deceased veterans of all campaigns in receipt of a Surviving Spouse Pension.
RETENTION OF SURVIVING SPOUSE PENSION
18.2 Vietnam veterans, as a cohort, are dying at a much younger age than other veteran groups. Not only that, the nature of the illnesses from which they are dying – cancer, heart, circulatory – calls for greater care by and greater stress upon the partner. Further, when the Vietnam veteran dies early the surviving partner is left at a much younger age with significant longer-term family issues to cope with. There is therefore a disproportionate loss of income over time.
18.3 Because of the surviving partner’s younger age and the social/family environment involved, many re-marry or enter new relationships. This marks a significant difference from the conditions that applied at the time the War Pensions Act was enacted fifty years ago; that was another era. But there is another difference as well. In the nuclear family of 1954 the norm was that the male was the principal and most often the only breadwinner – it was the expectation then that his earnings alone would sustain his wife and family. One can see the argument in those times that a widow on re-marrying should not need widow’s pension support. But modern society would regard such assumptions as archaic at best and patronising at worst. The norm today is two incomes to sustain the family. In requiring the Surviving Spouse Pension to be relinquished upon remarriage or a new relationship, therefore, it seems we have applied a practice which was acceptable in a long-bygone era but which no longer fits society’s imperatives today.
18.4 There is also a more general difference between family life in the military and family life in the civilian sector, especially for career personnel. In the ultimate, military postings are compulsory with the force of law. They are also frequent. In the name of duty the result can be significant disruptions to family life. More particularly, however, the effect on a spouse’s employment or career path can be severely limiting. In an era when two incomes from two careers are the norm, or even a necessity, this can have a significant cost to the military family.
18.5 Thus the basis of a Surviving Spouse Pension as it was in 1954 has become more and more out of touch with the realities of societal changes over time. RNZRSA believes it is unreasonable in the modern world that partners are required to relinquish their Surviving Spouse Pension; even more so where their partner died on active service. Once a War Widow, always a War Widow. A new relationship is often borne out of concern for the upbringing of the deceased veteran’s children. An actual example of this is the widow of an SAS senior NCO killed whilst on active service in Vietnam who subsequently remarried and lost her Surviving Spouse Pension. This is not only unreasonable, but callous.
18.6 With respect to earlier references to an Australian benchmark, we note in passing that a change in legislation in the past four years in Australia has seen the War Widows’ Pension restored for those widows (surviving spouses) who remarry.
18.7 RNZRSA strongly recommends that:
Surviving Partners whose partners died during any active/operational or emergency service continue to be paid the Surviving Spouse Pension as a lifetime entitlement regardless of remarriage or new relationships; and
Other Surviving Partners on a Surviving Spouse Pension who remarry, or enter into a new relationship, retain 50% of the Surviving Spouse Pension as a lifetime entitlement.
BASIC QUALIFYING CRITERION – SURVIVING SPOUSE PENSION
18.8 Currently the Surviving Spouse Pension is payable only where the deceased partner was, or could have been, in receipt of a War Disablement Pension of 70% or more at the time of death. The pension is based on a War Widow’s Pension, the purpose of which was to provide ongoing financial support for the surviving spouse/partner when the veteran died.
18.9 The figure of 70% dates from the 1940s and reflected the fact that the intent was to ensure the payment of the pension where the veteran had a level of disability with the potential to lead to death as a result of the veteran’s service. This arbitrary level has no bearing on the practical circumstances impacting on War disablement Pension recipients and their spouses or partners in the circumstances of today. Many veterans on War Disablement Pensions below 70% need constant care and attention from their spouse/partner carer. This may have been the case for decades. It is particularly the case with Vietnam veterans who have both mental and physical problems that may rate below the 70% level but who need close, ongoing carer support from their partner. The RNZRSA believes that there should be a change to the qualifying criterion for a Surviving Spouse Pension.
RNZRSA strongly recommends that a Surviving Spouse Pension be paid on the death of a veteran who is or could have been in receipt of a War Disablement Pension at the rate of 50% or more (lowered from 70% or more). This would be a more reasonable and appropriate qualifying level in today’s circumstances.
18.11 Based on the numbers of WWII veterans compared with veterans of later campaigns, and the age groupings of those veterans, of the 4,963 surviving partners in receipt of a Surviving Spouse Pension, 4,501 (or 90%) are elderly widows of WWII veterans. These surviving partners are clearly less likely to remarry than are surviving partners of deceased veterans who are in their early 50s-60s.
18.12 Therefore the cost to the Government of retaining the Surviving Spouse Pension will diminish at an increasing rate as the more elderly surviving partners who are in receipt of this pension leave us. Given the present strategic pattern of New Zealand’s overseas deployments, it could be assumed that in the mid to longer term, fewer and fewer surviving partners will be entitled to this pension (deployments of much smaller numbers in generally low level combat environments equals fewer veterans and smaller numbers of casualties). There will, therefore, be a decreasing cost to Government as each year goes by. Currently the Surviving Spouse Pension is a cost to Government of $29m per annum. Given the decreasing number of elderly surviving partners, this sum will decrease significantly over the next 5-10 years.
18.13 The RNZRSA proposal for retention of the Surviving Spouse Pension on remarriage sees:
1. Surviving partners whose veteran partner died on any active operational or emergency service continuing to be paid the Surviving Spouse Pension for life. This would quickly be cost negative, given the mortality rate of elderly surviving partners.
2. Other surviving partners in receipt of the Surviving Spouse Pension who remarry or enter into a new relationship continuing to be entitled to 50% of the Surviving Spouse Pension (about $3,200 pa). RNZRSA believes that this situation would apply to less than 50% of an estimated 2,000 surviving partners whose partners served in a campaign after WWII and who would be entitled to the Surviving Spouse Pension. This small annual payment (50% of Surviving Spouse Pension) would in a very small way assist in particular the surviving spouses of deceased Vietnam veterans in contributing to the support of family. Assuming that 1,000 surviving spouses were involved the total cost would be $3.2m pa. Of course, not all would remarry in the same year, and decreasing numbers in the higher age bracket would mitigate this cost.
18.14 It is estimated that the change from a basic 70% disablement level to 50% to qualify for a Surviving Spouse Pension would require an increase of $3-3.5m in expenditure.
18.15 RNZRSA believes the introduction of these measures would result in very minor initial cost increases that would wash out as the numbers of surviving partners continues to decrease. These small gestures would greatly assist in the quality of life of partners to whose lives were lost in active service to the nation, or who incurred injuries and illnesses in service that added to the burdens of those left behind.
18.16 In this the Year of the Veteran, acceptance of the recommendations in this Section giving proper recognition to the role that spouses/partners have played in the shaping of our nation would have special significance.
HEALTH PROFESSIONALS AND INFORMATION
INFORMATION FOR HEALTH PROFESSIONALS
19.1 The Government Response to the Report of the Health Select Committee stated that Veterans’ Affairs is in the process of developing information sheets that contain data about the possible impacts of service in a particular war or emergency, including Vietnam. These are understood to provide medical specialists with background information on the particular war or emergency when making their assessment. Obviously, they would be sent to the medical specialist when an appointment is made for a veteran to have any service-related disabilities assessed. Veterans Affairs said it would liaise with the New Zealand Medical Association and the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners for the purpose.
19.2 RNZRSA believes that in the interest of transparency, these information sheets should be made available to the veteran prior to assessment. In a related matter, we believe also that applicants under assessment by a War Claims Panel should be advised of the sitting, and be given a copy of any associated medical specialist’s report, at least a week in advance.
That VANZ be directed to advise RNZRSA and EVSA as to the progress of this proposal; and that the information sheets be made available to the veteran as well as the medical specialist.
That all war pension claimants should be advised of the sitting and be provided with a personal copy of any medical specialist reports at least one week prior to consideration by a War Claims Panel.
ACCREDITING HEALTH PROFESSIONALS
19.4 The HSC Report recommended:
“……. that VANZ complete a list of health professionals who are conversant with the specific needs of New Zealand Vietnam veterans and provide this list to all New Zealand Vietnam veterans”
19.5 The Government response to this, in the view of the RNZRSA, skirted the issue and did not meet the actual terms of the recommendation.
That Recommendation 6 of the Health Select Committee Report be implemented, in full and without delay, by VANZ.
EARLY ADVICE AND INTERVENTION
19.7 Early diagnosis and intervention can save lives, and pain and suffering. Cervical screening and mammography screening are two obvious examples that recognise the importance of early detection. Aside from peace of mind, part of the rationale is that early diagnosis/intervention saves health dollars in the longer term.
19.8 It is a matter of serious regret that acceptance that our Vietnam veterans were exposed to a toxic environment, including carcinogenic dioxin poisoning, did not come much earlier. The evidence is not only that there was sufficient scientific proof available many years ago, but also that evidence of exposure of Vietnam veterans was available in New Zealand some 25 years ago!
19.9 The acceptance of exposure in 2004 was too late for many of our Vietnam veterans who had died of cancer and heart disease. Given earlier warning about the potential harm through associative links, earlier intervention may well have extended the lives of those veterans. It may have provided them with a better quality of life and with treatment choices. It is indeed a sorry state of affairs that the Defence medical organisation (which was aware in 1980 of the potential) did not take positive steps of notification and health checks. Whether the Defence Force’s failing of care for its employees might be culpable is beyond the scope of this submission. But the omission should be rectified by free annual “Wellman” medical checks for Vietnam veterans. The annual cost should not exceed $0.25m.
RNZRSA strongly recommends that all Vietnam veterans be provided with a free “Wellman” Annual Medical examination, with particular emphasis placed on disorders identified by United States and Australian studies as linked to exposure to a toxic environment.
That VANZ now be directed to issue guidelines to medical specialists that clarify the accepted linkages between active service in Vietnam and the existence of certain prescribed medical conditions.
