Beehive Chat – Justice for the Survivors of Viet Nam

Last week while the media was focused on politicians and preachers debating the nature of religious diversity, another religious leader was quietly lodging a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal.

Most Reverend Whakahuihui Vercoe, immediate past Archbishop of Aotearoa, has taken action on behalf of Maori Vietnam veterans ex defence personnel.

The claim requests that compensation become immediately available to the descendants of the veterans. It also requests that a single issue hearing be convened at Tumatauenga Marae in Waiouru in order for whanau to voice their pain, their anger, their suffering and look for a way forward.

The claim describes the inter-generational impact of exposure to Agent Orange suffered by those on active service in Vietnam between 1966-1972.

Whakahuihui Vercoe devoted a year’s Ministry to Vietnam in 1968. 65% of those serving in Vietnam were Maori – about 2000 in all. Although the claim is particularly focused on Maori whanau, their children and mokopuna to come, the Bishop notes that the claim is as much for his Pakeha fellow veterans as well – saying, “the enemies bullets knew not the distinction”.

The enemies bullets in Vietnam, the chemical exposure to dioxin poisoning (245T and 2-4D based herbicides), were of such potency that Vercoe speaks of a “human and environmental catastrophe” that includes cancer related deaths, genetically damaged births, and DNA damage.

Tragically, the damage has been ongoing. Many of the veterans never received any support or counselling when they came home. Those returning from Veteran were deprived of the entitlements that other veterans received through the War Disabilities and Pension Act –withGovernments refusing to accept responsibility for the effects of toxic warfare. Worse yet, Vietnam veterans were also denied the ability to seek accident compensation.

The Maori Party has spoken out, repeatedly, about the anger Maori veterans expressed when the Government’s Joint Working Group refused to meet them on the marae. One Vet called this decision “a cultural insult, disrespectful and a slap in the face for Maori Viet Nam war veterans”.

But the final slap appeared to be the Winteringham package offered last year in which the New Zealand Government restricted conditions to only five of the fourteen Agent Orange diseases included in the USA and Australian criterion. What happens to those suffering the effects of the other nine? Even stranger, the $7m endowment fund in the package reverts back to the Crown in thirty years, making it in all effects a loan which the Government takes back.

I really commend the work of Reverend Whakahuihui Vercoe in standing up for the long-term care and restoration of Maori who served in Vietnam and their descendants. It would seem to me that his call for a hui in Waiouru, and the request for a more adequate compensation package, is the very least we owe the survivors of the Vietnam War.

Published: 2007 June 4. | By: Tariana Turia | Article Link: | Article Title: Beehive Chat - Justice for the Survivors of Viet Nam

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