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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Australian War Veterans Compensation

Bill Glassick

Decorated Vietnam war veteran Colonel Bill Glassick (retired) has every reason to be angry at politicians who turn up at funerals every single time one of our diggers gets killed in Afghanistan. It was a very different story for our men who died in Vietnam and the hurt runs deep.

"One of the things that pains me is that our government of the day did not see it as fitting to return those killed in action to Australia. And now, when one unfortunate soldier comes back from Afghanistan, we find the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence turning up to every funeral.  If they had done that for us in Vietnam, they would have spent all their life attending funerals of the 526 who were killed. By the end of the war, almost 50,000 men had served and many acts of outstanding bravery were totally dismissed" he said.

On the 29th April 1965, Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced that Australia would send troops to South Vietnam.  As an ally of the United States, and having a keen interest in keeping Communism out of our own backyard, the government readily agreed to go to war, even though the general public were not so sure. We knew the British weren't going, so why should we?  But this conflict is on our doorstep and we remembered how America helped us out in the second world war, so it must be okay.

Harold Wilson

Lyndon Johnson put pressure on British PM Harold Wilson to at least make a token commitment to Vietnam but he refused.  On 28 June 1966 Wilson 'disassociated' his government from American bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong.  We can only wonder what Tony Blair would have done under the same circumstances.

In October 1966, President Lyndon B Johnson came to Sydney.  Prime Minister Harold Holt, Premier Bob Askin, LBJ and US Ambassador Ed Clark drove through the streets of the city.  As Johnson's car drove into Liverpool Street, several anti-Vietnam protesters threw themselves in front of the car.  Askin told a policeman to drag them off and as the car moved off, it's alleged he said to Johnson "What I should have said was run over the bastards" to which Johnson replied "A man after my own heart."  That day on the steps of the Town Hall, the now famous cry went up "All the way with LBJ" and was greeted with thunderous applause.

I shudder when I think about the lottery of pulling names out of a hat.  If the birth date of a 20 year old was drawn in a ballot, he was liable to do two years continuous full-time service in the regular army, followed by three years part-time service in the Army Reserve.

We came to realize later just how badly the government of the day and the general public treated those Vietnam vets who came home damaged but alive. Instead of being lauded as heroes, nobody gave a damn and they just disappeared into the ether and were totally forgotten.

The current war in Afghanistan is totally different.  No one was conscripted and those who signed on the dotted line made the decision to go.  But we can't send young men off to war and expect them to come home unaffected by the experience.  So what if they chose to go, it doesn't alter the government's responsibility to take proper care of them when and if they come home.

Figures released today by Veterans' Affairs show they approved 62 per cent of the 20,703 disability claims lodged by veterans last year.
Only half the claims lodged for alcohol dependence caused by war service were approved, 54 per cent of depressive disorders and for the most obvious war-caused ailment of them all, post-traumatic stress disorder, 75 per cent of claims were approved.

It's obvious to me that these three disorders go hand in hand with the threat of having your head blown off in combat.

I have no idea if Veterans' Affairs are doing the right thing by our service men and women, I only hope to God they are.  After doing their duty for their country, it's up to their country to do its duty to them.