AUGUSTA – On Monday, Legislation from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to establish the Gagetown Harmful Chemical Study Commission, cleared the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee along party lines.
LD 1597, “Resolve, to Establish the Gagetown Harmful Chemical Study Commission” would study the impacts of exposure to harmful chemicals on veterans and former National Guard members who served at the Canadian military support base in Gagetown, New Brunswick, Canada. The Commission would be composed of legislators, exposed former service members and family members, as well as veteran advocates.
“It’s critical that the voices of those who served, and in many cases were exposed to dangerous chemicals that have altered their health and lives, are given the chance to be heard and that their recommendations on how the state can support them are taken seriously,” said President Jackson. “They worked and trained hard in Gagetown to ensure the Maine National Guard was in the position to respond to whatever challenge landed on our nation’s shores. In the process, they were exposed to deadly chemicals in New Brunswick. I’m grateful for the Committee members who voted to support the service-members who stepped up to serve their state and country in the National Guard.”
President Jackson introduced the proposal after hearing from constituents and their loved ones about health concerns following their military service in Gagetown.
“Training in Gagetown, Canada was indeed a great idea, no doubt saving many dollars as opposed to the 3-day journey to Fort Drum, New York. But the true price tag was placed on the backs of those who worked, slept, and ate in a toxic agent orange environment,” said David A. Donavan, a retired National Guardsman from Fort Fairfield. “We in the Guard signed the papers, pledged to serve, protect and defend just as our full-service counterparts did. But when that toxic environment reared its ugly head – we had nowhere to turn but our own resources.”
The Maine National Guard has often relied on out-of-state facilities in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Brunswick to conduct larger training exercises. The use of harmful herbicides at the Gagetown Base is well-documented over the course of three decades but only became public in the 1980s. In 2007, the Canadian Government approved compensation for veterans and civilians affected by the exposure to Agent Orange in and around Gagetown between 1966 and 1967.
Former members of Maine’s National Guard who trained at the Gagetown Base during this period and were exposed to these harmful chemicals. However, due to the time and location of service, many exposed individuals cannot obtain “veteran” status and are ineligible for compensation for the health conditions caused by their service to the state and country.
Agent Orange refers to an herbicide that was primarily used by the U.S. Armed Forces in Vietnam. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes that the exposure to this chemical is linked with a number of serious health conditions, including but not limited to Bladder Cancer, Hodgkin’s Disease, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Prostate Cancer and Respiratory Cancers.
There have been several attempts by Maine’s federal delegation to correct this injustice but little progress has been made.
LD 1597 will now go before the full Legislature for initial votes.