Vietnam war veteran Ted Gordon, pictured at the Montecillo
War Veterans Home and Hospital, welcomes new research on
the health of New Zealand veterans. Peter McIntosh.
After hearing official denials for decades, Vietnam war
veteran Ted Gordon feels vindicated by University of Otago
research showing New Zealand veterans of that war are twice as
likely to develop chronic lymphatic leukaemia.
''It shows we were right,'' he said yesterday.
The study, whose lead author is Associate Prof David McBride,
of the university's preventive and social medicine
department, also found a doubling of the risk of mortality
from cancers of the head and neck, as well as an increase in
oral cancers of the pharynx and larynx, among Vietnam
veterans compared with the general population.
This is the first comprehensive study to produce ''hard
data'' showing adverse health effects on New Zealand veterans
from their service in Vietnam, researchers say. And the study
will shortly appear in the international journal BMJ
Mr Gordon (67) said for about 40 years it was officially
denied Agent Orange was having any adverse effect on the
health of Kiwi veterans.
Agent Orange was used extensively in Vietnam as a herbicide
and defoliant, partly to make it easier to spot enemy troop
and guerrilla movements by removing some of the lush jungle
In 2004, then prime minister Helen Clark's government
apologised to Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange or
other toxic defoliants, after a health select committee
inquiry into the use of the chemicals.
Mr Gordon served in Vietnam for 13 months, mainly in 1967, as
a truck driver and infantryman with 161 Battery.
He welcomed the Otago study's findings, but said that despite
earlier high-level assurances, some veterans were still
losing a ''paper war'' over their rightful entitlement to
He lives in Owaka but has been staying at the Montecillo War
Veterans Home and Hospital after a recent operation in
Dunedin Hospital to counter a spinal injury put down to
jumping out of helicopters in Vietnam carrying heavy gear,
including a pack and firearm.
The Otago study had come ''too late for a lot of people'',
who had died, ''but it's not too late for some of the
families'', who now needed more support.
In some families, birth defects and related significant
health problems had been emerging in several generations of
the veterans' descendants, and there had been problems in his
own extended family. He had also had cancer, including of the
Prof McBride said he wanted the Otago study to be of active
practical use, and not be left sitting on a shelf.
The study showed there had been some adverse health effects
on Vietnam veterans, and there was a moral obligation for New
Zealand to ensure those veterans were well supported.
Good support was provided for Vietnam veterans through the
Montecillo facility in Dunedin, but more backing was needed
elsewhere in the country, he said in an interview.
The RSA yesterday welcomed publication of the Otago study and
said it vindicated claims about the adverse health effects of
service in Vietnam.
RSA national president Don McIver thanked Prof McBride and
his colleagues for ''this important work'', and noted the
study had been commissioned by the War Pensions Advisory
Board, of which the RSA is a member.
Veterans' health will also be on the agenda at a two-day
conference in Dunedin starting today, organised by the Otago
University researchers focusing on the theme of ''Health of
Veterans, Serving Personnel and their Families''.