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Items filtered by date: June 2016 - AFOM - Australian Families of the Military Research Foundation

The material is being produced by Mullion Creek Productions and will be used for the VVEC and by the Department of Veteran Affairs for future Commemorative and educational purposes.

Firstly Graham Walker AO.

In the late 1970s evidence was coming from the US about troops’ exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam war and about what harm that exposure might be causing.

Worried Australian Vietnam veterans formed State Associations seeking answers as to whether their exposure to Agent Orange might cause cancer in themselves and birth defects in their children.

The three institutions that should have keenly embraced these concerns, the government, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the RSL, were dismissive.

  • The chemical 2,4,5-T (one of the constituents of Agent Orange) was used extensively in the wheat industry and the government feared veterans’ agitation might threaten this use (seemingly a greater fear then that Australia’s veterans and their children might have suffered harm).
  • The Department was in denial despite Repatriation law prescribing veterans claims be given ‘the benefit of the doubt’. Perhaps it was fear of the cost.
  • The RSL just went along with the government.

In 1980 the national Vietnam Veterans Association was formed, and under the leadership of Phil Thompson with support from National Research Officer Graham Walker and many others, it campaigned for recognition of the chemicals’ harmfulness.

That campaign included the successful fight for a Royal Commission. But even though the Royal Commission found that, under Repatriation law, exposure could be linked two categories of cancer and that the Department had been guilty of purposely avoiding the ‘benefit of doubt’ provisions of Repatriation law, the Department remained intransigent.

The Vietnam Veterans Federation, under the leadership of Tim McCombe then took the fight to the appeals tribunals (the Veterans Review Board and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal) and won case after case.

Even so, the Department remained intransigent till 1993, when the US Academy of Science findings made further resistance ridiculous.

The medical volume of the Official History of the Vietnam War was published in 1994. It too ignored the Royal Commission findings that under Repatriation law two categories of cancer could be attributed to exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. It also ignored a Royal Commission finding castigating the Department of Veterans Affairs for failing to obey Repatriation law.

Indeed, the Official History claimed the veterans had no case, were dishonest and motivated by greed. Yet nothing could have been further from the truth.

The Vietnam Veterans Federation since then has campaigned for a new history to be written telling the truth. This campaign has been more difficult because the Official Historian in charge of the Vietnam War series, Dr Peter Edwards and the Australian War Memorial’s chief historian, Mr Ashley Ekins, both strongly supported the original history.

Despite this rather sad and unfortunate support for the original flawed official history’s account, Tim McCombe and Graham Walker, in 2015, convinced the Australian War Memorial Council to commission a new history to re-examine the Agent Orange controversy.

Vietnam veterans are grateful to them.

Dr Peter Yule began this four-year task at the start of 2016.


Dr Gail MacDonell OAM


Dr MacDonell is the wife of a Vietnam veteran. Gail has three children, 9 grandchildren and two great grandchildren

Around 1997 Gail established and ran a support group, for partners of Veterans. Further to that, she decided to study psychology to gain insight into problems of families of veterans that she was encountering on a regular basis. Her PhD (Psychology) researched the psychosocial well- being of partners of Australian combat veterans. She believes that there is a significant interaction between the well- being of the partners/family and health outcomes for the Veterans.

Gail is a Founding member of the Partners of Veterans Association of Australia Inc. and is their first life member. She received an Order of Australia Medal in 2011 for her work with past and present Military families.  This work over 18 years has given her a great insight into the issues of not only past but current serving families.

The Australian Families of the Military Research Foundation (AFOM) has grown out of work accomplished by her over the past 18 years. She would like to see AFOM become the foremost organisation in Australia; researching the health and wellbeing of Military Families and assisting Military family members.  The name was changed last year into the Australian Families of the Military Research and Support Foundation because of the work Gail and the Foundation are doing within the Military/Veteran Community.

Gail is one that looks and finds the gaps in Services and sets out to fill those gaps. She sees the grass roots issues and has studied in depth all the research around that area as well, and uses that information to work with the families.

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