Apology has veterans ready to sue Government

By Kevin Taylor

Vietnam veterans plan to use a belated apology over their exposure to the deadly Agent Orange defoliant as proof of Government culpability in a proposed damages lawsuit.

The apology - tabled in Parliament by Veterans Affairs Minister George Hawkins on December 14 - is the subject of the first in the Herald's Buried Treasures series.

Agent Orange campaigner John Moller - a former infantry platoon commander in the Vietnam War - is concerned it took a parliamentary inquiry to prove New Zealand veterans had been subject to spraying in the controversial war.

The long-time campaigner for compensation for the health damage the defoliant has wrought among veterans and their children has legal advice from New Plymouth lawyer and fellow veteran Barry Henderson.

Mr Moller is considering hiring US or Australian law firms to sue the Government for compensation.

The legal advice he has received is that the apology means veterans now have a case for punitive and exemplary damages from the Crown because it was negligent, lacked a duty of care and concealed evidence.

A spokesman for Mr Hawkins, who was too busy to talk to the Herald, said the Government had no comment until a lawsuit eventuated.

The apology was accompanied by an official response to nine low-key recommendations made by the inquiry. They ranged from ensuring veterans and their children were aware of entitlements to ensuring Veterans Affairs monitored international research and lists of herbicide-related diseases.

Agent Orange was used to strip forests of foliage to deny the enemy cover but has since been blamed for a string of health conditions and premature deaths among veterans of the war both here and overseas, as well as millions of Vietnamese

The response promised no big changes to current services. The one specific service offered to veterans is a war disablement pension, a non-means-tested weekly payment ranging from $8.11 for 5 per cent disability to $285 for the severest disability.

ACC is not available to veterans, as the scheme was not introduced until 1974 and is not retrospective.

But ACC law specialist John Miller claims a 1992 law change made the scheme retrospective.

Last week he filed an appeal in the High Court at Wellington against a district court decision that World War II veteran Stanley Livingston was not entitled to ACC cover.

Mr Livingston contracted amoebic dysentery in Egypt in 1945, ruining his health.

Mr Miller said the 1992 law change meant conditions contracted in dangerous employment before ACC was introduced were covered.

He said if the case succeeded - and the law was not changed - it would have big implications for Vietnam veterans as they would get ACC cover and be barred from seeking damages.

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