Maine Senate calls on VA to acknowledge exposure to harmful chemicals at Gagetown, provide care for affected National Guard members 

AUGUSTA – On Wednesday, the Maine Senate unanimously approved a Joint Resolution to petition the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to acknowledge and provide benefits to members of the Maine National Guard exposed to harmful chemicals at the Canadian military support base in Gagetown, New Brunswick. The Joint Resolution, sponsored by Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, is the first in a series of recommendations put forward by the Legislature’s Gagetown Harmful Chemical Study Commission.

“For too long the Mainers who were exposed to harmful chemicals at Gagetown haven’t received the care or validation they deserve. These individuals stepped up to serve our state and our country, and in doing so put their long-term health and well-being on the line,” said Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. “Now, it is time for the state and country to step up and repay their service by ensuring they get the care, recognition and support they deserve.”

President Jackson established the Commission through legislation following conversations with constituents who served in the Maine National Guard and trained at Gagetown. Many of the retired servicemen and women developed serious health conditions associated with the exposure to harmful chemicals, like Agent Orange. 

“This Joint Resolution represents action on the first recommendation of the Gagetown Harmful Chemical Study Commission Report,” said Sen. Hickman, Senate Chair of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. “The negative health effects of Agent Orange and the effects of similar harmful chemical exposure for veterans is well documented. Maine’s veterans deserve to know that we value their service to our nation, that we accept our solemn responsibility to always care for them, and that we see and understand their challenges and stand ready to author and support legislation that will make a difference for them now, and in the future.” 

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, 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 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.

The Resolution will now go to the House for a vote.

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