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Tribute08 – recognition for Vietnam veterans

Tribute08 – recognition for Vietnam veterans

The contribution and sacrifices of New Zealand’s Vietnam War veterans and their families is to be recognised at Tribute08, a commemoration and reunion event, to be held during Queen’s Birthday Weekend in Wellington.

The event will mark a milestone in New Zealand’s history. It will be the first occasion in which veterans will receive official recognition of their service in Vietnam. It will also acknowledge that veterans and their families have not been treated fairly in New Zealand since the war ended more than 30 years ago.

Tribute08 will be in Wellington from Friday 30 May to Sunday 1 June 2008. Hundreds of veterans, most bringing members of their family, have already registered and many more are expected at the event, which will be both a commemoration and a reunion.

“Tribute08 will be of national significance,” says Organising Committee Chairman Chris Mullane, a Vietnam veteran himself. “It will mark the point at which Vietnam veterans – and their families – receive proper recognition, with dignity and respect, for their service, which the nation has sadly denied them in the past.”

It is also a unique opportunity for veterans to meet old mates and share memories.

“The get-togethers will undoubtedly be a highlight of the weekend, particularly at the Friday night and Saturday afternoon sub-unit reunions,” Chris says. “It will also be a very special time for family members, who will be able to talk to other families about their experiences, and renew acquaintances made at previous reunions.”

Tribute08 includes an honour march to Parliament on the Saturday morning, a moving whakanoa ceremony to acknowledge the 37 New Zealanders who gave their lives in Vietnam, a Sunday memorial service at the National War Memorial and a commemoration event at the Basin Reserve. There will also be a nostalgic music and entertainment concert on the Saturday night, and public exhibitions and displays at various venues throughout Wellington.

“We are urging all Vietnam veterans and their families to participate and help to make Tribute08 a truly memorable and significant occasion in New Zealand's history,” Mr Mullane says.

The event has been organised with government assistance as part of a Memorandum of Understanding signed in December 2006, in which the Government recognises that Vietnam veterans and their families have legitimate concerns about how they have been treated over the past 30 years.

Mr Mullane says the MoU will bring considerable benefits to all veterans and their families – not just those who served in Vietnam. “Maximum attendance at Tribute08 will help ensure remaining issues are kept alive so they can be continually addressed.”

The MoU was signed by the Government, the Ex-Vietnam Services Association (EVSA) and the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RNZRSA). It is the result of extensive consultation with veterans through a Joint Working Group and considerable negotiation between the Government and the veterans groups, to ensure all concerns were considered.

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The Memorandum of Understanding – the main points

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in December 2006 by the Government, the Ex-Vietnam Services Association (EVSA) and the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RNZRSA). In it, the Government recognises that Vietnam veterans and their families have legitimate concerns about how they have been treated over the past 30 years.

It was the result of extensive consultation with veterans through a Joint Working Group and considerable negotiation between the Government and the veterans groups, to ensure all concerns were considered.

Although the MoU doesn’t address all concerns, the Government acknowledges that the veteran’s organisations will be back at a later date to pursue any outstanding issues.
(The full MoU and regular updates can be viewed at: www.evsa.org.nz)

The main points of the MoU are:

* A formal public apology to Vietnam veterans and their families, acknowledging the veterans’ service and the Crown’s failure to address concerns. The Prime Minister is expected to deliver the apology in Parliament during the month prior to Tribute 08.

* Recognition and formal acknowledgement of Vietnam Veterans and their families at Tribute 08.

* Funding towards attendance of Vietnam veterans and their families at Tribute08.

* A panel of independent experts will consider international research and data on health conditions associated with war service and will recommend uniform standards and criteria. The first priority of the Expert Panel will be to look at health concerns that specifically relate to Vietnam service and analyse the data generated through the comprehensive health checks all NZ Vietnam veterans are eligible for.

* The Crown, in consultation with veteran organisations, will review how services can be better delivered to veterans and their families. This will include a thorough review of Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand (VANZ), its roles, responsibilities, placement and resourcing. The role of the War Pensions Unit with the Ministry of Social Development will also be reviewed.

* The War Pensions Act (1954) is to be completely reviewed and rewritten to ensure it is appropriate for the conditions veterans now face, and to improve service delivery to veterans and families. This process is already under way, led by the Law Commission.

* Vietnam veterans receive a one-off payment of $40,000 if they are suffering a “prescribed condition” related to Agent Orange. The partner of a veteran who has died as a result of a prescribed condition receives $25,000; $30,000 is paid to each child who suffers from any of five “accepted conditions”; and a payment of $30,000 goes to each family who has lost a child to one of five accepted conditions. Over 50 payments have already been made across the categories and others are being processed.

* Vietnam veterans will be funded for a one-off comprehensive medical examination and any specialist visits required.

* The Viet Nam Veterans and Their Families Trust has been established with a Crown endowment of $7 million for 30 years. The trust began calling for applications in October (application forms at www.evsa.org.nz) and has already made a number of grants with others under consideration.

* The Ministry of Culture and Heritage has begun recording an oral history of the accounts and experiences of Vietnam veterans and their families.

* The Queen has approved a distinctly New Zealand medal for Vietnam Service – NZGSM1992 (Warlike) with Vietnam clasp – and is expected to allow South Vietnamese gallantry awards to be worn by recipients. Her Majesty has also approved that the dates for the 1 RNZIR South Vietnam Theatre Honour be changed to recognise the service of all rifle companies that served in Vietnam.

* The Crown has made a one-off grant of $250,000 to The EVSA (Neville Wallace Memorial) Children’s & Grandchildren’s Trust (see www.evsayouthtrust.org.nz).

* Veterans of all conflicts and deployments will be eligible for a Veterans' Card and children of Vietnam veterans will be eligible for a Veterans’ Children’s Card. The specific entitlements, benefits and facilities are now being developed.

* The Crown is to access, monitor and, where appropriate, sponsor research into the intergenerational effects of dioxins.

* The Crown has established a national register for Vietnam veterans – living and deceased – their partners, children and grandchildren. Registration facilitates access for veterans and their families to entitlements, including those provided by the MoU (registration forms at www.veteransaffairs.mil.nz or phone 0800 4838372).

* Veterans’ Affairs will make available to medical professionals and to Vietnam veterans and their children relevant medical information (to the extent permitted by law) to help monitor and screen for relevant health conditions.

* The Crown will work with veterans' organisations and veterans' retirement homes to establish “centres of excellence” to provide up-to-date information for the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions prevalent among veterans.

* A Joint Implementation Group (JIG) comprising representatives of the Crown and veterans organisations has been overseeing implementation of the MoU and will continue this role until all MoU provisions have been implemented.

ENDS

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