WAR PENSIONS TREATMENT CARD
20.1 All veterans in receipt of a War Disablement Pension receive a treatment card that gives them access to fully funded primary and secondary health care for the conditions named on the card. This covers GP visits, specialist visits, prescription costs, private hospital care if the need is urgent and where public hospital care is not available (discretionary approval), and treatment from other providers
20.2 Veterans report that the practice in the field falls well short of matching the intention. They find that the treatment card is not widely recognised. It seems also that some GPs are not willing to forward accounts for consultations related to listed disabilities to the War Pensions Processing Unit because of time delays in payment and the cost of processing – and they ask the veteran to pay the consultation fee. This should not happen. Pharmacies and some specialists are also not willing to follow the process. That should not happen either. The burden of cost recovery then falls on the veteran and involves collection of receipts, form preparation, postage and banking activities that should not be required.
That VANZ ensure, through the medical Associations, that GPs, specialists and pharmacists are aware of their responsibilities toward the veteran who carries a War Pensions Treatment Card.
That the system for reimbursement be examined to ensure that a speedy turn around in cost reimbursement is assured.
TAX AND ALLOWANCES
21.1 It is widely held that our troops who served in Vietnam were the only ones New Zealand has sent into war taxed in full for ‘doing their duty’ – or who were not paid a corresponding, compensatory allowance in lieu. The subject surfaced again in 1999 when we deployed to East Timor. As in Vietnam thirty years earlier, the Australians were paid tax-free in East Timor but New Zealanders alongside them were taxed. Both instances invoked the honoured ANZAC model on the ground. But in both cases it also served to accentuate the disparity in tax treatment by shoving it under the noses of Kiwis every day. Perhaps because of this, for the deployment to East Timor an allowance was struck to offset income tax. But, although there was a “deferred pay” package for those who served in Vietnam, our understanding is that it was unrelated to the tax impost. Our further understanding is that our contingent in Korea was paid tax-free. It appears, then, that the Vietnam group was the only one treated in this way.
21.2 There was and is provision in tax legislation for exemption from tax “for military service in an operational area”. At the time it was Section 87 of the Act; the current Income Tax Act 2004 has it at Section CW19. Broadly the machinery is that a committee of three Ministers (Prime Minister, Defence and Finance) are empowered to define an area as operational, the effect of which is to exempt New Zealand service personnel engaged in that area from income tax. We understand that in 1970 – five years after our first troops were sent to Vietnam – the committee did meet under Prime Minister Holyoake, but declined to invoke the tax-exempt provisions. If so, and given that New Zealand servicemen were being killed and wounded in action in Vietnam at the time, and had been since 1965, the decision seems both very late and unbelievably obtuse. That a later amendment to the War Pensions Act confirmed the status and coverage as active service makes the point even more sharply.
21.3 There are other pay-related issues. In 1968 the Government declined to give those serving in Vietnam a cost of living increase awarded to fellow servicemen and all other public servants at home (it would seem life was cheap in Vietnam). Further, the troops in Vietnam did not receive skills margin increases given to officers and non-commissioned officers serving elsewhere in June 1969 – yet their skills were being tested in a life or death environment. But there is more. Rises in pay resulted in location allowances being reduced by the same amount. Then, in May 1971, New Zealand troops had their location allowances cut by 43% when Cabinet approved an “adjustment” following the devaluation of the South Vietnamese piastre. This was nonsense, since the predominant currency used in-country was US military script dollars, not local piastre. Cabinet reversed the “adjustment” after an outcry in New Zealand, but the rancour remains.
21.4 All of this was and remains a sore point with Vietnam servicemen. It affected all, but married men in particular point out that it reduced the amount of money they could remit to the wives and families they had left at home. As a reparation approach to all Vietnam veterans, the repayment of tax plus a ‘use of money’ approach as a penalty for delay, could be considered a useful mechanism.
21.5 RNZRSA believes that a tax free ex-gratia lump sum payment of $7,500 should be paid to all those who served in Vietnam, or to their surviving spouses, as a compensatory reimbursement for the treatment they received in this area. This would cover tax, allowance and the operational area issues – and would be a positive move by Government to redress the poor treatment accorded those whose lives were on the line. RNZRSA believes the total sum involved would not exceed $14.0m.
That refund of tax be the basis of an equitable and acceptable method of paying a compensatory rebate to all those who served, and their surviving spouses.
21.7 It might also be thought convenient to amend in due course the reference in the Income Tax Act 2004 Section CW19 (3) (b) to Service Board(s). There has not been a Service Board since they were abolished in 1971.
A DISTINCTIVE NEW ZEALAND MEDAL
22.1 A specific issue to be considered by the Joint Working Group on Concerns of Vietnam Veterans was related to medallic recognition. There are long standing grievances which have not been helped by the general conviction of injustice that has pervaded their community for the last 35 years. Though not all Vietnam veterans consider medallic recognition as a matter of significant importance, RNZRSA believes that many do.
22.2 The essence is that personnel who went to serve in Vietnam knew they had been sent there by their country and, in the aftermath, know also that they have been essentially forgotten, or otherwise let down, also by their country, in a way not experienced by similar returning groups, either before or after Vietnam. They believe they are owed something.
22.3 With the 1995 Prime Minister’s Honours Advisory Committee Report and the subsequent establishment of the New Zealand Royal Honours System, New Zealand is now able to institute medals in New Zealand terms. Guided by the eight Principles approved by the Government in 2000, most of the many accumulated medallic grievances have been cleared up in recent years. Sometimes grievances were satisfied by the institution of new medals, but there were also re-interpretations of existing Regulations when appropriate. But this particular Vietnam irritant remains, however. The most relevant of the eight principles in this case is Principle 4: “In all but exceptional circumstances, there should be only one New Zealand medal to recognise each period of operational service.” (emphasis ours)
22.4 Vietnam veterans with no other operational service have been awarded two medals for service in Vietnam – the Vietnam Medal and the South Vietnamese Campaign Medal. The South Vietnamese Campaign Medal is a foreign award made by the South Vietnamese Government and approved by the Sovereign in 1966 for wear by eligible New Zealanders. The Vietnam Medal (commencement 1964) was designed and developed jointly by Australia and New Zealand and was instituted by both. Some Vietnam veterans take the strong view that since the Vietnam Medal was joint, it is “not New Zealand enough” because it is shared with Australia. In this they suggest they are not alone. Australia seems to have come to a similar view by issuing its own distinctive medal for Vietnam in addition to the Vietnam Medal and the South Vietnamese Campaign Medal; this is the Australian Active Service Medal 1945-1975 with Vietnam Clasp (it has five other possible clasps designating qualifying service elsewhere in South East Asia).
22.5 New Zealand Vietnam veterans also get the New Zealand Operational Service Medal (NZOSM) of 2002, which is a generic medal for all who have served operationally since the end of World War II. While comparisons may be odious, Vietnam veterans observe that service in East Timor netted up to four medals. They are the INTERFET Medal (which is Australian), a UN Medal, the NZOSM, and most importantly a specific New Zealand Medal, the NZ General Service Medal for East Timor. These four counting the NZOSM are contrasted with the three for Vietnam also counting the NZOSM.
22.6 A point about the NZOSM is that it is awarded only once, so that whether or not it was awarded for operational service in any particular campaign can become moot. Simply because of this, Vietnam veterans do not accept abstract arguments that the generic NZOSM recognises their need adequately, or is even capable of doing so. They have a point. If the NZOSM is an operational medal awarded in respect of a particular campaign, then a case can be made that the prohibition of Principle 4 has already been broken and should no longer stand. If it is not an operational medal awarded in respect of a particular campaign (and, unlike the Australian Active Service Medal, it does not claim to be) then its presence should not be used as a reason for withholding a specific campaign medal where one is otherwise justified.
22.8 Given all of that, particularly the general concerns to counterbalance the shabby treatment of Vietnam veterans over many years by introducing an element of fair play, the RNZRSA believes that the special nature of this particular case is sufficient to invoke the ‘exceptional circumstances’ provision of Principle 4, and to make available a New Zealand Vietnam operational medal – one clearly and distinctly New Zealand, issued by the Government of New Zealand under the current New Zealand Royal Honours System.
That a medal be authorised and awarded to New Zealand Vietnam veterans, as a distinctive New Zealand award for service in Vietnam, discrete to those who served operationally. It should also be unique to service in Vietnam – extension to Vietnam service of an existing medal would not suffice.
VIETNAMESE GALLANTRY AWARDS
22.10 Twelve New Zealand soldiers were awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry by South Vietnam’s authorities. Three were in the class with Palm, five in the class with Silver Star and four in the class with Bronze Star.
22.11 These are of course foreign awards, and to wear them requires permission from the Sovereign. As far as is known, however, in this case no such request has been made of the Queen. The reasons can only be conjecture. Recent research into similar issues suggests that the matter probably never received coherent consideration, or might not have reached the senior command chain at all. But, at this late stage, why it was not done is less important than the omission itself. Under Principle 8 which covers foreign awards, the RNZRSA believes a recommendation should be made that the recipients be given unrestricted permission to wear these insignia. The South Vietnamese Unit Citation approved for No 161 Battery (for which permission to wear – on the right – has been given) is in fact “in the colour of the Cross of Gallantry with Palm”, so permission for the individual recipients to wear their gallantry medals would not be breaking entirely new ground.
22.12 There might be difficulty in establishing or verifying the actual acts of gallantry for which these medals were awarded, especially since the South Vietnamese Government no longer exists. Should there be any misgivings about the gallantry connotation, however, we might note that two of the three awards with Palm were made posthumously. We should also note that the 1994 Australian Committee of Inquiry into Defence Awards (retired CDF General Peter Gration in the Chair) not only concluded that Australians should be permitted to wear medals of this sort, but also pointed the way to achieving such an outcome within the Australian system. As an example, in mid 2004 some 22 Australian veterans of the Battle of Long Tan were given permission to wear Vietnamese medals, most of these being the Cross of Gallantry. Australia has overcome the challenges associated with verification and absorption of these awards made by the now defunct South Vietnamese Government. New Zealand Vietnam veterans are therefore aware that the difficulties are not insoluble.
