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 The Vietnam Veterans’ Federation: how and why it started

The beginning started in Vietnam where we were exposed to an unknown enemy: Agent Orange. Australian troops first arrived in Vietnam in 1962. Between 1965 and 1975 approximately 60 000 Australians served in South Vietnam, incorporating army, navy and air force. Approximately 500 Australian troops died during this conflict and approximately 3000 men were wounded. Prior to 1965, herbicides other than Agent Orange were used but in limited extents. The agents used included orange, blue (arsenic based) and green. Approximately 18 million gallons of herbicide was sprayed by the US Army and Air force, although other agencies were involved. Some of the herbicides used were dioxins which were used in all 4 military zones of Vietnam.

Subsequently, a lot of Vietnam veterans today are concerned about their health because of the potentially lethal problems which are causative of Agent Orange. It has affected not only the long term health of Vietnam veterans but also their families.

Upon returning to Australia, the veterans were still at war with that unknown enemy; Agent Orange. Many Vietnam veterans started developing health problems whilst their children were being born with spina bifida. These health problems prevailed in the Vietnam veteran community and there appeared to be a distinct connection between these health problems and Agent Orange. Our veterans experienced symptoms such as chloracne, birth defects in children, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, soft tissue sarcomas, peripheral neuropathy, Hodgkin’s disease, porphyria cutanea tarda, multiple myeloma, respiratory cancers, prostate cancer, spina bifida, diabetes and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

However, there was reluctance on the part of the government to instigate any investigation into the correlation between these health problems and Agent Orange.

Way back in 1979, Holt McMinn (we did Infantry centre together at Ingleburn) who served in SAS, was the powerhouse behind investigating our health problems and Agent Orange. He also got stuck into the RSL president at the time, Bill Keys, as there was an overall reluctance from the RSL to support our Vietnam veterans that were having health problems.

In 1982 there was a senate standing committee which was then followed by a mortality study done on national servicemen alone. In 1982 the Liberal party was in power and an election promise was made by the Labour party to provide a royal commission should they be elected. The Labour government was elected in 1983 and a royal commission was conducted. Some areas were very suspicious. The submission inquiry into chemicals to the commission was copied by the commission practically verbatim, Tim McCoombe spotted this. We take our hat off to Tim. The people involved at this stage were Terry Loftus, Tim McCoombe and Phil Thompson with a lot of supporters, both civilians and military.

In 1983 they called a conference, and invited 40 ex service organisations to participate at the RSL headquarters in Canberra. The conference was conducted and the royal commission was discussed. The only one to vote against an inquiry was the RSL. The other ex-service organisations were in support of us.

In 1983, the national body of the Vietnam veterans moved to Newtown NSW with Tim McCoombe, Terry Loftus and Phil Thompson heading the organisation. The Royal Commission inquiry started that same year. In 1985 the royal commission presented tis findings. It was not good news for the Vietnam veterans. Justice Evatt screamed from the rooftop that Agent Orange was not guilty. It was a negative report from the royal commission.

After that time John Schumann appeared on the scene with the song “I was only 19”. He presented all the funds to the Vietnam Veterans Federation and we would still like to thank him today.

There was a positive however. One of the reports had a positive finding in determining that PTSD would manifest itself and peak in approximately 1992. We believe that it hasn’t even peaked as yet, and that it is getting worse.

Some other good things to come out included the VVCS which opened in 1982 and we take our hat off to Phil Thompson, the architect behind the VVCS. Senator Mesner worked hard to ensure that the VVCS was established with government funding by the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs to the guidelines and he did a fantastic job.

The royal commission report of 1985 contained 9 volumes – listed 23 symptoms of PTSD such as flashbacks, nightmares, irritability, dizzy spells, rage reaction, anxiety , insomnia, guilt feelings, lower back pain., irritable bowel syndrome, irritable colon, hypertension, paranoia, alcoholism, hyper vigilance and heavy cigarette smoking.

