William H.A. Willbond MSM, CD

GOVERNMENT ISSUE DIOXINS

Lest we forget these ancient vets;
Have we thanked these soldiers yet?
Dying from chemical defoliants
Test sprayed at Gagetown’s Army Camp

Dither and Yawner head of the DND
and all the mean folks at VAC
bully old, sick and dying men
who defended our country away back when

They appoint an Ombudsman to watch their backs
whilst fending off these veteran attacks.
They started an investigation to check this wrong.
Investigate… but for how long?
Until these vets – they are all gone?

Toronto SunToronto Sun Editorial: June 26, 2005

Helping our Agent Orange vets

Who, exactly, is in charge of the file to compensate hundreds of Canada’s military vets and their families for exposure to Agent Orange at the military base in Gagetown, N.B., in the 1960s?

Is it Defence Minister Bill Graham, who told the Sun’s Greg Weston last month: “We’re telling veterans, ‘Look, if you are concerned about this, for heaven’s sake get in touch with us and we’ll help put together a case.’ We do have to compensate the people were exposed – there is no question of that.”

Or is it the bureaucrats at Defence and Veterans Affairs?

Because in contrast to Graham’s statements, they seem to be doing all they can to downplay the impact of the experimental spraying program at Gagetown in the 1960s, conducted by the U.S. military. Worse, they seem to be doing little to help the growing number of vets and their families who, taking Graham at his word, have contacted the government for help.

Ironically, our government, after years of resisting the idea, has now accepted that exposure to Agent Orange – a defoliant used during the Vietnam War containing the now-banned chemical, dioxin – can lead to a wide variety of illnesses.

As Veterans Affairs agreed in settling a landmark case last year with retired brigadier general Gordon Sellar, who served at Gagetown in the 1960s and who retired as head of Canada’s land forces after a storied military career:

“The department is aware that Agent Orange was used as an herbicide for defoliation on the training grounds of CFB Gagetown.

“The department accepts the medical opinion (of Sellar’s doctors) and the results of published U.S. medical research that establishes a causative relationship between Agent Orange exposure and the development of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.”

Sellar, who died last year, won the maximum pension possible on the basis of this ruling, but Veterans Affairs then did nothing to publicize the decision or contact other Gagetown vets.

A Sun reader who applied for help for his parents on the basis of Graham’s urgings, told Weston he was shocked when the application form was sent to him with this stern warning: “If you have not returned the application package (within 30 days), or provided this office with a reasonable explanation for the delay, Veterans Affairs Canada will consider that no application has been made, and the application process will be discontinued.”

Remember, we are dealing here with sick, elderly men and women who are still being asked to prove not just that they were in Gagetown during the relevant period, but that they were exposed to Agent Orange and that this exposure made them sick.

Compare that to how this issue is dealt with in the U.S., where 10,000 war vets are in active treatment for diseases associated with Agent Orange and another 312,000 are being watched.

Even last week, both in Ottawa and in Gagetown where they were confronted by hundreds of angry residents, government bureaucrats continued to downplay the significance of the spraying of Agent Orange’s even more toxic cousin, Agent Purple, and other spray programs dating back to the 1950s.

It sounds to us as if what these bureaucrats are most worried about is people making false claims and the amount of compensation the government may eventually have to pay out.

Which is why it’s time for Graham (and the Prime Minister) to take control of this file and, while not being naive about awarding compensation, erring on the side of compassion and generosity.

Because these vets and their families deserve no less.