Fewer than 100 survivors of the Vietnam War are expected to qualify for one-off compensation for life-threatening illnesses which have claimed hundreds of their comrades in the past 35 years.
The Government compensation package, announced last week, promised to deliver benefits close to $30 million, but the lump sum payments of $40,000 for sick veterans and $25,000 for affected children will be restricted.
The handling of the announcement has been greeted as a "con job" by veterans who link their exposure to Agent Orange and other toxic defoliants to health problems including a wide range of cancers, heart and respiratory diseases, diabetes, skin rashes and nerve damage.
But the Government is limiting the payments for veterans to four specific cancers and a skin condition, chloracne. Conditions in their children qualifying for payments are limited to spina bifida, cleft lip, cleft palate and two types of cancer.
Veterans Affairs Minister Rick Barker says that the number of veterans likely to receive the one-off payments is "thought to be in the double, rather than triple, figures".
Around 1300 of the 3200 New Zealanders who saw active service in Vietnam are receiving war dis-ablement pensions for various conditions. A further 569 have died, many aged in their 40s and 50s.
Mr Barker says a $7 million trust fund will assist the hundreds with conditions for which enough proof of an association with herbicide poisoning is lacking.
The trust is expected to earn $500,000 a year in interest, or $15 million, over its 30-year lifespan, with any surplus returned to the state.
Other financial aspects of the package include a review of war dis-ablement pension rates, a one-offmedical examination, a $250,000grant to the veterans' youth de-velopment trust, a veterans' register,a welcome home ceremony andan oral history programme.
Mr Barker says the range of conditions qualifying for ex gratia payments will be monitored and expanded "if peer-reviewed science shows a link. The figure of $30 million is reliable."
But the veterans' grapevine is crackling with hostile fire and many are threatening to boycott the parade, with some considering court action.
"It's smoke and mirrors again," says former Vietnam Veterans Association president John Moller. "The $7 million is only a loan, then the Government takes it back. There are people dying of various types of cancer who won't get a bean."
He added: "It wouldn't have taken a whole lot of money to have the whole thing done and dusted."