Look beyond Agent Orange
with Ross Eastgate is a military historian, writer and journalist specialising in defence. A graduate of Duntroon and the Army Command and Staff College, he has served in the
Middle East, PNG and East Timor. Confrontation, has dominated veterans’ issues longer than any other group.
After World War II Australia maintained for the first time a regular, standing army.
With the exception of the period 1965- 72 when conscription by ballot was introduced, those who served have been volunteers.
More than a few Vietnam veterans served multiple tours there in varying environments, while many regular servicemen and women served in other conflicts as well as standard non- operational postings.
The ADF of that period was one where exposure to harmful substances was not given the close scrutiny nor protection it is today.
A classic case was the RAAF F- 111 deseal/ reseal program where unprotected maintenance personnel were exposed to a range of harmful chemicals including fuels, with alarming health consequences.
Indeed aviation grade kerosene ( AVTUR), particularly if it had been condemned for use in aircraft regularly found its way around the ADF as a cleaning solvent.
Weapon and vehicle parts and equipment such as teleprinters were routinely bathed in AVTUR as a degreasing and cleaning sol- vent, often handled by personnel without protective equipment and who would routinely remove serviceable uniforms to prevent them from being contaminated by either AVTUR or the substances it was intended to remove.
In malarial areas insecticides were regularly dispensed by fogging machines, where the insecticide was mixed with fuel in twostroke engines and effectively dispensed as the exhaust fumes of those engines.
These machines emitting clouds of enveloping white smoke were regularly driven at dawn and dusk through work and accommodation areas alike.
The decision to revisit the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam is both timely and welcome and hopefully the historical record will be corrected.
It is, however, dangerous if not foolish to ignore the combined if not accumulative effects of a range of chemical agents to which ADF personnel were routinely exposed for which there may be other adverse health outcomes.
Vietnam veterans deserve due recognition but so do thousands of other veterans whose health may have also been damaged by similar exposure.