Committee unanimously endorses bill championed by Jackson to implement Gagetown recommendations, reestablish harmful chemical study commission

AUGUSTA – On Wednesday, members of the Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs unanimously voted in favor of a bill to implement the recommendations from the Gagetown Harmful Chemical Studies Commission which was chaired by Senate President Jackson, D-Allagash, immediately following the public hearing. The bill – LD 2274, “An Act to Implement the Recommendations of the Gagetown Harmful Chemical Study Commission and to Reestablish the Gagetown Harmful Chemical Study Commission” – will now go before the full Legislature for additional votes in the coming weeks. 

“Earlier this year, I presented the findings from the Gagetown Harmful Chemical Study Commission. The evidence we gathered and the testimony we heard made it more than clear that Maine and Canadian servicemen stationed at the base were exposed to levels of carcinogenic chemicals that were not only harmful, but in too many cases ultimately deadly,” said President Jackson. “The State of Maine has a responsibility to those who served in the Maine National Guard and were exposed to harmful chemicals while serving or training at Gagetown. Implementing these recommendations and reestablishing the Commission is critical to continue this important work.”

The legislation would require the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services to establish a registry of individuals who trained at Base Gagetown in order to collect data that would be crucial to determining next steps for those affected, including whether or not the National Guard members would be eligible for State or Federal assistance. This bill would also reestablish the commission in order to allow them to continue their work, which was interrupted by the short timeframe for legislative studies during the interim. 

“The Gagetown Harmful Chemical Study Commission did yeoman’s work in a very short amount of time,” said Senator Hickman, D-Kennebec, Senate Chair of the VLA Committee. “Their recommendations have received unanimous approval in front of the VLA committee because we feel certain that our service men and women have been exposed to harm. We must do all that we can to ensure that those who have been exposed and harmed at the very least get the medical care that they deserve. In order to do right by them we need to make sure they and their families get the just compensation they deserve.”

The Commission was originally established through legislation put forward by President Jackson. He introduced the measure after hearing from constituents regarding health concerns experienced following military service at the Canadian military support base in Gagetown, New Brunswick, Canada.

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.

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.

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. 

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