AUGUSTA – On Friday, Governor Janet Mills signed into law legislation from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, creating the Gagetown Harmful Chemical Study Commission. The Commission is tasked with studying the impacts of exposure to harmful chemicals during National Guard service at the Gagetown Air Base in New Brunswick, Canada.
“I’m thrilled that this long overdue project can get underway to provide the transparency and support that those impacted deserve,” said President Jackson. “I look forward to working with former National Guard members, their families, and other members of the community who were impacted by chemical exposure at Gagetown to bring forth meaningful recommendations of action that can be taken to right the historic wrong.”
The Commission will include legislators, exposed former service members and family members, as well as veteran advocates. A report back to the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs is due in early 2024.
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. There have been several attempts by Maine’s federal delegation to correct this injustice but little progress has been made.
The idea for the Commission began when Pres. Jackson met constituents at their homes and heard about the challenges former service members and their families have faced as they’ve sought recognition for the sacrifices and harm done as a result of their service.
Appointments to the Commission will be announced in the coming weeks.