AUGUSTA – The Maine Senate unanimously approved legislation from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to establish the Gagetown Harmful Chemical Study Commission, in an initial vote on Tuesday.
LD 1597, “Resolve, to Establish the Gagetown Harmful Chemical Study Commission” that would study how exposure to harmful chemicals has affected the veterans and former National Guard members who served and participated in training activities at the Canadian military support base in Gagetown, New Brunswick.
“Maine has a responsibility to serve and protect the members of the Maine National Guard who have stepped up to serve and protect our state. This means making sure that those who were exposed to harmful chemicals during training exercises or service get the care and benefits they deserve,” said President Jackson. “I’ve heard from too many folks who served or had loved ones who served at Gagetown only to be left behind by their government to suffer the consequences of deadly chemical exposure. This bill is about getting answers and justice – long overdue justice.”
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 at the public hearing. “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 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 Gagetow 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, these 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 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 faces additional votes in both the House and the Senate.