22.13 There may be an issue of precedent. The Cross of Gallantry is only one of the Vietnamese medals that were awarded to New Zealanders; and there might be other awards in other places (such as Malaysia) that are in similar limbo. Our immediate concern here, however, is medals of the gallantry class. That said, we do believe that in the past it was normal practice to seek permission to wear the military gifts of other nations, where justified; and that it was normally given. Earlier State awards in Malaya are an example. Our further information is that, for reasons unknown, the practice fell into disuse some time between the Malayan Emergency and subsequent deployments to South-East Asia. We also note in passing that at least one US medal for gallantry in Vietnam is worn by a New Zealand serviceman, so there is precedent of a kind anyway. It would seem, therefore, that a move to obtain approval to wear the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry (and possibly others) would not be setting a precedent but would be returning to an old one.
22.14 A further aspect of this concerns whether or not foreign gallantry awards could or should be included in the list at Schedule 10 of the War Pension Regulations 1956, which authorises small weekly allowance ($8.78) for holders of certain gallantry decorations who draw war disablement pensions. This should be investigated further, we believe (the list needs updating anyway; obviously it has not been touched since the change to the New Zealand Honours System).
That the gallantry awards made by South Vietnam to New Zealand troops during their service in Vietnam be officially recognised; That the recipients be eligible for the gallantry allowance under Schedule 10 of the War Pension Regulations 1956.
VETERANS’ AFFAIRS NEW ZEALAND
23.1 RNZRSA was a longtime advocate for the establishment of a discrete and dedicated government agency to serve the needs of the veterans of the nation. In its original proposal to establish this agency, RNZRSA put forward some founding principles:
1. That the veterans’ agency be a stand alone, separate Government Department.
2. That it should provide a ‘one-stop shop’ service to all veterans.
3. That the Offices of the Secretary of War Pensions and the Director of the agency be separate and distinct titles vested in separate individuals.
23.2 Late in events leading to the establishment of what is now Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand in 1999, RNZRSA was advised that because of fiscal restraints it would initially be necessary to have the agency homed with the NZ Defence Force. This would, it was said, result in administrative and financial economies. Whilst recording its dissatisfaction with this approach, RNZRSA accepted the situation based on an undertaking at the time that after two years an independent review would be done of the arrangements and outcomes.
23.3 No comprehensive review has happened in the five years since VANZ was established. Instead we are informed that two lesser reviews have taken place as follows:
1. A post-establishment review of VANZ was undertaken by the Chief of Defence Force in 1999/2000, before the appointment of the first and current Director. This review principally considered the roles of the Secretary for War Pensions and the Director of Veterans’ Affairs.
2. An additional review of the responsibilities within the war pensions function was undertaken in April 2001 and led by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet as part of a review of services to veterans. This again was a limited review.
As can be seen, these were partial reviews. They were limited in scope, and nothing like the extensive external review that RNZRSA had been promised and had expected. This is disappointing; the RNZRSA feels misled. We believe that we were given an undertaking in this area, and we wish to see that undertaking fulfilled before the end of 2006. Until VANZ has been put under independent review and outcomes are independently evaluated, and until client (veterans and families) satisfaction levels with the service are measured, neither Government nor veterans will be able to establish whether the unit is providing proper results or value for money.
RNZRSA – VANZ RELATIONSHIP
23.4 There has been difficulty in establishing a “common endeavour – common objectives” relationship with VANZ. In the view of the RNZRSA the not unreasonable basis for this should be that the RNZRSA has a very large fee-paying membership of veterans who expect their organisation to represent them to good effect at the highest level, whilst VANZ is there to implement Government policies in matters of veteran’s welfare in a balanced and fair manner consistent with the country’s interests.
23.5 Put in another way, without the 250 RNZRSA Welfare Officers spread throughout the country the veterans of this nation would not enjoy the health and welfare support they get. The RNZRSA is a pro-active organisation. It is out there face to face with veterans on a day-to-day basis providing tangible assistance, including financial assistance to the veteran community and families from its own resources but also as a necessary gateway to VANZ services. In contrast VANZ is a reactive organisation, responding when it is requested to do so.
23.6 The long and short of it is that RNZRSA has nationwide structures to serve its members and is obliged to lobby for their concerns. VANZ is concentrated in the capital city. Sadly, however, it seems that VANZ has difficulty in accomodating the reality that the RNZRSA does have a pivotal role as the major single player on veterans’ issues, with tentacles reaching into communities the length and breadth of the country. This is not an issue of prerogatives or rights. It is, however, something that has great capacity to affect the delivery of health and welfare services to veterans in a holistic, helpful and even-handed manner. RNZRSA believes veterans have every right to expect cooperation rather than combat between the two organisations of the greatest interest to them, RNZRSA and VANZ. After all, they thought they had left combat behind them on the battlefields of yesteryear.
VIETNAM VETERANS AND VANZ
23.7 Regrettably we also have to report that the relationship between Vietnam veterans and VANZ is less satisfactory still. This group in particular reports widely varying levels of comfort with the delivery of service. It would be quite wrong of course to imply that any dissatisfaction is universal; some veterans, including Vietnam veterans, report good experiences. But when these are examined they tend to have been either with select individual personalities or with the “WINZ” arm based in Hamilton rather than with the VANZ arm based in Wellington.
23.8 In part, the frictions may be traceable to Vietnam veterans’ caution arising from the poor start manifested in the Reeves and McLeod Reports, the Government Response to the Health Select Committee, and VANZ’s involvement in these as explained elsewhere. As a result, VANZ advice to Government on Vietnam veterans’ issues is thought likely by those veterans to start from a negative base. There is also enduring concern, shared with other sectors of the veterans’ community, about the wisdom of having the Secretary of War Pensions and the Director of VANZ embodied in the one individual.
23.9 But there are other matters too. High staff turnover is deduced from frequent changes in case managers. Such changes mean starting over in building a relationship, which can be upsetting to a distressed individual. Nor do concerns end there. There are delays in providing service, the reasons for which are not always clear, nor consistent. Also unclear is the relationship between the “WINZ” element and the VANZ element – indeed, sorting out to which of these a veteran should be talking on given issues can sometimes be downright confusing. The “one-stop shop” has some way to go. Further, veterans calling in are not always in a condition to explain themselves clearly or to understand the niceties. From their standpoint, the responses can sometimes seem to be unnecessarily bureaucratic, or unduly stiff, or slow, or to be inhibited by layered processes, or even to put at risk the founding principle of reverse onus of proof.
23.10 In the view of RNZRSA, VANZ should be subject to a thorough external review, if necessarily repositioning it clearly as a service delivery and processing agent predominantly concerned with veterans’ welfare. We think it possible that the VANZ span of interest has been cast too wide – for example, some of its non-welfare activities seem to be better suited to, say, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. At core, this is a resourcing issue.
23.11 VANZ should also become more user friendly with its services aimed at the veteran. Useful core values would be:
That an independent review of VANZ be undertaken forthwith.
SEPARATION OF THE SECRETARY FOR WAR PENSIONS AND THE DIRECTOR OF VANZ
24.1 There is a strong view held by Vietnam veterans, supported by RNZRSA and other veteran groups, that the appointments of the Secretary for War Pensions and the Director of VANZ should be separate and distinct and be held by two different individuals. RNZRSA has held this view from the outset. A separation of the functions would help prevent potential conflicts of interest between policy making and policy implementation, and would provide clearer channels of accountability.
24.2 The War Pensions Act specifically mandates the Secretary for War Pensions to administer the Act. The Director of VANZ is, therefore, answerable to the Secretary who could overrule any determination by the Director. This is an important check on executive power. RNZRSA sees having one person filling both appointments as a serious anomaly. As pointed out elsewhere in this submission, the anomaly is compounded on account of the Secretary for War Pensions being the presiding member of the War Pensions Advisory Board whilst also holding the position of Director.
24.3 The Secretary for War Pensions is an appointment under the War Pensions Act 1954. The Secretary is appointed by the Chief of Defence Force and is a member of the civil staff of the New Zealand Defence Force responsible for the administration of the War Pensions Act. Here, the RNZRSA sees another inconsistency. The Defence Force is charged with the ‘now’ – that is producing the resource and policy advice to Government related to the current defence needs of the nation. VANZ is responsible for those who have served in the past. On the evidence of the treatment of Vietnam veterans upon their return home, the Defence Force is much less interested in rehabilitation than in maintaining an effective force. A clash between the two cultures involved seems inevitable.
24.4 There is serious doubt anyway that arguments for the economy of having VANZ embedded with Defence should hold sway over arguments for impartial delivery of services to veterans. In the view of Vietnam veterans at least, the VANZ record is not good. The VANZ brief to the incoming Minister says that “Alignment with the New Zealand Defence Force also has the advantage of enabling Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand to access information on current and past deployments through the available records and the corporate memory.” If this were truly the case, the critical information held by Defence that has been so pivotal to the fall of the Reeves and McLeod Reports would have been made available in a more timely way.
24.5 It has been claimed that the structure of VANZ is similar to the structure of other veterans’ agencies, where the person who is appointed to hold the statutory pensions role also holds the most senior management role in the organisation. But the countries that we might like to think have similar views and approaches to New Zealand on veterans’ matters have entirely different War Pension and veterans’ legislation from ours. Likewise, they have differing public health systems and pension delivery services. The claim needs to be verified, with particular respect to the UK, Canada, the US and Australia. In particular, RNZRSA questions an assumption that an offshore template can apply in such a way to NZ, particularly in light of the claim often made that our legislation is uniquely and beneficially constructed on account of the principle known as reverse onus of proof.
That the independent review recommended elsewhere in this submission include in its Terms of Reference the requirement to examine the separation of the roles of the Secretary for War Pensions and the Director of VANZ. In the view of RNZRSA the roles should be separate and distinct. That the appointment of Secretary of War Pensions be made by the State Services Commissioner.
A COMMISSIONER (OR OMBUDSMAN) FOR VETERANS
25.1 Considerable discretionary power is vested in the hands of the Secretary of War Pensions, who is also the Director of Veterans’ Affairs. Before relatively recent amendments to the Act, such powers were vested in a War Pensions Board.
25.2 A significant majority of Vietnam veterans have concerns about the quality of service from VANZ including speed and other matters related to the processing of their needs. Although the War Pensions Act provides for formal reviews and appeals on War Disablement Pensions, it provides no such mechanism for processing complaints concerning the service itself. Appeals beyond the Secretary of War Pensions/Director of VANZ have to be made at Ombudsman/Ministerial level.
