Hidden victims of Vietnam
Perth woman Erica Ward. Picture: The West Australian/Lincoln Baker

West Australian children of soldiers who served in the Vietnam War are suffering a range of mysterious illnesses, sparking a call to provide them with more government help.

Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia WA president Richard Williams said he had compiled a dossier of four cases of veterans' children with health problems which he believed were related to their fathers' exposure to toxic chemicals during service in Vietnam.

He also believed the problems were now showing up in the grandchildren of Vietnam veterans.

One of the cases he says rings alarm bells is that of Perth woman Erica Ward, 30, who is battling a range of health conditions.

Mr Williams took Mrs Ward's case to the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the Returned and Services League.

RSL branches in WA, Victoria and NSW, along with the VVAAWA, clubbed together to donate $20,000 to enable Mrs Ward to receive treatment at a clinic in Bali.

"I have little doubt that exposure to toxic herbicides and pesticides in Vietnam is the contributing factor to these ongoing health problems with veterans and their families," Mr Williams said.

Mr Williams said Mrs Ward's family tree showed no evidence of significant health problems until her father Alan Bennett's Vietnam service.

Mr Bennett recalls he was sprayed with pesticides and has since had a range of health problems.

Mrs Ward's doctor has also raised suspicions about the Vietnam link.

The department said it could not comment on Mr Bennett or his children but it was "known that a variety of insecticides were employed by Australian forces in Vietnam".

Compensation and medical treatment for veterans was provided "where the condition is found to be causally related to service", the department said.

It said exposure to some insecticides, Agent Orange and related herbicides were all considered to be relevant factors.

The department said studies in 2000 had found a "higher than expected prevalence of certain conditions among children of Vietnam veterans".

As a result it had set up a support program that offered treatment-related benefits to children of Vietnam veterans who had been diagnosed with spina bifida manifesta, cleft lip, cleft palate, adrenal gland cancer or acute myeloid leukaemia.

Mrs Ward's problems, which relate mainly to painful and debilitating severe nerve damage, do not fall within the recognised conditions.

The department said the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service also had extended counselling.

Mr Williams said too many illnesses suffered by children of veterans did not fall within the range of medical conditions that qualified for support.

The department and Repatriation Medical Authority needed to "widen their horizons and start thinking and looking outside the square".

RSL WA President Graham Edwards said Mrs Ward had suffered "to an extraordinary degree".

"The RSL will always do its best to support veterans and their families," he said.

The West Australian

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