Legislature’s Gagetown Commission highlights stories of service members and their families

Left to Right: Diane Ghering, wife of commission member Jim Ghering; Elaine Donovan, wife of commission member David Donovan; Jan McColm of Halifax; Dana Michaud of Presque Isle; Rep. Mark Babin, R-Fort Fairfield; President Jackson; Rep. Ron Russell, R-Verona Island; Don Page of Fort Fairfield; David Donovan of Fort Fairfield; and Jim Gehring of Bridgewater.

AUGUSTA — On Wednesday, Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, Rep. Ron Russell, D-Verona Island, and the Legislature’s Gagetown Harmful Chemical Study Commission convened for the first of four meetings. 

“More than anything, I want to ensure that the servicemembers who were exposed to harmful chemicals during their service at Gagetown have a chance to share their stories and make their voices heard,” said President Jackson. “I’m hopeful that these experiences and stories will spur action. It’s long overdue.”

Commission members highlighted the experiences of servicemembers following the exposure to harmful chemicals at Canadian military support base in Gagetown, New Brunswick.

“[My husband] first became ill with ischemic heart disease at age 63 and then lung cancer in 2016. He was 74 when he died. He had seven appeals to get his compensation, and it was on the seventh appeal, the day before he died, that he heard that he had been successful. With both the ischemic heart disease and lung cancer, he did a lot of research…extensive research that I’m told now by his last lawyer and advocate, that research is being used to help our veterans,” said Jan McColm, the widow of a Canadian servicemember who served at Gagetown. “So when I heard you on the radio, I wanted to reach out because I knew that there could be some information I have that can help others. I know that he would dearly love to help others…this is my opportunity to use what he did to help other people.”

“I served 12 years in Maine Army National Guard. I went to Camp Gagetown seven times and ended up with prostate cancer which was quite extensive. Shortly after that, a large melanoma patch on my back that possibly could have been from Gagetown so they had to cut a piece out have my back,” said David Donovan, Aroostook Vetersans Alliance. “I just hope that our endeavor will relieve some of the suffering. There’s a lot of widows out there; there’s a lot of fatherless children, grandchildren.”

“The frustrating part is that there was never an avenue for the veterans in Maine, especially the guard guys that were exposed in Gagetown to file a claim,” said Jim Gehring,  a service officer with the Arostook Veterans Alliance. “I was told in my younger days, that don’t bother, don’t bother, you’re going to be denied, don’t bother. But these guys are exposed to the same agent, orange, blue, white, yellow, whatever the tag was on the barrel, and they’re not receiving the benefits, if nothing less than medical care for this…and I am so happy that finally before I eventually retire from what I am doing that we can take on Gagetown and get something positive out of it.”

The Commission was established under a new law sponsored by President Jackson.


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