25.3 Rightly or wrongly, these concerns are amplified in the minds of many because of the failures to provide to the Reeves inquiry of 1999 and the later McLeod inquiry critical Defence information on the distribution of defoliants and herbicides in Vietnam, when it had been available for some time. After all, Defence had been charged with providing administrative support to the Reeves inquiry in 1999. And the McLeod inquiry was set up by Veterans’ Affairs itself shortly after the agency was established. Not only that, the agency had been placed within Defence for reasons expressly including facilitation of access to Defence files. Yet both the Reeves and McLeod Reports were so obviously deficient that they had to be unravelled before progress could be made. The McLeod report in particular remarked that New Zealand troops in Phuoc Tuy were not exposed to defoliants, which is just plain wrong. Had the information available from Defence been presented to these two inquiries, their findings would surely have been different. As it was, all of this considerably delayed – and almost derailed – the process of resolution now at long last under way.
25.4 And so the Department that is at the centre of these misgivings is also the Department that handles veterans’ complaints into its own decisions and actions. Regrettably, to many Vietnam veterans that is an unworkable match.
25.5 This year the Government will introduce a Complaints Authority for prisoners. Based upon their experience of resistance to resolving their complaints in the War Pension area fairly, this has been greeted with derision by Vietnam veterans. If prisoners can have their own complaints authority, surely those who served their nation rather than abusing it have the same right.
RNZRSA strongly recommends the appointment of a Commissioner for Veterans who would have similar powers as Commissioners already in existence.
WAR PENSIONS ADVISORY BOARD
26.1 Section 5A of the War Pensions Act 1954 establishes a War Pensions Advisory Board. Its role is to provide the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs with advice on the types of policy that it thinks should be applied in respect of war pensions and allowances. It is also designed to act as a consultative forum over war pension related issues. It has three members:
The Secretary for War Pensions (the presiding member) The National President of the RNZRSA A medical member appointed by the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs
26.2 The RNZRSA believes that this structure stands in the way of achieving the statutory requirement of offering useful independent advice to the Minister. It is very difficult to see how the Board can be independent when the presiding member is the Secretary of War Pensions whose duty is to administer the Act but who at the same time is, as the Director of VANZ, bound by the budgetary and fiscal imperatives of that office.
26.3 There is also the practical difficulty of quorum. The absence of any one of the three means no meeting, in effect. Increasing the size of the Board would ease this.
That the composition of the War Pensions Advisory Board be reviewed,
That in order to be fully in the role of presiding member, the Secretary of War Pensions should not concurrently hold the position of Director of VANZ, and
That at least two additional independent members be added to the Board.
THE ‘ONE-STOP SHOP’
27.1 Under current arrangements VANZ is required to deliver:
1. Statutory decision making under the War Pensions Act 1954
2. Ministerial (Minister of Veterans’ Affairs) servicing and support
3. The provision of ex-service memorials
4. Case Management services
27.2 The Ministry of Social Development is required to deliver:
1. The payment (processing) of War Disablement and Veterans’ Pensions through War Pension Services.
2. Vote monitoring for War Disablement and Veterans’ Pensions through the Forecasting and Modelling Unit.
27.3 The Ministry of Social Development processes and pays War Disablement and Veterans’ Pensions in accordance with policy and guidelines provided by the Secretary for War Pensions (who is also Director of VANZ). It administers and pays War Disablement and Veterans’ Pensions through a specific unit – War Pension Services. This unit, with its 36 staff, operate out of Hamilton and is both a processing and a call centre.
27.4 The service provided by this MSD unit to veterans is reported generally to be very good. There is a perception, however, that the split of responsibilities gives rise to delays in processing claims and entitlements. For one thing it seems to add a layer of bureaucracy, the need for which could well be questioned. For another it adds to confusion over which agency an applicant should be talking to for what purpose. Quite clearly, one agency with the responsibility for decision making and processing would be the ideal.
27.5 The practical, financial and structural implications of merging the War Pensions Processing Unit and VANZ would need to be recognised and examined. RNZRSA has elsewhere in this submission called for an independent review of the operations of VANZ. This would provide a convenient means of examining these issues.
That the merits of a ‘one stop shop’ approach be a principal issue in the Terms of Reference for the independent review of VANZ.
DELAYS IN CLAIMS AND MEDICAL PROCESSING
28.1 VANZ has a purchase agreement with the Ministry of Social Development for the supply of pension services. The recent MSD Annual Report in its Section dealing with Vote: Veterans’ Affairs, contains a series of performance measures. Under ‘Timelines’, the performance measure read, “The review of new disability applications and reviews of accepted eligibility that are administered and processed by the Ministry of Social Development (applications are acknowledged and the decisions of the claims panels relayed to veterans) will be completed within 14 working days”. The timeline standard is set at 85%. The Report has it that in the year ended 30th June 2005, they achieved at the 96.9% level.
28.2 Not unnaturally this might lead the Minister to think the system is working and meeting the veterans’ needs. But the performance measure relates to the processing of applications to the stage of referral to the War Pensions Claims Panels, and then the processing of Panel decisions. It does not include the time taken for medical assessment and decision making by the panel.
28.3 Veterans advise that a typical time taken to process an application from start to finish is 6 months. Some take much longer. The veteran quite legitimately contrasts that with the average 4 weeks it takes for an application to WINZ for a sickness benefit. Considerable concern exists among Vietnam veterans (and other veterans) as to the time taken to process their claims. The system and the bureaucracy seem to be failing the veteran, which further reinforces RNZRSA’s call for an independent review of VANZ.
That a monitoring system is established with inbuilt reporting time-lines and alarms properly to measure the time taken to process each claim from presentation to finality. That VANZ reports to the Minister on a monthly basis on meeting time-lines.
A VETERANS’ CARD
29.1 We are all aware of the existence of the Australian Gold and White Veterans’ Cards. Recently the British Government introduced a Veterans’ Badge. In part, these tangible symbols give appropriate recognition to the status of a special group – the veterans.
29.2 The Australian Cards have special veterans’ benefits attached. They are a tangible recognition by the Government and people of the special circumstances and service of veterans. The White Card in Australia for example is for specific conditions – cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, PTSD and Vietnam veterans diagnosed with anxiety and depression disorders.
29.3 RNZRSA proposes a more modest coverage for New Zealand. We seek the introduction of a Veterans Card that will:
1. Recognise the status of the veteran.
2. Provide the following additional health and welfare benefits as a tangible recognition of service provided:
a. A further reduction in cost for routine visits to PHOs on production of the Card.
b. Veterans with qualifying service, on production of the Card, to be given priority on waiting lists where their assessment classifications are equal to others on the waiting list.
29.4 The proposal that veterans should receive priority on waiting lists is similar to the system run in the United Kingdom. Where all clinical factors of a case are similar, National Health Service hospitals and providers are expected to give priority to veterans. The New Zealand Public Health Policy already states that priority will be accorded to certain groups. Surely the groups that defended the freedom of the nation deserve such priority.
29.5 Whilst a Veterans’ Card would be provided to all veterans with qualifying service the modest additional benefits would only become available to veterans after they reach the age of 65. This would keep it in line with development of the Community Services Card, which we believe is being made available to all citizens over the age of 65. One of the benefits that previously accompanied the Veteran’s Pension was the automatic qualification for a Community Services Card. If the Community Services Card is to have universal application, the margin of “special benefit” hitherto available to Veteran’s Pensioners would be lost. A Veterans’ Card as suggested would re-instate the margin.
29.7 The cost of introducing this card would be modest, but the outcome would be disproportionately significant. An announcement of the intent, related to the Year of the Veteran and to Vietnam veterans’ issues, would seem most appropriate.
That a Veterans’ Card as proposed above be introduced.
ACCEPTANCE OF OVERSEAS RESEARCH
30.1 The Prime Minister is on record as agreeing to accept the results of overseas veterans’ health studies conducted on the effects of defoliants on veterans and their families’ health, rather than order new independent New Zealand studies.
30.2 The Health Select Committee also supported the use of overseas research. RNZRSA believes we should formally accept the research conducted in the US and Australia, on Vietnam veterans, as applying to New Zealand. We need the benefit of their ability to spend significant amounts of research money on larger cohorts – and we need the benefit of their evidential research into disabilities so that we can apply them to our welfare processes.
That overseas research be accepted as evidential research concerning the health of New Zealand Vietnam veterans and their progeny.
31.1 Accepting proposals and recommendations is but the first step. RNZRSA would suggest that VANZ is under-resourced for a task of this scale and complexity implied in this process of putting things right. A grave concern exists amongst veterans that VANZ can ill afford distractions from what is its core business.
31.2 There are further concerns. The Ministry of Health and VANZ either commissioned or reviewed the McLeod Report, which was then held for some 15 months before it was released. During their submissions to the HSC, both Departments continued to defend it, even in the face of Defence Department and other compelling evidence that their position was unsustainable in the matters in question. The Select Committee, by challenge and invitation, suggested that the Departments should reconsider. The prompt was not taken up.
31.3 Despite the strength of the Health Select Committee’s findings, based upon the original transcripts veterans feel that support for their concerns among officials of the Ministry of Health and VANZ was weaker than it should have been. A parallel worry is the 12 minutes of transcript evidence from the Director of VANZ that went missing. In this they believe the Select Committee itself dropped the ball, since a number of options were available to it to maintain the integrity of the record, so to avoid openings for speculation.
31.4 There is a need for veterans and their representative organisations to be given assurance that these unfortunate atmospherics will not get in the way of necessary reforms or other moves to put things right for Vietnam veterans and their families. RNZRSA in particular would wish to remain closely and pro-actively involved in the implementation processes. Other than that, RNZRSA believes that a properly constituted Commissioner for Veterans would help considerably.
That the Terms of Reference for the Commissioner for Veterans should include monitoring of progress of accepted proposals and recommendations, with regular progress reports to be given to Government and Veterans’ Organisations.
