Thu, Dec 16, 2004 - Page 5 News List

New Zealand's Vietnam veterans criticize apology

DPA , WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand's Vietnam veterans said yesterday that they were less than impressed with the government's formal apology for their exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange and other chemicals while serving in the war.

Former colonel John Masters, who headed an artillery battery in Vietnam, said the apology ignored the continuing needs of children of the former troops who are sick because of their fathers' exposure during their service from 1965 to 1971.

Veteran Affairs Minister George Hawkins announced on Tuesday the government's apology "for the failure of governments in the past to recognize that the veterans were exposed to a toxic environment during their service in Vietnam."

Agent Orange was widely sprayed from US aircraft as part of a campaign to defoliate the Vietnamese jungle to deprive Communist Viet Cong guerrillas of cover.

Masters, a spokesman for the veterans, provoked an inquiry into the issue last year when he produced a map showing that New Zealand troops served in areas that had been sprayed, contrary to years of denials by successive governments.

The map provoked research by the Defense Force indicating that 1.8 million liters of Agents Orange, Blue and White were sprayed in Phuoc Tuy province, where New Zealand and Australian troops were based, over a period of 31 months.

The research identified a total of 356 probable occurrences in which New Zealand troops moved through areas that had been previously sprayed.

Rejecting suggestions that the apology ended the issue for the veterans, Masters told Wellington's Dominion Post: "Soldiers are the best type of people in the world to recognize sham because if they've got leaders who are bull-shitting them or spin-ning, they see right through that in a second."

He said that although the government funded treatment for some children's illnesses, it failed to recognize a range of other conditions that desperately required money that the veterans did not have.

Hawkins said the government was funding care for children of New Zealand Vietnam veterans who suffered from spina bifida, cleft lip/palate, acute myeloid leukaemia or adrenal gland cancer that have been attributed to exposure from the herbicide.

He said the list was open to extension and overseas trends and research were being monitored, but Masters said there was already enough evidence to add another 40 illnesses.

Currently, 1,258 veterans -- about one-third of the total number of troops deployed to Vietnam -- receive government war pensions.

Hawkins said New Zealand's war pension system was unique in being based on a reverse onus of proof with a presumption that a disability arose from military service unless it could be proved otherwise. He urged any veterans who considered that their claims had not been fairly considered in the past to request a review.

Nearly 4,000 New Zealand troops -- all volunteers -- ser-ved in Vietnam. Thirty-five were killed in action and nearly 200 wounded.

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