TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A legal battle is looming between the VA and veterans advocates. The case impacts tens of thousands of veterans, including some in the Tampa Bay area.
Veterans who served on Guam during the Vietnam War contend exposure to herbicides containing deadly chemicals should qualify them for health care and disability benefits.
The VA argues they were not exposed. If the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t change its tune, Military Veterans Advocacy promises to sue the VA by mid-July.
The VA contends there is no proof.
“If you don’t want to pay benefits, fine, just don’t lie to us,” Foster told 8 On Your Side in 2017.
In a May letter to military veterans advocates, VA Undersecretary Paul Lawrence stated the government found, “no evidence of Agent Orange or other tactical herbicides on Guam.”
It denied a request by Military Veterans Advocacy attorney John Wells to consider extending a presumption of exposure to herbicides for veterans who served on Guam.
The U.S. military sprayed Agent Orange, a powerful herbicide, in Vietnam to eliminate the enemy’s cover. Exposure is linked to several deadly diseases, including cancers.
In his letter, Lawrence concedes trace elements of toxic chemical compounds were detected on Guam.
“During the 1960s, these chemicals were components of commercial herbicides that were commonly used on foreign and stateside military bases,” he said.
It is the VA’s contention that the Agent Orange Act, which extends disability and health care benefits to veterans exposed, only applies to tactical herbicides, not commercial.
“Whether it’s classified as a tactical herbicide or a commercial herbicide, if it contains dioxin, it’s still a harm,” John Well argues.
On his death bed, the VA finally confirmed Pasco Navy Veteran Lonnie Kilpatrick’s exposure on Guam. It granted health care and disability benefits. Weeks later, cancer claimed Lonnie.
“Look, these guys didn’t go out and ask to be sprayed. They were sprayed while performing military duties,” John Wells explained. “And I don’t think the ‘gee we’re opening up the flood gates’ argument really holds that much water. Because first of all, a lot of these folks are dead. and poor Lonnie Kilpatrick is an example of that.”
There are hundreds of lawsuits in which lawyers claim using a common household weed killer exposed people to deadly chemicals. John Wells contends what happened on Guam is no different. A federal court is likely to determine if that’s the case.
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