EMPLOYMENT AND INTER-DEPARTMENTAL ISSUES
32.1 Often, one of the most valuable means of improving the quality of life and the health (particularly mental health) of a veteran is meaningful employment. Many Vietnam veterans find it hard to obtain meaningful employment, however. Factors in this include relatively full employment nationally, the veterans’ age group, their health and their isolation in many cases from major employment centres
32.2 There appears to be a disconnect between the case management system of VANZ and the opportunities offered by Social Development through their processes and procedures. RNZRSA had assumed that a holistic approach to VANZ case management might include veteran employment issues. This does not seem to be so. VANZ concerns itself with policy, approval and management (but not processing of payments) related to veterans. The focus of the VANZ case management system is reactive facilitation of access to existing publicly funded health and disability services and entitlements that are available through the social assistance and war pensions framework.
Three main issues come out of this:
1. Getting veterans into work where possible.
2. The abatement regime that affects veterans’ pensions when they are in work and under the age of 65.
3. How to bring to bear the wider national resources of the Ministry of Social Development in finding employment.
WORK AND ABATEMENTS
32.3 The abatement regime has a particular impact on Vietnam veterans who of course are under the age of 65 in the main. Our social welfare system is based on providing people with the incentive to work. But the under-65 abatement penalty of the War Pensions Act operates as a sharp disincentive, and many younger veteran pensioners therefore decline opportunities for work.
32.4 Allowing under-65 veterans to work without such a penalty would provide an incentive to work, and give them comfort in the dignity of actually having a job. It would also be very much in keeping with the principle set out in last year’s VANZ briefing to the incoming Minister that “A War Disablement Pension is not compensation for an injury, it is a compensatory payment designed to counterbalance the impact of the injury on a veteran’s quality of life.” Indeed the current practice of abatement seems to attack that principle by treating the WDP as a benefit rather than as a compensatory payment for a condition resulting from military service.
32.5 Work can be therapeutic, and in some cases essential for the individual’s emotional stability, and family functioning. RNZRSA sees the current system as punitive, discouraging and out of step with the overall social welfare approach of the nation.
That the under-65 pension abatement arrangement for veterans be abolished in its entirety.
EMPLOYMENT AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
32.7 Whilst it is true that a veteran, like any other citizen, can avail himself of Ministry of Social Development processes, RNZRSA believes there should be within the care framework for veterans a link between the VANZ process and the Social Development process. That said, it is the case that veterans, particularly Vietnam veterans, have distinct employment difficulties and their situation needs to be understood by Social Development. The background and supporting information is known to VANZ, and so there needs to be a close and clear link between the two agencies at an authoritative decision-taking level.
32.8 RNZRSA has been a strong proponent of a separate and distinct Veterans Agency, believing also that this would foster the necessary “one-stop shop” approach as a matter of course. But it did not happen. It now seems clear that in order to move to a true one-stop shop with a broad enough outlook to address all facets of welfare for veterans including employment, two broad options exist.
32.9 The first would see a merger of the Work and Income Processing Unit into VANZ. This would bring together policy, management, administration and processing. Given the importance of keeping policy lines distinct from operating lines in the modern fashion, as has been detailed elsewhere in this submission important linkages among these processes must be maintained. In this option, additional Case Managers with Social Development experience would be employed to provide a close link to Social Development for veteran employment issues.
32.10 The other and more radical option would be for the existing VANZ office to be taken into the Ministry of Social Development. It would retain its distinct identity much as it does now within Defence, and would assume control over War Pensions Services. The role of the Secretary of War Pensions would become an independent statutory role to exercise the responsibilities contained within the War Pensions Act. This would see a fusion of interests, actions and outcomes and would allow veterans to deal with one agency for health, welfare, pensions, disability issues and employment issues. The arrangement should also facilitate the separation of the Secretary of War Pensions from the Director of the veterans’ agency. Further, veterans would still wish to see a Minister with responsibility for veteran’s affairs.
32.11 At first blush the RNZRSA would favour the first option (merging the processing and payment activity under VANZ and significantly increasing the resource base of VANZ), but we acknowledge that the matter is complex. Accordingly, we would wish to see the advantages, disadvantages, practicalities and potential outcomes of both options fully teased out. RNZRSA’s interest lies with the best outcome for veterans.
That examination of both these merger options needs to be a principal Term of Reference of the independent review of VANZ recommended elsewhere.
ACCESS TO THE VETERAN’S PENSION
33.1 A discriminatory level of 70% for a War Disablement Pension assessment for the over 65s was introduced some years ago as a criterion for Veteran’s Pension eligibility. Although empirical evidence is hard to find, it is probable that this level was introduced as an arbitrary means of fiscal control rather than as an answer to veterans’ needs.
33.2 Easing access to the Veteran’s Pension for our veterans would be a tangible way of acknowledging their contribution. It would be a final reparation duty the nation could offer for those who left New Zealand to fight in its interests. In fact, the New Zealand Veteran’s Pension List should be seen and considered as a contemporary Roll of Honour.
33.3 The current criterion of a 70% War Disablement assessment to qualify for Veteran’s Pension is not considered by the RNZRSA fairly to recognise the service given by our veterans. RNZRSA seeks that all veterans on reaching the age of 65 automatically quality for the Veteran’s Pension.
33.4 This would also apply to all war widows, widowers and partners in receipt of a Surviving Spouse Pension. The financial impact would not be significant, as a large majority of veterans over the age of 65 already qualify for the Veteran’s Pension – and the younger group of veterans who would progressively move into the qualification zone is significantly fewer in number. The mortality of our older veterans would see the small initial annual cost progressively reduce.
That the entitlement to the Veteran’s Pension be automatic for all veterans on the attainment of age 65.
FUNERAL GRANTS AND LUMP SUM PAYMENTS: VETERAN’S PENSIONER OR SPOUSE
34.1 The War Pensions Funeral Grant, as at 1 April 2005, is $1,970.00. The Lump Sum on the death of a Veteran’s Pensioner is $4,670.25, and for the spouse is $3,561.20. The amount of the Funeral Grant is barely sufficient for the deceased to be given an Indigent person’s cremation and the ashes scattered.
34.2 RNZRSA considers that the Funeral Grant should increase immediately to $2,500.00. This would give families who do not have monies set aside for the funeral of the veteran, the opportunity to provide a fitting funeral, and purchase a plaque or headstone for the burial plot.
34.3 The Lump Sum paid on the demise of a Veteran’s Pensioner, who has either a surviving spouse or dependent children, should increase on a similar basis to $5,500.00; and that for the death of the spouse to $4,200.00.
34.4 These lump sums should be increased annually thereafter, in line with other War Pension entitlements. RNZRSA also considers that the Lump Sum paid on the death of a Veteran’s Pensioner should be available to the families of all Veteran’s Pensioners regardless of whether there is a spouse or dependent children.
34.5 These issues are important to Vietnam veterans given the mortality rate and younger death ages. A move upward in those two areas would provide additional peace of mind for them.
That Funeral Grants be increased immediately to $2,500; that the Lump Sum paid on the demise of a Veteran’s Pensioner be increased immediately to $5,500 and that for the death of a spouse to $4,200.
ALLOWANCES FOR GALLANTRY DECORATIONS
35.1 The current allowance for a Gallantry Decoration is $8.78 per week under Schedule 10 of the War Pension Regulations. RNZRSA has no idea how a sum of such peculiar precision came into being. Presumably it is an accident of history. Whilst we approve very much of the principle we do believe, however, that $8.78 per week is a paltry sum to pay to veterans who have shown valour beyond the call of duty. We also note that it is available only to those who are in receipt of a War Disablement Pension, the logic of which escapes us. And we finally note that the list of gallantry decorations listed in Schedule 10 of the War Pension Regulations does not reflect changes brought about by the recent transition to the New Zealand Royal Honours System.
That the allowance for gallantry awards be increased to $30.00 per week, and thereafter be indexed to annual increases in line with other War Pension allowances. This modest sum is more in line with the value of the dollar today.
Given the numbers of holders of Gallantry Decorations left alive in New Zealand, that all of them receive this allowance regardless of whether or not they are in receipt of a War Disablement Pension.
That Schedule 10 of the War Pension Regulations should be amended to reflect the current New Zealand Royal Honours System.
SUPPORT TO RNZRSA WELFARE
36.1 The RSA, through its extensive Welfare Officer infrastructure, essentially “stands in the shoes of Government” in delivering welfare assistance to the veterans of the nation. By founding charter, the coverage extends to all veterans whether they are members of the RNZRSA or not. In addition, assistance to surviving spouses and families of veterans is provided.
36.2 The work of RSA Welfare Officers assists materially in the quality of life and health and welfare of veterans throughout the country. The available money from RSA sources is aimed at direct practical support to our veterans, war widows and needy families. The Welfare Officers also provide a necessary interface with VANZ.
36.3 That the War Pensions system works as successfully as it does is in considerable measure because of the voluntary work of RSA Welfare Officers. RNZRSA believes strongly that the RSA welfare structure should be treated as an addition to the activities of Veterans’ Affairs, MSD and the MoH; and should, like a number of other agencies that work in a similar manner, be supported by an element of Government funding.
That a modest sum to be allocated direct to RNZRSA to provide some support by subsidising these Welfare Officers by way of paying their expenses such as petrol, stationery, and other authorised incidentals. The sum would be $100,000 per annum.
That the Veterans’ Affairs vote be increased to provide for the payment for four fulltime Regional Welfare Advisory Officers, (RWAO). These officers could be administered through Veterans’ Affairs and would work directly with RSAs throughout the country in support of veterans in their health and welfare requirements. It is imperative that one of these RWAOs be positioned in the East Coast district. There is a clear shortfall in support to our veterans in this area; in particular Vietnam veterans feel anger about the structural support available to them. The total cost would be $300,000 per annum.
36.5 RNZRSA would not agree that Veterans’ Affairs could undertake the activities and functions of the RSA Welfare Officers and obtain better or even similar outcomes. VANZ and War Pension Services were deliberately centralised in Wellington and Hamilton respectively in order to contain costs. Distributed field operations by these agencies would entail disproportionate infrastructure setup and maintenance costs. What the RNZRSA is offering here is the use of its own considerable infrastructure to the common good, without charge except for the direct costs and expenses of the four Regional Welfare Officers. That would be a bargain price for this addition to the service that veterans of the nation require and deserve.
