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By Gary McMahon

Just saying the name AGENT ORANGE gets the attention of every Vietnam veteran, and I dare say most of the Australian and American public, not to mention the Vietnamese. It has been argued about, written about, researched and debated, published in magazines and newspapers, talked about on radio and television. It was the subject of documentaries, legal battles, and here in Australia a Royal Commission that lasted some two years and cost 3.8 million dollars.

The findings of the Royal Commission were that there were no grounds for believing Agent Orange was connected with cancer in Vietnam veterans or for birth abnormalities in their children. The controversy continues however. As much as we would like to believe that was the case, the high incidence of cancers in Vietnam veterans and the number of children born with abnormalities is greater than in the general population. The point is that once again the treatment of the Agent Orange issue has been so bad that it just adds to the feelings of distrust in the Vietnam veteran community.

First was denial that it was used at all, then denial that it was sprayed near Australians, and of course always denial that it had any ill effects. Whatever the case, and we are never going to get total agreement, credit should be given for recently allowing veterans with cancer to receive treatment without having to argue their individual case. They have not recognised a link between the chemicals and cancer, but have done the next best thing, and in the end that is what the veteran needs.....treatment.

Distrust though is still there. Distrust because it took so long to get treatment, many veterans died of cancers believing that it was caused by Agent Orange. One of the first was Colin Simpson, who applied for benefits from the Commonwealth Government in 1980. He applied under the repatriation act of 1920, and claimed his cancer resulted from exposure to toxic chemicals during his time in Vietnam. Colin died, but his wife continued on with his claim helped by the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia.....she was ultimately successful. Veterans of course presumed that this would set a precedent, but that was not the case. Every veteran with cancer would have to prove a link before they could receive any treatment...Many died of course without being able to do that.

Looking at the report from the Royal Commission it was clear to veterans that the commissioner found that veterans are ill as a result of their service in Vietnam. His ultimate decision was that their illness was caused by stress, although cancer, from which some veterans are suffering, may result from chemicals to which some veterans were exposed.

A finding, after a proper inquiry, that chemicals did not cause present Illnesses in veterans, was acceptable to veterans. What was of concern however was the commission’s approach to the issues and his reasons for arriving at the decisions set out in the report.

I’m not going to go through the report because I’ve only mentioned Agent Orange as another example of why Vietnam veterans don’t trust the system. The following is the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia’s conclusion to the Royal Commission’s findings.

"It is not possible to mention in a document such as this more than a few illustrations of the contents of the report which make it unacceptable. The contradictions, the mistakes, the errors, occur so frequently that a full survey would take months. Indeed there are so many errors in the report that it may justify a mention in the Guiness Book of Records.

Look for example at the epidemiological studies. After rejecting studies which show adverse ill effects from chemicals the commissioner is impressed by the consistency of the other reports. If only reports which show no positive results are used, obviously they must be consistent. Then look at what they in fact say and note that most say that more research needs to be done. The report is silent on this aspect.

When one looks at the complaints concerning the Department of Veterans Affairs and the files of people like "Veteran 12." (available in the report) where the department’s conduct was life threatening and where documents were altered to cover the conduct, or "Veteran 11." (available in the report) whose life may have been saved if the medical officers of the department were more active, it is difficult to see how Justice Evatt cannot be concerned about such conduct. Where the Department has been caught out the Commission says (Vol.7, p. X1V-227)..........

"The Commission notes that DVA frankly disclosed the falsification of the records. This is typical of the open way which DVA has accepted the investigations by this Commission." 

What is not said is that the veteran took copies of the file before the falsification took place.....The DVA was caught out by documents showing the falsification. Never the less Justice Evatt seems to believe admission of guilt excuses the conduct. 

Again when one looks at the papers tendered in relation to adverse health effects of Malathion, for example exhibits 1613 and 1636, (available in the report) given the enormous exposure to Malathion alleged by many veterans it is difficult to understand why such information was ignored.

Comments can go on and on, page by page. Ultimately it comes down to the simple fact that veterans were not believed about their exposures in Vietnam, reports such as the National Academy of Science (Herb Tapes) have, together with much other evidence, been used selectively and at times bizarre methods are used in assessing evidence. eg. Bamford and Daniels. (In the report)


A whole body of expert medical and scientific evidence was ignored.....Indeed evidence which showed chemicals to be harmless was all that was accepted. 

All that VVAA sought was an impartial consideration of exposures in Vietnam and the possible health effects of such chemicals - In other words a "Fair Go". We can have no confidence in this report. 

In saying this the VVAA is not unmindful of the recommendations that veterans be treated for ill health effects, such having been caused by stress. This would achieve the same result as a finding that they were chemically poisoned. The concern however is that the report is so flawed that it is feared all recommendations will be effected." 

All these things add to the veterans distrust. For those with PTSD it simply adds to their symptoms because isolation is one of the most prevalent PTSD symptoms.

Now that the Governments own study has backed up what we have been saying for years....................Maybe something more constructive will be done.