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Media release - Health Committee

6 October 2004

Media release - Health Committee

Inquiry into the exposure of New Zealand defence personnel to Agent Orange and any related health effects

New Zealand defence personnel who served during the Vietnam War were exposed to a toxic environment, a Health Committee report has found.

The committee launched its inquiry in April 2003, after new evidence came to light that had not been considered by previous reports on the health outcomes for New Zealand Vietnam veterans.
The inquiry examined evidence that New Zealand troops were exposed to Agent Orange and other defoliant chemicals and evaluated two reports that had previously guided government policy on the issue. The committee assessed international research literature on the topic of exposure, in terms of its health effects on veterans and their families, and the current levels of health services available.

Committee chairperson Steve Chadwick notes that the committee acknowledged the New Zealand's veterans were exposed to a toxic environment during their Vietnam service. "We consider it important to finally resolve this issue for the benefit of veterans and their families by acknowledging that New Zealand troops were exposed to a toxic environment during their service. Vietnam veterans have struggled for this recognition and we consider that it is overdue."

Other recommendations suggest changes to the way veterans' health services are delivered, ensuring that the health needs of Vietnam veterans and their families are met more effectively. "We recommend that Veterans Affairs New Zealand develop an information package that clearly advises veterans about the services available, as we are concerned that such information is not readily available and may affect veterans ability to access essential health services" Mrs Chadwick says.

The committee has also considered the role of future research into dioxin exposure, and mechanisms to ensure that international research literature is monitored, scrutinised, and analysed to ensure that the health needs of New Zealand Vietnam veterans and their families continue to be met in an appropriate way. "We want to learn from the lessons of past mistakes by ensuring that research literature is scrutinised and factored into policy affecting veterans' health".

The committee also made recommendations relating to the commissioning of research, when that research covers multiple government agencies.


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