New battle for Vietnam vets

3rd April 2006

THE Government must finally allow Vietnam veterans to “live, and die, in peace and dignity”, says Wairarapa Vietnam veterans spokesman Tweet Bird.

Mr Bird, 56, was speaking after making submissions this month to the Agent Orange Joint Working Group.

Now a professional caterer and chef, Mr Bird completed a tour of duty in Vietnam from 1970 to 1971 as a lance corporal with Victor 5 Company at Nui Dat.

He said he served alongside retired army medic John “Doc” Mountain, who spoke out last week about medical records he took of cases during the war of dioxin poisoning that were wiped from official army records.

Mr Bird is now having medical tests to see if his own health was compromised by exposure to the defoliants, he said, and he “has some concerns” for the health of his three adult children born since his return from Vietnam.

“The country shat on us when we got home ? sneaking out the back doors of planes and the RSA not wanting to know us … we went and represented our country and returned to that.

“The personal problems ran far deeper than people realise. Guys weren’t able to cope after returning home. We were trained to kill ? programmed ? and some didn’t do so well at deprogramming themselves. There’ve been suicides, family break-ups, and men going off the rails.

“And then our guys start dying 20 years before their time and their children start suffering illnesses because of their fathers’ exposure to poisons.

“We were all exposed and for years doctors laughed at us and two government reports made us look like a pack of liars.”

The joint working group was established early last year and includes representatives from the Ex-Vietnam Services Association, the Returned Services Association, and the offices of the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs.

The formation of the joint working group follows a parliamentary inquiry’s conclusion in 2004 that two inquiries by successive governments were flawed. The reports, in 1999 and 2001, said New Zealand soldiers were not in defoliated areas and that there was no evidence the defoliant affected the health of veterans’ children.

Michael Wintringham, head of the joint working group, said last year that after the select committee report “the Government accepts that New Zealand service men and women were exposed to a toxic environment ? including Agent Orange ? during their service in Vietnam”.

Mr Bird said he believes Mr Wintringham and the joint working group will at last bring an formal government apology and “final closure” for veterans exposed to the dioxin-based poisons.

“I have faith Wintringham will sort out the problem. Let the guys live, and die, in peace and dignity.

“We swore our allegiance and did our job. It’s time the same loyalty was shown by the Government to us.”

NATHAN CROMBIE | 3rd April 2006  | wairarapa-times-age | NEWS-2006-M04-03-001
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