Bishop stands up for Maori vets

Archbishop Whakahuihui Vercoe of Rotorua has made a claim – reportedly for $170 million – to the Waitangi Tribunal in support of Maori Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

The Daily Post understands Wairoa lawyer Paul Harman lodged the claim with the tribunal in Wellington on behalf of Archbishop Vercoe, who served as a chaplain in Vietnam in 1968, and the Vietnam Veterans Action Group, representing about 2000 Maori Vietnam veterans and their families.

Archbishop Vercoe is the former head of the Anglican church in New Zealand.

Speaking on behalf of Archbishop Vercoe, who is ill, Rev Tom Poata said while the Anglican bishop had developed a close relationship with all soldiers, the only way forward he could see for veterans was for a claim to be made through the tribunal.

Archbishop Vercoe’s application follows similar action taken by the Vietnam Veterans Association earlier this month to sue the Government on behalf of all Vietnam vets.

“His duty to these men has never ended … Archbishop Vercoe had a close camaraderie with all the soldiers but at least 65 per cent of those who went to Vietnam were Maori.

“He is adamant the issue has carried on for far too long and he wants it resolved for all the soldiers. He feels they, and their families, have suffered enough,” Rev Poata said.

In December, the Government announced a $30 million compensation package for vets suffering from illnesses after exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam nearly 40 years ago. However, only veterans suffering five specific cancers and the skin condition chloracne will receive the $40,000 payout, while a further $25,000 is restricted to veterans’ children suffering from spina bifida, cleft palate, cleft lip and two types of cancer.

Veterans suffering from cancers not specified, as well as heart disease or diabetes, will be left to battle their illnesses without compensation.

Archbishop Vercoe’s claim asks the Government to adopt the Australian Statement of Principles, which he believes is fairer to all vets.

The claim requests the Government to introduce a budget and legislation to compensate veterans and their families and pay all their medical bills.

Rev Poata said Archbishop Vercoe felt the current system of compensation for veterans was not good enough. “It does not give justice to veterans. The current payment is inadequate and is an insult to soldiers and their families,” he said.

Research shows veterans exposed to the dioxins had suffered serious ill effects damaging DNA and subsequently passing on faulty genes to their offspring for generations to come, Rev Poata said.

“Genetic damage has gone into children and grandchildren. There has been an absolute reluctance of Governments since these soldiers returned to do anything seriously as far as recognising the deaths of soldiers and any impact on their families. It’s criminal. The damage has been done … Archbishop Vercoe believes the issues should be resolved so these families can move on.”

The Waitangi Tribunal has acknowledged receipt of the claim.

Published: 2007 June, 4. | Time-stamp: 1:56 PM Monday  | By: Cherie Taylor | Article Link: Title: Bishop stands up for Maori vets

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