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Govt responds toCommittee's Agent Orange Inquiry

14 December 2004

Hon George Hawkins Minister of Veterans' Affairs

Government responds to Select Committee Agent Orange Inquiry

The government has today tabled in Parliament its response to the Report of the Health Select Committee Inquiry into the exposure of New Zealand defence personnel to Agent Orange and other defoliant chemicals during the Vietnam War and any health effects of that exposure.

In its response the government has acknowledged that Vietnam veterans have waited a long time to have their experiences in Vietnam heard.

Welcoming the outcome Veterans Affairs Minister George Hawkins says the government recognises the importance of understanding these experiences.

"I am very happy that I'm the Minister in charge in a government which has seen the need for these issues to be investigated and addressed.

"In light of the information made available resulting from the detailed research undertaken by the NZ Defence Force the government offers a formal apology to Vietnam veterans for the failure of governments in the past to recognise that the veterans were exposed to a toxic environment during their service in Vietnam.

"We already have support in place for Vietnam veterans and their families. Vietnam veterans who have disabilities which may be attributable to their service in Vietnam can make application for a war pension. In fact, New Zealand's war pension system is unique in that it is based on a reverse onus of proof where the presumption is that the disability arises from military service, unless it can be proven otherwise.

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"Changes are being planned to streamline the war pensions process including a review of the process of referral to medical specialists. Any veterans who consider that their claims were not fairly considered in the past are able to request that their claims be reviewed.

"The children of New Zealand's Vietnam veterans who suffer from spina bifida, cleft lip/palate, acute myeloid leukaemia or adrenal gland cancer are able to access fully funded care for those conditions. The children are also able to access genetic counselling and support for any mental health issues they might have. This package of support for the children maintains parity with that offered to the children of Vietnam veterans in Australia. Additionally, the government has reaffirmed its commitment to monitor international research and the programmes of entitlements that are made available by other governments to the children and grandchildren of Vietnam veterans.

"The announcement today recognises a very important phase in New Zealand's involvement in the Vietnam conflict.

"The decisions the government has taken will give veterans an opportunity to reflect on the positive outcome of having their experiences heard and considered.


Questions & Answers

War Pensions · How many Vietnam veterans receive a War Disablement Pension?

Currently 1258 Vietnam veterans receive war pensions, approximately one third of the total number deployed to Vietnam. · What are the largest number of war pension claims made for?

The largest number of claims made by Vietnam veterans, 32%, are for hearing related disabilities. This is followed by orthopaedic conditions, 18%, related to operational activities such as carrying heavy loads and jumping from vehicles and aircraft. The third highest number of claims, 14%, is for psychiatric conditions. · How many war pension claims are made for the conditions on the American list?

New Zealand Vietnam veterans can and do apply for the conditions the American war pension system presumes to be service related for compensation purposes. These claims make up 2% of the total claims made. · How do Vietnam veterans make claims for disabilities caused by Agent Orange?

The New Zealand War Pension system is unique in that it does not restrict the claims that veterans can make to those on a specified list of disabilities.

The New Zealand war pension system works on the reverse onus of proof. Veterans can make claims for any disability they believe to be attributable to or aggravated by their service. Veterans are not required veterans to prove levels of exposure. · What happens if a veteran feel their war pension claim wasn't handled properly in the past? Any veteran who feels that their claim was not considered fairly in the past, resulting in their claim being declined, can provide information on the current status of their disability to the Secretary for War Pensions and request to have their claim reconsidered.

NZDF Research · What did the research done by the NZDF and submitted to the Health Select Committee conclude?

The New Zealand Defence Force research indicates that 1,822,856 litres of Agents Orange, Blue and White were sprayed in Phuoc Tuy Province during a 31 month window.

The New Zealand Defence Force research identified a total of 356 probable occurrences where New Zealand troops moved through areas that had been previously sprayed. One instance was identified where the location was sprayed at least 8 days before the New Zealand troops arrived in the location, 34 instances where the locations had been sprayed 1 to 6 months before the New Zealand troops arrived in the location, 48 instances where the locations had been sprayed 6 to 12 months before the New Zealand troops arrived in the location and 273 instances where the locations had been sprayed over 12 months before the New Zealand troops arrived in the location. · Doesn't the NZDF research prove that Vietnam veterans will be suffering from the affects of Agent Orange?

The New Zealand war pension system assesses claims on a case by case basis. This allows for recognition of the fact that individuals react differently to different physical and environmental conditions. Where there has been an impact on a veteran's health and well being they can access a war pension.

If a veteran has no current disabilities, they can claim if and when their health changes. There is no limit on when you can claim or how many disabilities you can claim for. · What is a war pension?

A war pension is a life time tax free payment that is designed to counter balance the impact a disability has on a veteran's quality of life. The award of a war pension for a specific disability entitles the veteran to have all health care costs met for disabilities that are attributable to, or aggravated by, their service.

All Vietnam veterans who have disabilities that are attributable to or aggravated by service can make application for a War Disablement Pension and have that tax free entitlement paid to them for life. They can review the level of that disability at any time and can make application for as many disabilities as they want.

Children · What healthcare do you offer to the children of Vietnam veterans whose health has been affected by their parent's service?

Children of Vietnam veterans currently receive fully funded access to care if they suffer from spina bifida and/or cleft lip/palate, acute myeloid leukaemia, adrenal gland cancer or any mental health issues. In addition genetic counselling is available to any children with on going concerns over the impact of latency. · Why aren't you covering all of the children's health problems?

The government has said that the list of conditions for which additional assistance is provided for the children of Vietnam veterans is not conclusive and has made a commitment to monitor international research and the programmes and entitlements made available to the children of Vietnam veterans by other governments.

Veterans' Affairs New Zealand has a register of Vietnam veterans' children and grandchildren. Families and children are encouraged to register their health problems. · How does that compare with Australia?

This package of assistance maintains parity with the support offered to the children of Vietnam veterans by the Commonwealth Government of Australia.

· What is case management?

Case management is a service that allows for all the care provided to a veterans and their family to be coordinated through one point of access. The case manager works with the veteran and their family and acts an interface between the veteran and publicly funded services. The case manager arranges for the services to be delivered and provides on going support.

Where a service is needed and not freely available, Veterans' Affairs New Zealand is able to fund some additional services.

ENDS


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