Graham Walker (Australian Army), Agent Orange
Graham Walker served as an infantry commander in Vietnam. After the war he fought for recognition of Agent Orange as a cause of cancers in veterans.
Graham Walker was a company commander in Vietnam.
"I'd been in an infantry battalion and we'd had a lot of people killed and wounded and so on. So, I was affected and it took me quite a long time to settle down."
In 1981, Graham met Phil Thompson, the president of the Vietnam Veterans' Association of Australia. The VVA was trying to gain recognition of the effects on veterans of a herbicide sprayed on the countryside in Vietnam. It was called Agent Orange.
"There were people in there at desks, and piles of paper and I said to Phil, 'Look Phil, I don't know anything about the Vietnam Veterans' Association and I know even less about Agent Orange, but what I can see is "" you need a filing system'. And so for the next three or four weeks I set up a filing system in the office and of course, setting up a filing system you have to read every document. And what I read really troubled me.
There were sixty-six million litres of herbicides sprayed over South Vietnam. And there was a significant portion of that over the Australian area of operations, Phuoc Tuy Province. What is not in doubt, is that every soldier had the potential for exposure. And under veterans' law, if you like, repatriation law, veterans are given the benefit of the doubt."
Graham and the VVA fought hard against bitter opposition to their claims. Finally, in 1983, a public inquiry in the form of a Royal Commission was established.
"The Royal Commission had identified that there were cancers that under veterans' law should be accepted for compensation. And so did the Appeals Tribunals. So the Appeals Tribunals and the Royal Commission seemed to be on one side and the department on the other. And then the U.S. Academy of Science put out its first mega study on the effects of Agent Orange and they came out with a list of cancers.
And that changed everything. Of course now there's a long list of cancers that are accepted for compensation. One of the reasons why the Vietnam Veterans' Association and other such organizations exist is because it's enormously stressful for somebody to put in a claim. And people are very easily put off. They say, 'I can't take it anymore.' You know, they're knocked back, 'Oh, OK, you know, I'll forget about it.'
I mean I've known several people who've committed suicide and known of a lot more. And what you're doing is desperately trying to get the system going so that such people are given hope, you know.
Vietnam veterans were seen as angry. We're probably no more angry than people from any other war, but we expressed it publicly, and didn't resile from harsh criticism of whoever we felt should be criticised and that included governments and bureaucrats and anybody."