36.6 The Australian Government recently allocated an additional $9.2 million over four years to increase funding to assist Ex-Service Organisations to provide pension and welfare assistance to veterans, as well as a new generation of defence personnel covered by the new Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Scheme. This has been allocated through the BEST and TIP Schemes. Funding applications for this support opened on 1 February 2005.
A VIETNAM REGISTER
37.1 There is a need to locate the Vietnam veterans and their families who need the specific help the HSC Inquiry has acknowledged. A National Register must be established. Ideally, it should also document families of the servicemen and women who served:
at the nuclear tests in the 1950’s and 1970’s
in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s
on Operation Grapple, and at Mururoa
37.2 Such a register would meet the final recommendation of the Health Select Committee Report where they say, “ensure that all children are entitled (to assistance),” and “that future needs are met should a list of relative disabilities expand.” It could be implemented using the over-arching agency of RNZRSA and the EVSA, and the energy of the various unit organisations that exist and communicate with their own people. Alternatively, VANZ could be charged with implementing the Register.
That a National Register of Vietnam veterans and their families be established; and that this Register to be expanded to cover veterans of J-Force and those who were exposed to nuclear tests, and their families.
38.1 This has been a long, bitter, and often acrimonious battle. People who contended that veterans were exposed to a toxic environment, and that they and their families have suffered, were derided and scorned. Many battled on at great personal cost – but with a determination that they wished to see natural justice done.
38.2 RNZRSA acknowledges the untiring work of those people on behalf of the Vietnam veterans. Some of them were Vietnam veterans, others were not; but they all fought to have the truth exposed. RNZRSA lists those who fought on:
- Evan McKenzie
- John Moller
- Victor Johnson
- Katrina Piggot
- John Masters
- Deborah Challinor and Elizabeth Lancaster
- John, Charmaine and Marakesh Jennings
38.3 There are others, and hopefully the results of the Joint Working Group’s recommendations to Government will make that long, bitter fight worthwhile.
REFERENCE INFORMATION, AND COSTING REFERENCE INFORMATION
39.1 For reference, the following information is provided.
1. Expenditure Forecasts for War Disablement Pensions
2005/06 – $107,728,000
2006/07 – $110,031,000
2007/08 – $111,591,000
2008/09 – $112,916,000
2. Projected Number of Veterans who will be receiving the War Disablement Pension over the next 4 years
2005/06 – 15,900
2006/07 – 15,100
2007/08 – 14,400
2008/09 – 13,800
3. Number of Veterans in the New Zealand population. There are no verifiable figures on the number of veterans in the New Zealand population. It is estimated that the veteran population is currently in the range of 50,000-66,000, dropping to 30,000 to 40,000 over the next five years.
4. Vietnam Veteran Numbers The normal working figure is that 3,280 New Zealanders served in Vietnam. It is estimated that some 2,600 still survive.
5. War Disablement Pension Claims The largest number of War Disablement claims are for hearing loss (80% of all claimants receive a War Disablement Pension for hearing loss). The next most significant number is orthopaedic disabilities (with 25% of all claimants) following by skin conditions, including skin cancers (at 15% of all claimants) and then psychological disabilities (at 12% of all claimants).
6. Rates – War Disablement Pension $8.33 per week for 5% disability ($433.16 pa) with increments rising to $166.62 per week for 100% disability ($8,664.00 pa). Thresholds over 100% are payable in cases of severe disablement, up to $293.26 per week for 160% disabled and over 60 years of age ($15,250 pa).
7. Surviving Spouse Pension Paid to a surviving spouse/partner of a veteran if
a. The death is deemed attributable to or occurs during that service, or is the result of routine service pre 1 April 1974 (ACC)
b. The veteran was in receipt of, or could have been in receipt of, a War Disablement Pension of at least 70% at time of death.
Payments not taxed, but lost if surviving spouse/partner remarries or enters into a new relationship.
Current rate $122.91 per week, ($6,391.00 pa). There are currently 4,963 in receipt of a Surviving Spouse Pension.
39.2 Wherever possible and appropriate in this document, RNZRSA has provided costings related to its proposals and recommendations. We acknowledge that we have neither the full Treasury/VANZ data nor the resources to do this to fine-grained accuracy in some instances. Nevertheless our cost estimates, where included, are based on:
(a) Previous costing exercises by RNZRSA, Government and Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand.
(b) Figures drawn from Annual Statements of Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand, New Zealand Defence Force, Social Development and other Government sources.
(c) Figures made public by VANZ
(d) Straight calculations – current approved rates and entitlements multiplied by veteran etc. numbers.
39.3 This approach we hope will:
(a) Give a feel for the scale of some of the proposed solutions.
(b) Illustrate cost/benefit accruals (in the health, welfare, societal and political areas).
REPARATION AND RECONCILIATION
Restitution – ‘reparation for injury’
Compensation – ‘things given as recompense’
Recompense – ‘make amends for loss, injury, etc.’
Reparation – ‘making of amends, compensation’
40.1 The RNZRSA believes that ‘reparation’ is the appropriate term when considering compensatory issues related to Vietnam veterans. RNZRSA has previously taken the position that it would prefer to see targeted, focused reparation payments being made to those directly impacted by exposure to the toxic environment – or those who have suffered collaterally through this.
40.2 Several precedents exist, but we need look at just one of them to help establish rationale, intent and typical benchmarks.
THE JAPANESE PRISONER OF WAR PRECEDENT
40.3 A total of $4.5m was provided to pay a one-off ex gratia, tax free payment to ex-POWs, civilian internees, or the surviving spouses of those who were held prisoner by Japan during the Second World War. Each POW, civilian internee or surviving spouse received a compensation payment of $30,000. This was a decision to be applauded.
40.4 RNZRSA understands that the rationale and principle involved in making this payment was that the treatment that the POWs received during their internment was outside and “above” the acceptable international conventions of war, and that physical and psychological consequences resulted. Such “unintended consequences of war” could equally be considered as applying in Vietnam, and the use of toxic agents could be considered to be in breach of accepted international conventions of war.
40.5 The payment was over and above the pensions or disability allowances being received by ex Japanese POWs, and therefore could only be considered as an ex gratia compensation payment. It was not related to injuries or illness, nor were graduated levels, or amounts involved – the only criterion was to have been a Japanese POW.
REPARATION AND THE VIETNAM VETERAN
40.6 Vietnam veterans have the very strong view that reparation is a must, if closure is to be brought about. There have been many statements from within the cohort about levels, formula and application. There is frequent reference to the 11 conditions accepted by the Veterans’ Administration in the US and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in Australia as having associative links to exposure.
40.7 A formula often put forward is that a one-off lump sum payment be made to veterans with those conditions, the sum to be calculated on the basis of $1,000 for every percentage point that a particular condition is assessed at for War Disability Pension purposes. That is, a person assessed at the 20% level for, say, Type II Diabetes would receive $20,000. If the veteran had multiple conditions within the ‘Prescribed Conditions’ list, then the payment would be cumulative. The payment would be additional to the standard War Disablement Pension payments. It should also be payable to the estate of deceased veterans and inflation adjusted to preserve its value where veterans present with qualifying conditions at some future date.
40.8 RNZRSA accepts that this could be a framework for reparation to those veterans who are suffering from one or more of those ‘Prescribed Conditions’. We note, however, that under present rules a veteran with multiple attributable conditions that were not life-threatening could receive more in the aggregate than a veteran with attributable conditions that are, in effect, a death sentence. RNZRSA believes therefore that its own recommendation of a one-off reparation payment targeted to need plus greater continuing care through the War Pensions Act and Section 23 is a better and more equitable approach.
a. provide an equitable one-off payment of equal value to all those with life-threatening conditions,
b. provide automatic pension acceptance of those other accepted conditions for Vietnam veterans through ‘automatic presumption’,
c. provide ongoing compensatory measures for very ill veterans, and
d. prevent comparative arguments amongst veterans and authorities; and avoid opening itself up to subjective decisions by specialists, panels or VANZ officials. A Vietnam veteran diagnosed with one of the prescribed life-threatening conditions would automatically be placed under the 160% Section 23 coverage.
40.9 RNZRSA believes that such an approach to reparation should be taken where a Vietnam veteran and/or a family member has suffered particularly harsh mental or physical disadvantage. In this, consideration and weight must be given to the history and the negative impact on the health and quality of life over 35 years – much more than half the life-span of most of our Vietnam veterans.
40.10 Reparation in the form of an ex-gratia, tax-free lump sum to affected targeted groups or individuals would go a long way toward helping them to improve their quality of life. It would redress the wrongs and issues of more than three decades in some very small measure – but it would clearly show that the Government does recognise and accept that redress is merely natural justice; and that the nation does, in fact, realise that there is a cost related to the toxic exposure. It would be of little comfort to tell Vietnam veterans who have life threatening cancers induced through service in Vietnam that:
a. no particular action is needed because their health costs will be met through the public health system as is the right of every citizen in the country, or
b. that they are entitled to, or are in receipt of, a War Disablement Pension – they may have little time to benefit from such assistance.
40.11 When good employers accept that by their action, their employees have suffered they respond by acknowledging the failure, and by compensating their employees for it. Our OSH and ACC legislation in this country is framed around the ideas of responsibility and reparation. This is a quality of life and health issue and, because of the circumstances surrounding their illness and the life shortening potential, RNZRSA strongly believes those veterans deserve a compensatory lump sum payment. This carefully targeted payment would in some very small measure improve quality of life and, possibly, medical assistance for the balance of their lives.
40.12 RNZRSA REPARATION RECOMMENDATIONS
RNZRSA recommends therefore that Reparation Payments (lump sum, ex-gratia, tax-freewithout impact on existing entitlements or benefits) be paid as follows:
1. Vietnam veterans with Prescribed Conditions $35,000
2. Widows/surviving spouses/partners of Vietnam Veterans who died of the Prescribed Conditions $25,000
3. Families with Children with the Accepted Conditions $50,000
4. Surviving Vietnam Veterans $7,500
THE RECONCILIATION MATRIX
40.13 Presented overleaf is a reconciliation matrix to help place these proposals in context.
1. Veterans with Life Threatening ‘Prescribed Conditions
A Reparation payment to those who are in receipt of a War Disability Allowance for one of the Prescribed Conditions as a result of Vietnam service. One-off tax free ex gratia payment, $35,000
200 x 35,000 – 7.0m
Cost estimated at – 7.0m
2. Widows/Surviving Spouses/Partners of Those Vietnam Veterans Who Died Of The Prescribed Conditions
A Reparation payment to those spouses/partners whose husband/partner died of one of the prescribed conditions, or any other condition that could be deemed to be directly attributable to service in Vietnam.
