Gagetown Commission urges VA to support guardsmen harmed by chemical exposure, calls for additional environmental and health studies

The group of lawmakers, former servicemembers and stakeholders also recommended that the Legislature re-establish the study commission to continue this important work. 

Pres. Jackson (front left), Rep. Russell (front right) present recommendations from the Gagetown Harmful Chemical Study Commission to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee alongside commission members.

AUGUSTA – On Thursday, Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Rep. Ron Russell, D-Verona Island, presented the final report from the Gagetown Harmful Chemical Study Commission to the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. The Commission concluded that the federal government is failing to support members of the National Guard harmed by the exposure to chemicals at the Canadian military support base in Gagetown, New Brunswick. The Commission also released a series of recommendations to help members of the National Guard secure the necessary recognition and support for conditions or illnesses experienced as a result of chemical exposure during their service.

“If the federal government continues to drag its feet, the state must step up to prove what our retired National Guard members have been saying for decades and demand action. We’ve seen this play out before with the burn pits in Iraq, the water contamination at Camp Lejeune and Agent Orange in Vietnam. It takes a relentless group of people pushing for change until the evidence is irrefutable and those exposed to harmful chemicals receive the health care benefits they are owed,” said President Jackson. “I am so grateful for the retired members of the National Guard, their family members, stakeholders and experts who participated in this Commission process for sharing their stories, for speaking up for those who have been ignored and forgotten, and for their unwavering commitment to justice. It is an honor and a privilege to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with you.” 

“It was an incredible honor for me to serve on this commission. My best friend served in Vietnam, and I saw the tragic effects that can happen from exposure to chemicals like Agent Orange,” said Rep. Russell. “It was heartbreaking to learn that some of our dedicated Aroostook County guardsmen have suffered these same tragedies, unrecognized and with no support. I could not be prouder of the work the commission has done, and will continue to do, to get them the meaningful help that they’ve deserved for all these years. This is only the beginning for me. Our work will continue until we get relief for these well-deserving Mainers who sacrificed for all of us.”

The Commission’s final report includes the following recommendations:

·         To request that the United States Department of Veterans Affairs provide access to medical care and assistance to members of the National Guard who have trained at the Canadian military support base in Gagetown, New Brunswick, Canada and who have been diagnosed with a condition or illness associated with exposure to tactical herbicides or exposure to other dioxins.

·         The Veterans and Legal Affairs committee should invite individuals with relevant expertise to review and discuss the existing reports and underlying data that comprise the Canadian Forces Base Gagetown Herbicide Spray Program 1952-2004 Fact-Finders’ Report, as well as other related content, in order to evaluate the reports’ processes, methods, data and analysis and to determine what steps and resources would be required in order to either reanalyze the existing data or to conduct new studies.

·         The Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management, Bureau of Veterans’ Services should re-establish and expand the registry of individuals who served/serve in the Maine National Guard who have trained at the Canadian military support base in Gagetown, New Brunswick, Canada.

The Commission also recommends that the group be re-established to continue this important work. The final report is available here

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