By KEVIN TAYLOR, Political Reporter
Army top brass dealt a crippling blow to the credibility of an Agent Orange report yesterday when they told a parliamentary inquiry Kiwi soldiers in Vietnam probably had contact with the substance 357 times.
The extraordinary evidence came after the Health Ministry and Veterans Affairs Ministry backed the report written by Deborah McLeod of Otago University's Wellington School of Medicine.
The report, released in November last year, has infuriated veterans during the health select committee's inquiry into the health effects of the agent.
Co-authored by Donna Cormack and Tai Kake, it concluded that Anzac forces "generally served in Phuoc Tuy province where there was no serial spraying".
It also concluded there was no evidence exposure to chemicals in Vietnam has affected the health of veterans' children.
But a delegation headed by the deputy chief of the Army, Brigadier Rick Ottaway, and retired Colonel Ray Seymour, presented the committee newly compiled maps of the province showing where aerial spraying of 1.8 million litres of agents Orange, White and Blue took place over 31 months between November 1965 and June 1968.
Mr Seymour, who served in Vietnam, told the committee he was directed by the Chief of Defence Force, Air Marshal Bruce Ferguson, to investigate the spraying of herbicides in the province where the majority of New Zealand defence personnel served.
He found one case when the Kiwi infantry unit, Victor Company, was directly sprayed - on September 15, 1967.
One New Zealand position was sprayed at least eight days before Kiwi troops arrived, 35 were sprayed between one and six months before and 47 between six months and a year before. In the remaining 273 cases, contact occurred more than 12 months after spraying.
Mr Seymour said his analysis was only of spraying under an operation called "Trail Dust" which was conducted throughout South Vietnam, and did not include ground-based spraying.
Earlier, Veteran Affairs director Jessie Gunn told the committee she continued to back the McLeod report. Health Ministry officials Colin Feek and Pat Tuohy also said they continued to back Dr McLeod.
The ministry peer-reviewed the report but only its methodology, not content.
National MP and committee member Judith Collins said later it was extraordinary Veterans Affairs and the Health Ministry continued to back Dr McLeod's "clearly inadequate" report in the face of evidence to the contrary.
She wanted the two agencies to admit they were wrong.
"This information, although it wasn't in map form, was clearly in defence files all this time and all it needed was a little will to get the information out and no one's got it out before."
Retired Lieutenant Colonel John Masters, former commanding officer of 161 Battery which served in Vietnam, said the Government now needed to renounce the Reeves and McLeod reports as policy.
"The fight ... is not going to be won until that McLeod report is removed from Government policy, discredited, discarded. The same applies to the Reeves report."
Stories about spraying had been anecdotal, he said.
Brigadier Rick Ottaway told the Herald after the hearing the Army had produced evidence on the direction of Air Marshal Ferguson. The maps had only recently been compiled from information held by the Defence Force.
* Kiwi troops mainly served in Phuoc Tuy province.
* The province was sprayed with 1.8 million litres of agents Orange, White and Blue during a 31-month period from November 1965 to June 1968.
* The evidence contradicts a report by Deborah McLeod of Otago University's Wellington School of Medicine which concluded Anzac forces "generally served in Phuoc Tuy province, where there was no serial spraying".
Agent Orange inquiries
Health Select Committee:
Office of Veteran Affairs, Ministry of Defence:
(Dr Deborah McLeod, chair)
(Sir Paul Reeves, chair)