In November 1986 Phil Thompson suicided. Lest we forget. He left a huge gap in the Vietnam Veterans Federation profile, a hole that has never really been filled. He had that kind of rare charisma that not many others possess.

We started our fight against the big companies. In reality we were small fries against the big companies - don’t worry about the diggers. Medical conitions caused by Agent Orange such as spina bifida was recognised by the American government and money was allotted to the veterans’ children through DVA.

In about 1988, the VVF located to Granville RSL owing to the generosity of the RSL sub branch that let us use their premises from 1988 up to about 1995. We wish to thank the sub branch who supported us and in particular, Frank Ashton BEM.

In 1996 the VVF moved to 8 Mary Street Granville. Mr Scott, the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs officially opened the premises. The National president was Tim McCombe, senior vice president of NSW, Terry Loftus.

I started at the VVF in 1989. When I started we were seeing a huge explosion of people as well as veterans of different conflicts and allied veterans of all wars as well. It started to become explosive, veterans and their families were arriving in droves. I thought it was a queue for the pictures. To my relief I was glad to discover that I wasn’t the only one with problems!
We had people coming from as far as Cairns, Jerilderie and from overseas as well as Australian veterans living overseas. We started our pension tours n 1990. One successful pension tour included Cootamundra were we did 76 pension claims in one night.

A further successful pension tour was with Terry Loftus, Darrell Maher, Jim Michalis, and Andy Lawler and I were we completed 82 pension claims in the weekend. As the years went by we thought we’d slow down, but we still get them in droves and there is no let off. We are helping people from conflicts such as the first gulf war, East Timor, Somalia, Cambodia, Rwanda and the most recent conflicts. We are still getting people coming in to make first claims from conflicts such as WW2, Korea, Malaya Emergency, Borneo and South Vietnam as well as war widows.

In the 1980’s there was extreme reluctance from the government for any funding for our organisation, but this has no changed. Throughout the yeas there have been many ministers for Veterans’ Affairs; however I believe the best was Con Sciacca. Also Senator Arthur Gertzelt.

We would also like to thank Ray Fulton for his role at Granville and pulling the organisation into full gear in more ways than one.

From 1989 to the present moment I have been active with the pension tours. I am still doing pension tours today and have travelled to Tasmania, Adelaide, Geraldton, Melbourne, Darwin, Cairns and Perth. Every time we do a tour we are very successful, there is the odd person who complains but that is due to their psychiatric condition (this is my opinion only). We can’t please everybody but we certainly try. You must remember that I am not a paid employee and that I do this voluntarily as I believe in looking after my fellow veterans.

Our aim is that we are a welfare association and the veteran’s welfare comes first. This is my opinion which has nothing to with anyone else at the VVF. We are here to look after all veterans of all conflicts, army, navy and air force.

Our constitution states that we don’t get involved in politics. We stick to the golden rule- welfare of veteran. We are non political, we also help those with MCRS claims who didn’t go overseas and are also entitled to welfare benefits. Over the years we have assisted many war widows.

Over the years there have been many volunteers and many faces, but Tim McCoombe and Frank Angyal are still here. There is constant change to legislation, case law and Statement of Principles which we keep up to date with. Over the years I have done a lot of allied pensions veterans including Polish, Koreans, US, Canadians, English, New Zealanders, French and South Vietnamese.

We will continue to do pensions of all wars and conflicts and assist those who are entitled to benefits under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 or Military Compensation.

As of 2005, I am still undertaking pension tours. I attend the Granville office on Mondays if anyone wishes to contact me. I still go away on the pension tours which I have been doing since 1989. The pension tours have been successful and we are going to continue to look after the welfare of veterans and their dependents.

Please be advised that this article is my opinion only and is written to the best of my recollection of events that transpired. It is not the official opinion of the Vietnam Veterans’ Federation. If I have offended anyone or left anyone out, please accept my apologies.



Frank Anygal
JP, Honorary Pension and Welfare Officer
VVAA Fed NSW Life Member

2nd of February 2006

 

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Last modified:
Sunday, 24 February 2013 22:36:52