The Government will publicly apologise to Vietnam War veterans and their families, recognising the servicemen were not treated fairly when they returned from war.
The apology, which will be made in Parliament on Wednesday, was agreed to in a memorandum of understanding between the Government, the Ex-Vietnam Services Association and the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association in 2006.
The memorandum, a $30 million package that resulted from a report on the veterans’ concerns, also includes an ex-gratia payment of $40,000 for those with prescribed medical conditions and a $25,000 payment to the spouses of veterans who have died.
“The apology will recognise that Vietnam veterans were not treated fairly on their return to New Zealand after the war,” Prime Minister Helen Clark said.
“Those who served in Vietnam, like other New Zealand soldiers before and after them, undertook their duties bravely, loyally and professionally. The apology, and the memorandum of understanding more generally, are about recognising the service and sacrifices of Vietnam veterans and their families.”
Veterans have been invited into the public gallery at Parliament to watch the apology and a function will be held afterwards.
About 3400 New Zealanders served in Vietnam.
RSA president Air Vice Marshal Robin Klitscher, who was there as a helicopter pilot, said the apology meant the Government was taking responsibility for the way veterans were treated.
“It’s a pity that [an apology] was ever due … There’s no doubt that New Zealand’s involvement in the war was controversial. New Zealand allowed the soldiers to come back and take the blame. That’s not fair. They were doing what the Government sent them to do.
“They landed at Whenuapai in the middle of the night and were told to put on civilian clothes, go home and not tell anyone where they’d been.”
Ex-Vietnam Services Association spokesman Chris Mullane said veterans had high expectations of the apology. “[They hope] it will be a sincere and genuine apology that will address the various concerns raised.
“There were 35 or more years of denial that any of the health problems and so on had anything to do with being sprayed by Agent Orange. There’s a number of layers of grievance, things that need to be remedied in this apology.
“It’s significant not only for the veterans and their families, it’s also significant for the nation as a whole in that this 40 years of neglect and mistreatment has become a national issue.
“The interesting thing is that it is so many decades late, this official acknowledgement … We see this as bringing the Vietnam veteran community back into the family.”
Veterans will be further acknowledged during events this weekend. Tribute 08 will include a civic welcome in Wellington and a parade.
Published: 2008, May, 26. | Time-stamp: 5:00 AM | By: Alanah Eriksen | Article Link: nzherald.co.nz | Article Title: Apology to Vietnam veterans for unfair post-war treatment