One-off tax free, ex gratia payment, $25,000.
Start point, 3,280 veterans in total, 25% deaths – 60% of deaths estimated to be attributable.
So, estimate 45% of deaths in this category, or 370 veterans. Not all married, so rate of 70% of 370 = 260 – allowance 275.
275 x 25,000 – 6.875m
Cost estimated at 6.875m
3. Families with Children with Accepted Conditions
A Reparation payment to families or care-givers, where post Vietnam born children have any of the ‘Accepted Conditions’.
One-off, tax free ex gratia payment, $50,000.
25 affected Families x 50,000 – 1.25m
Cost estimated at 1.25m
4. Surviving Vietnam Veterans
A one off tax free payment of $7,500 per surviving veteran
2,600 veterans x $7,500 = 19.5m
TOTAL REPARATION COST – 34.625m
HEALTH AND WELFARE COMPENSATORY MEASURES
To be immediately Granted Section 23 coverage at highest level (160%).
200 veterans x 100% payment, on basis that most veterans with those conditions should be on 60% minimum now.
$166.62 week x 200 x 52 = 1.732m per annum.
As these veterans have short life expectancy, cost will reduce annually.
Children with these Accepted Conditions to be placed under War Disability Pension coverage at level of 100% for life-time.
25 children at $8,665.00pa = 0.217m pa
1. Place all surviving veterans on immediate base-line War Disability Pension allowance of 10% to recognise mental pain, anguish, grief and social impact of their service and of the 35 years of denial.
This to be on top of any existing % allowance being received – or, in the event of a veteran not receiving a War Disability Pension, he would immediately do so at the 10% level.
10% = $17.66 per week – $918.00 per annum
2,600 veterans x $918.00 – 2.386m per annum
2. Provide all surviving Vietnam Veterans with an annual Free ‘Wellman’ Health Check.
Estimation of cost of consultation – $100.00
2,500 Veterans x $100 = $250,000 – .25 m
Reducing cost as veterans numbers reduce.
ONGOING (REDUCING) ADDITIONAL COSTS TO VOTE VETERANS AFFAIRS 4.597m
40.14 From this, the estimates of cost are summarised below. We repeat: although we do not have Treasury resources to verify these estimates, we believe thay are accurate enough to establish the likely quanta needed in reparation.
1. A Reparation Payment to seriously affected families $1.25m as described, $50,000 to each of 25 families
2. A Reparation Payment to all spouses/partners of those $6.875m Vietnam veterans who have died of the ‘Prescribed Conditions’, $25,000 to each of 275 spouses/partners
3. A Reparation Payment to all those veterans who are in receipt $7.0m of a War Disablement allowance for a ‘Prescribed Condition’, $35,000 to each of 200 veterans
4. A Taxation and Service Allowance Repayment to all surviving $19.5m veterans, 2,600 payments of $7.500 TOTAL $34.625m
40.15 The figures may seem large. But the individual, or discrete, compensation payments are not so when compared to many compensatory payments made by Governments and Government agencies over the recent past. Although comparisons are odious, RNZRSA has the utmost sympathy for the Vietnam veterans and their treatment. We have previously stated that it is clearly not possible to undo all the harm – but that it is possible to mitigate it.
40.16 Effective closure of this issue can begin only if
Vietnam veterans are satisfied that the intergenerational impact of Agent Orange exposure, and the negative social impact of their service on their families, is recognised and structurally catered for.
Vietnam veterans are satisfied that the health impacts flowing from their service, in particular those linked to the toxic environment, are recognised and catered for in a fair and meaningful manner within the Government compensatory framework, (War Pensions Act, etc.)
Vietnam veterans are satisfied that their service is recognised as honourable service, given in the interests of the nation, as required by the elected Government of the day.
Vietnam veterans are satisfied that the treatment accorded to them and their families over the past 30 plus years will never happen to future or more recent New Zealand veterans.
Vietnam veterans are satisfied that veterans, their families and their widows who have been directly impacted on by toxic exposure and the impact of dioxin transfer are compensated for these illnesses and their effects.
Vietnam veterans are satisfied that due regard, (with consequent action) has taken place, with regard to fair financial compensation against a targeted, focussed background.
SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS
41.1 RNZRSA expects that some interested or involved Government agencies might not be particularly comfortable with some of our recommendations. They are based, however, on the RNZRSA’s connection at the ‘front line’ with Vietnam veterans, other veterans’ groups, and individual veterans themselves.
41.2 The recommendations are ‘bottom up’ and represent the views of veterans. They deserve careful neutral consideration – not dismissal because of preconceptions. What is listed here are the issues that concern Vietnam veterans and other veterans. The implementation of these recommendations would appropriately and suitably address outstanding concerns and issues – and provide a more adequate basis of recognition of service given – arising from service to the nation on mind, body and family. It would place the Vietnam veterans of New Zealand in a position of feeling that they have been recognised properly, and treated fairly. The coincidence of the Year of the Veteran and the Government’s determination to bring closure to the Vietnam issue provides a ‘window’ to address these recommendations in a generous, caring manner.
41.3 RNZRSA has not considered the fiscal impact of some of its recommendations. Where the sums are significant, it has produced estimates. It believes that the financial cost of introduction of many of its other recommended actions would not be major – but the consequential beneficial outcomes would be very significant indeed.
41.4 SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS
1. That the significantly higher mortality rate of Vietnam veterans at young ages be recognised.
2. That the statistically higher mortality rate of Vietnam veterans at young ages through cancer and heart disease be recognised.
3. That the impact of these early deaths on children and families be taken into account when considering New Zealand’s Vietnam War experience and closure.
Paras 6.1 to 6.8
1. That an apology be delivered by the Prime Minister to Vietnam veterans and their families.
2. That it is essential in a bi-partisan spirit for the Opposition to endorse the apology.
3. That the apology should be delivered on the floor of the House on an appropriate day – but not on, or near, ANZAC Day.
Paras 7.1 to 7.3
THE NZDF; AND ARMY
1. That Defence and Army accept that their performance related to Vietnam veterans has been less than satisfactory, and consider how they might help repair things by playing a role in the process now under way.
Paras 8.1 to 8.9
THE REEVES AND MCLEOD REPORTS
1. That the Reeves and McLeod Reports are withdrawn from all Parliamentary literature for all but historical interest, so they can never be used as authoritative documents when references are required regarding issues related to Vietnam veterans and their families and children.
2. That the Parliamentary Health Select Committee’s Report into the Exposure of New Zealand Defence Personnel to Agent Orange and Other Defoliant Chemicals during the Vietnam War, and Health Effects of that Exposure, be the authoritative reference for any further investigations or inquiries.
Paras 10.1 to 10.3
THE WAR DISABLEMENT PENSION
1. That a review of the legislation needs to be undertaken urgently to ensure that the coverage available to veterans is applicable and appropriate to all groups of veterans.
Paras 11.1 to 11.9
SECTION 23 OF THE WAR PENSIONS ACT
1. That Section 23 be updated in recognition of contemporary operational service disabilities including unconventional war injuries from other than shot and shell.
2. That the RNZRSA proposed re-draft of Section 23 be immediately acted on.
3. That pending the change as proposed to the Act, the Secretary of War Pensions, through administrative review (as allowed by the Act) immediately grant automatic maximum payment under Section 23 (160%) to Vietnam veterans who have a War Disablement Pension for one of the ‘Prescribed Conditions’ (as defined in Section Fourteen).
Paras 12.1 to 12.10
SURVIVING VIETNAM VETERANS
1. That all surviving Vietnam veterans be immediately awarded a base-line 10% War Disablement Pension in recognition of the anxiety and stress that is inherent as a result of their service and the 35-year aftermath of denials and delays.
Paras 13.1 to 13.5
ILLNESSES TO BE AUTOMATICALLY RECOGNISED AS RESULTING FROM VIETNAM SERVICE
1. That those conditions listed at Para 14.1 be annotated as “Prescribed Conditions” automatically and presumptively recognised as related to Vietnam service; and also that those Prescribed Conditions qualify for automatic maximum payment (160%) for Vietnam veterans.
2. That all such War Disablement Allowances payable to Vietnam veterans for the Prescribed Conditions should be backdated to the date of confirmed diagnosis.
Paras 14.1 to 14.3
CONDITIONS OTHER THAN PRESCRIBED CONDITIONS
1. That the conditions listed in Para 14.4 be annotated as “Associated Conditions” and be automatically linked as attributable to Vietnam service for War Pensions Act purposes.
Paras 14.4 to 14.7
MONITORING OF RESEARCH
1. That Recommendation 8 of the Health Select Committee Report be implemented immediately and in its entirety (monitoring overseas research and updating the lists of attributable diseases and conditions).
2. That in the interests of transparency VANZ be directed to publish a six-monthly report on its activities related to monitoring and updating the list of conditions.
Paras 14.9 to 14.11
PTSD AND STRESS
1. That the predisposition effect of chronic stress in terms of susceptibility to certain other mental or medical conditions be appropriately recognised within the War Disablement Pension framework.
2. That cases of diagnosed PTSD attributable to service in Vietnam (and other operational deployments) be recognised as a serious consequence of service – and that in assessing percentage cover under the War Disablement Pension framework, specialists, panels and the Secretary/Director accept it as such.
Paras 15.1 to 15.7
1. Research. That overseas research into the effects on families is followed and adopted – we should be thinking of providing services for the entire family for life.
Paras 16.1 to 16.9
a. That legislative cover under the War Pensions Act be put in place for the protection of progeny.
b. That the proposed new Section 23A of the War Pensions Act be introduced, together with the proposed new Schedule 9B.
