RAR Nominal Roll
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
JP, Honorary Pension and Welfare Officer
VVAA Fed NSW Life Member
2nd of February 2006