Some veterans who served in Guam were exposed to Agent Orange, other toxins, advocates say

Abbie Bennett
May 11, 2020 - 4:36 pm

Photo Courtesy of USAF

Veterans who served in Guam from 1962 to 1975 were likely exposed to toxins including Agent Orange and should receive Department of Veterans Affairs benefits, according to a new report released this week. 

The white paper from the National Veterans Legal Services Program and Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School shows that those veterans satisfy the VA's legal standard for exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides. 

"The conclusion is based on an exhaustive review conducted over nearly two years of government, private, archival and oral history evidence of herbicide use in Guam during the Vietnam era," the groups said Monday in a news release accompanying the report. 

“This white paper confirms the reports of countless veterans who served in Guam but whose claims the VA has wrongly rejected,” said Bart Stichman, executive director of NVLSP. “It is time that the VA acknowledge the strong evidence of toxic herbicide exposure in Guam and care for veterans exposed.” 

At the height of bombing operations during Vietnam, more than three-quarters of all U.S. B-52 aircraft available for operations were based in Guam. The rapid buildup of U.S. airpower in Guam, along with climate conditions on the island, housing and water shortages and other challenges, prompted military leaders to work to prevent fires and control tropical growth using the herbicides. 

“Service members have said for years that they sprayed Agent Orange and other toxic herbicides all across Guam,” said Brian Moyer, a Marine veteran who served in Guam from 1974 to 1976 and leads the group Agent Orange Survivors of Guam, a section of Military Veterans Advocacy. “So many of us were exposed and, sadly, many have already passed away—with no recognition from the VA.” 

The report says that the evidence collected over two years establishes, at minimum, "as likely as not" veterans who served on the island during those years were exposed to Agent Orange and other toxic herbicides. Widespread exposure is supported by evidence including contamination tests by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Defense Department in the 1980s and 1990s, according to the report. 

As a result, those veterans should be presumptively entitled to disability benefits for any diseases VA has associated with exposure to those toxins. 

“Like many of the early veterans’ Agent Orange claims dismissed by the VA in the 1970s and 1980s, Guam veterans have been fighting for overdue recognition of their in-service disabilities,” said John Rowan, National President of Vietnam Veterans for America. “Guam veterans now have an overwhelming case that will require the VA to finally recognize these meritorious claims.” 

“Official government accounts of herbicide mishandling, improper hazardous waste disposal, and high concentrations of dioxin across Guam establish exposure pathways to support claims of service connection based on herbicide exposure,” said James Campbell, a law student in Yale’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic. “We hope that veterans advocates and lawmakers will build on this report to address unremediated health risks and military pollution in Guam.” 

Veterans exposed to Agent Orange are still waiting on VA to decide to add four additional diseases to the list of covered conditions, including bladder cancer, hypertension, Parkinson's-like symptoms and hypothyroidism. VA has delayed those decisions repeatedly. Senators earlier this year introduced a bill to force the issue, but that legislation has not come up in committee or received any votes so far. 

Read the report: 

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Need help with toxic exposure? Click here for a list of resources and information on VA and Defense Department registries.

Are you a veteran, family member or VA employee dealing with the coronavirus? Contact Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett. For secure communications, email abbierbennett@protonmail.com

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