Veterans sue VA to force benefits and coverage for herbicide exposure

8 On Your Side

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Tired of what they call second-class treatment, a veterans advocacy group is dragging the Department of Veterans Affairs back into federal court, suing to force coverage of herbicide exposure for veterans who served on Guam, American Samoa and Johnston Atoll.

“We think these guys were definitely exposed,” Military Veterans Advocacy Board Chairman and Director of Litigation Commander John Wells said. “We just finished reviewing a report to the Environmental Protection Agency which found dioxin in the soil on Guam and it said it was at least probable that that dioxin was caused by herbicide spraying.”

Last September, Marine Veteran Brian Moyer traveled to Guam to help gather soil samples in areas sprayed 40 years ago.

Brian Moyer believes soil samples tainted with dioxin are a smoking gun

“Everywhere that we went got positive detections for dioxin,” Moyer said.

Dioxins are highly toxic chemical compounds prevalent in herbicides used by the U.S. military. They are linked to several deadly diseases, including cancer.

“Spraying was rampant on Andersen Air Force Base,” Moyer explained.

Air Force Veteran Leroy Foster of Lakeland told 8 On Your Side three years ago that he sprayed the toxic defoliant Agent Orange all around military bases on Guam.

“He had every disease known to man,” Brian Moyer added. “I don’t know how many cancers he had.”

Navy Veteran Lonnie Kilpatrick of Pasco County relayed to 8 On Your Side the military sprayed defoliants around where he lived and worked.

Leroy Foster and Lonnie Kilpatrick both died from illnesses tied to herbicide exposure.

Bills introduced by Florida Congressmen and named after Foster and Kilpatrick following 8 On Your Side’s reports received support, but not enough to get out of committee for a vote.

The VA contends that commercial herbicides were used on Guam, not tactical herbicides such as Agent Orange. The VA argues those commercial herbicides posed no threat.

“That’s really a distinction without a difference because both the commercial and the tactical contain chemical components that generate the dioxin, which is the real killer in Agent Orange and all the herbicides,” attorney Wells argues.

Military Veterans Advocacy’s John Wells is suing the VA to force it to pay benefits to thousands of veterans.

In a June letter, Wells asked the VA to change its rules to presume that veterans who served on Guam, American Samoa and Johnston Atoll were exposed. Such a presumption would open the door for medical and disability benefits to those veterans who develop exposure-related illnesses.

The MVA filed suit when the VA did not respond.

“What the V.A. is basically doing is ignoring it, hoping it will go away. It’s the old VA saying – the unofficial saying – ‘delay, deny, until they die,'” Wells stated. “These folks were exposed in performance of their military duties and the VA should cover them.”

The lawsuit is filed with the same Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit in Washington that ruled Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans were exposed to herbicides through ships’ distillation systems and are also entitled to presumptive status.

Moyer calls Guam an environmental nightmare for the government.

“It’s a disaster. The government is afraid to accept responsibility for it because it’s going to cost an arm and a leg,” Moyer said.

If you know of something that you think should be investigated, call our 8 On Your Side Helpline at 1-800-338-0808 or email Steve Andrews at sandrews@wfla.com

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