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Tuesday, 7 September 1993
Page: 1052

Senator FAULKNER —On 2 September, Senator Panizza asked Senator Richardson, as the minister representing me, what action I intended to take to ensure that Australian Vietnam veterans are compensated on the same basis as American Vietnam veterans, following a report from the US Institute of Medicine—it is part of the National Academy of Science—which completed a comprehensive literature review of some 230 epidemiological studies of the possible health effects of exposure to herbicides. The institute has released a detailed report of the review, which concludes that there is sufficient statistical evidence to suggest an association between herbicide exposure and certain health problems.

  It is important to remember that repatriation legislation in Australia is significantly different from that covering veterans in the United States. The Americans deal with classes of cases. In Australia, the legislation requires that each application for a disability pension be considered on its merits, depending on the individual circumstances of the veteran. The decision as to whether to grant a pension is made by the repatriation commission through its delegates.

  The Department of Veterans' Affairs was aware of the impending publication of the United States report and received a pre-publication copy soon after its release. The report itself extends to some 1,000 pages. I have been advised that the research found that there is sufficient statistical evidence to suggest an association between herbicide exposure and five conditions: non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; Hodgkin's disease; soft tissue sarcoma; chloracne; and porphyria cutanea tarda, or PCT.

  The repatriation commission has accepted claims from Vietnam veterans for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and soft tissue sarcoma for some time, following earlier research results. Only one claim for chloracne has been recorded so far, and it was accepted. Claims for Hodgkin's disease and PCT have also been accepted previously, although not necessarily because of an association with herbicides.

  Since the release of the recent US report, the repatriation commission has taken action by issuing statements of principle and establishing an independent expert medical committee to examine the report. Interim statements of principle on Hodgkin's disease, soft tissue sarcoma, chloracne and PCT have been developed and distributed to the peak ex-service bodies and to repatriation commission delegates. The statements of principle state that claims for disability pension for these diseases will be accepted if the disease is medically diagnosed and the veteran served for 28 or more days in Vietnam. A statement of principle covering non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was already in existence because of previous scientific findings.

  Veterans who have previously had claims for these conditions rejected are being contacted and invited to reapply. I remind honourable senators that veterans who suffer from cancer, regardless of whether the cancer was caused by war service, are entitled to have all their medical and hospital costs for cancer paid by the Repatriation Commission.

  Professor Robert Maclennan of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research has agreed to chair an independent expert medical committee to examine the report and advise the repatriation commission about other areas in the report which are relevant to Australian Vietnam veterans. The ex-service community is being consulted about the membership of this committee. I assure the Senate that the government will continue to monitor relevant research, both here and overseas, into the health of Vietnam veterans and any possible effects of exposure to herbicide or other chemicals.