Paras 16.1 to 16.11 and 17.1 to 17.7
3. Wives and Partners.
a. That wives and partners of Vietnam veterans be entitled to free counselling services as required.
b. That a surviving spouse or partner whose partner died during any active, operational or emergency service continue to be paid the Surviving Spouse Pension as a lifetime entitlement regardless of remarriage or a new relationship.
c. That other surviving spouses or partners on a Surviving Spouse Pension who remarry, or enter into a new relationship, be entitled to 50% of the Surviving Spouse Pension as a lifetime entitlement.
d. That the qualifying criterion for the Surviving Spouse Pension of 70% War Disablement Pension be lowered from 70% to 50%.
Paras 16.1 to 16.12, and 18.1 to 18.16
HEALTH PROFESSIONALS AND INFORMATION
1. That VANZ be directed to advise RNZRSA and EVSA on progress in developing information sheets for medical specialists (to provide medical specialists with background information on a particular war or emergency prior to them making their assessment).
2. That in the interest of transparency those information sheets be made available in advance to claimants as well as to the specialists;
3. That Recommendation 6 of the Health Select Committee – listing suitably conversant health professionals – be implemented in full, and without further delay, by VANZ.
4. That all Vietnam veterans be provided with a free annual “Wellman” medical examination with particular emphasis placed on disorders identified by United States and Australian studies as linked to exposure to a toxic environment.
5. That VANZ be directed to issue guidelines to medical specialists that clarify the accepted linkages between active service in Vietnam and the existence of certain prescribed medical conditions.
6. That all War Pension claimants be automatically provided with a personal copy of any Medical Specialist Reports at least one week prior to consideration by a War Claims Panel; and that claimants be advised in advance of the date and place of any panel sittings concerned.
Paras 19.1 to 19.10
THE WAR PENSIONS TREATMENT CARD
1. That VANZ ensure, through the professional Associations, that GPs, specialists and pharmacists are aware of their responsibilities toward the veteran who carries a War Pensions Treatment Card.
2. That the system for cost reimbursement be examined to ensure that a speedy turn around is ensured.
Paras 20.1 to 20.3
TAX AND ALLOWANCES
1. That a tax free, ex-gratia lump sum payment be made to all those who served in Vietnam as a compensatory payment for the treatment they were accorded in the tax and allowances area.
2. That this approach be utilised as an equitable and acceptable method of paying a compensatory rebate to all those who served, and their surviving spouses.
Paras 21.1 to 21.7
1. That a medal be authorised and awarded to New Zealand Vietnam veterans; this to be a distinct New Zealand Award and discrete to Vietnam veterans.
Paras 22.1 to 22.9
2. That South Vietnamese gallantry awards made to New Zealand troops during their service in Vietnam be officially recognised; and that they be eligible for payment under Schedule 10 of the War Pensions Regulations 1956.
Paras 22.10 to 22.15
VETERANS’ AFFAIRS NEW ZEALAND
1. That an external and independent review of VANZ be undertaken forthwith. Terms of Reference to include:
(a) The ‘one stop shop issue’
(b) Core and non core activities
(c) Core values
2. That the position of the Secretary for War Pensions and the Director of Veterans Affairs New Zealand be separate and distinct.
3. That the appointment of the Secretary for War Pensions be made by the State Service Commissioner.
Paras 24.1 to 24.6
A COMMISSIONER OR OMBUDSMAN FOR VETERANS
1. That the appointment of a Commissioner for Veterans be made.
Paras 25.1 to 25.6
WAR PENSIONS ADVISORY BOARD
1. That the composition of the War Pensions Advisory Board be reviewed.
2. That, as the presiding member, the Secretary for War Pensions should not also hold the position of Director of VANZ.
3. That at least two additional independent members be added to the Board.
Paras 26.1 to 26.4
THE “ONE- STOP SHOP”
1 That the merits of a “One-Stop Shop” approach be a principal issue in the terms of reference for the independent review of VANZ.
Paras 27.1 to 27.6
DELAYS IN CLAIMS AND MEDICAL PROCESSING
1. That a monitoring system be established with inbuilt reporting time-lines and alarms to properly measure the time taken to process each claim from presentation to finality.
2. That VANZ reports to the Minister on a monthly basis, on meeting timelines
Paras 28.1 to 28.4
1. That a Veterans Card be introduced.
Paras 29.1 to 29.8
ACCEPTANCE OF OVERSEAS RESEARCH
1. That overseas research, (particularly that of Veterans Affairs US, The Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Science and the Commonwealth Department of Veterans Affairs, Australia) be accepted as evidential research concerning the health of Vietnam veterans and their progeny.
Paras 30.1 to 30.3
1. That, in follow-through of this entire process, the Terms of Reference for the Commissioner for Veterans should include monitoring of progress of accepted proposals and recommendations, with regular progress reports to be given to Government and Veterans’ Organisations.
Paras 31.1 to 31.5
EMPLOYMENT AND DEPARTMENTAL MATTERS
1. That the veteran under-65 pension abatement arrangements be abolished.
Paras 32.1 to 32.9
2. That the independent review of VANZ consider the inter-departmental arrangements in the context of assisting veterans into employment and other issues.
Paras 32.1 to 31.12
THE VETERANS’ PENSION
1. That the entitlement to a Veterans Pension be automatic for all veterans (as defined in the Act) on the attainment of age 65.
Para 33.1 to 33.5
FUNERAL GRANTS AND LUMP SUM PAYMENTS
1. That Funeral Grants and Lump Sum Payments on the death of a Veteran’s Pensioner or spouse be increased immediately.
2. That these lump sum payments be increased annually in line with other War Pension entitlements.
Paras 34.1 to 34.5
ALLOWANCE FOR ALL GALLANTRY DECORATION HOLDERS
1. That the allowance be increased from $8.78 per week to $30.00 per week, and thereafter be indexed to annual increases in line with other war pension allowances. This modest sum is more in line with the value of the dollar today..
2. That the allowance be paid to all gallantry decoration holders whether they are in receipt of a War Disablement Pension or not.
3. That Schedule 10 of the War Pensions Regulations is amended accordingly (and anyway is amended according to the changes recommended at paragraph 22.15, but also to catch up with changes over the last ten years during the transition to the current New Zealand Royal Honours System).
Paras 35.1 and 35.2
SUPPORT TO RNZRSA WELFARE INFRASTRUCTURE
1. That a sum of $100,000 per annum be allocated from Vote Veterans’ Affairs to subsidise direct expenses incurred in RNZRSA Welfare Office activities. Such sum to be adjusted annually in line with the CPI.
2. That the Vote Veterans’ Affairs be provides for four (4) regionally based – Regional Welfare Advisory Officers; and that the first such Officer be appointed urgently to the East Coast.
Paras 36.1 to 36.6
A NATIONAL REGISTER
1. That a National Register of Vietnam veterans and their families be established; and that this register be expanded to cover J-force veterans and those who were exposed to nuclear tests, and their families.
Paras 37.1 to 37.3
REPARATION AND CONCILIATION
1. That reparation payments be made to:
(a) Surviving Vietnam veterans with a life threatening ‘Prescribed Condition’ $35,000
Para 40.12 1.
(b) Surviving spouses/partners of deceased Vietnam veterans where their death can be linked to one of the ‘Prescribed Conditions’ $25,000
Para 40.12 2.
(c) Families with children with the accepted conditions $50,000
Para 40.12 3.
(d) All surviving Vietnam veterans $7,500 Para 40.12 4; and
Paras 21.1 to 21.6
Vietnam veterans have suffered, continue to suffer, or are likely to suffer, serious health conditions (some life threatening/ending) as a result of the exposure to a toxic environment during their service in Vietnam.
The effects of this exposure and other damaging aspects of Vietnam service and its aftermath, go beyond the Vietnam veterans, to the following generation and possibly further.
The issue of our Vietnam veterans’ exposure to a toxic environment is one that has caused pain, hurt and anger amongst the Vietnam veteran community.
The acceptance of their exposure, and the acceptance that such exposure has potentially damaging health impacts, provides the cornerstone for seriously addressing these issues in order to bring about closure to this shameful episode.
It has taken some 35 years for the Vietnam veterans’ claims to be vindicated. In the meantime, some 25% of those who served, have died an early death, many others have contracted life threatening cancers, whilst the physical and mental health of many more is seriously damaged.
Why has it taken so long? Why have Governments obstinately turned away from resolving this issue? Enough is enough – let it be over.
Children born to Vietnam veterans have suffered too – both physically and emotionally – and the pain and anguish placed on many families was too much, resulting in marriage break ups and serious social dislocation for veterans and families. Miscarriages have occurred at an abnormally high level.
Many of our Vietnam veterans came home bearing physical and psychological wounds (some to surface many years later) – and for some, this will never heal.
Many of them felt bitterness at their homecoming and their subsequent treatment. Many of them were abused in public, avoided by friends and were scorned. Many of them felt, and still feel, betrayed by this.
The service of young New Zealanders in Vietnam was in the long and honourable traditions of service by New Zealanders throughout the 20th century.
All New Zealanders should vow that in the future no young New Zealander who answers his country’s call, should return to a community driven by the division and hostility our Vietnam veterans found on their homecoming.
No voice should be raised against those who fight through the lawful command of their duly and freely elected New Zealand Government – rather the focus of dissent should be on those who sent them, not those who served and suffered – that is how it ought to be.
The RNZRSA acknowledges that this Government has moved this issue forward, and that the Prime Minister has consistently and publicly indicated support for closure on the matter. The RNZRSA acknowledges the Prime Minister’s attitude and leadership in the matter.
Now actions will speak louder than words. The responsibility is on the Joint Working Group, the Government and its agencies. The Vietnam veterans have given of their best, they served the nation at the behest of the Government, and have suffered grievously for that service.
This must not end up as another failed effort in a sad saga. If it does, it will shame New Zealand.
The Government needs to compensate these veterans for a disproportionate degree of early mortality, disability, illness and social disadvantage that is directly attributable to service in Vietnam, and the exposure to a complex cocktail of chemicals.
RNZRSA believes there are overwhelming social justice arguments for compensating Vietnam veterans and their affected children.
Failure now to act in a generous, timely and reasonable matter on the Joint Working Group’s proposals and recommendations, would be seen by Vietnam veterans as the final betrayal.
The Prime Minister has called for generosity of approach – after 35 years Vietnam veterans and their families can wait no longer.