TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Tens of thousands of military personnel supported the Vietnam War from Guam. And decades-old government reports confirm toxic herbicides are not the only trouble our veterans face.
“Many of these veterans who served at Guam are sick and ill and you owe it to them to find out what were they exposed to and help them,” veterans attorney Katrina Eagle said. “At Andersen Air Force Base it’s documented that TCE was there, PCE, Dioxin, 2,4-D, 2,4,5-T.”
From a wheelchair on his Lakeland lanai in 2017, a dying Leroy Foster shouldered the blame for spraying toxic herbicides around Andersen AFB, spreading contamination throughout the island.
“I was spraying the most deadliest substance on earth,” Foster explained.
According to Foster, he sprayed the toxic herbicide Agent Orange. The military sprayed millions of gallons of the powerful defoliant in Vietnam. It is linked to a variety of diseases, including cancers showing up in Vietnam-era veterans.
The Department of Defense denies using Agent Orange on Guam. A 2018 report from the General Accounting Office confirmed herbicides with similar toxic ingredients as Agent Orange were used there.
Veterans Leroy Foster and Brian Moyer, as well as veterans groups like Military Veterans Advocacy (MVA), asked the Department of Veterans Affairs to grant presumptive status to veterans who served on Guam. That means if veterans who served on the island develop any of the diseases associated with exposure to herbicide agents, the VA will presume those illnesses are connected to their military service.
That would have expanded the benefits to which veterans would be entitled, but the VA rejected that idea. MVA filed a lawsuit against the VA, hoping a federal judge orders the government to award presumptive status to Guam Veterans.
Government reports that 8 On Your Side sifted through also show veterans who served on Guam were likely exposed to more than herbicides – a lot more.
“None of us asked to be poisoned,” Marine Veteran Brian Moyer said.
Poisoned they may have been.
Andersen AFB is an Environmental Protection Agency-designated superfund site, loaded with contaminants.
“The EPA report itself, on just the list of contaminants, is six pages long,” attorney Katrina Eagle explained. “Six pages long of contaminants I can barely pronounce.”
According to a 1987 GAO report, on Andersen AFB alone, there are 38 abandoned hazardous waste sites.
The report states another 34 abandoned hazardous waste sites were located in Guam’s Navy complex.
The report also shows that in 1978, Andersen AFB officials discovered the base’s drinking water was contaminated with the cleaning solvent Trichloroethylene (TCE) at six times the EPA’S maximum contaminant level. TCE is a suspected carcinogen.
“Look at Leroy Foster,” Brian Moyer stated. “He had every disease known to man, I don’t know how many cancers he had and it was cancer that took his life.”
Meanwhile, legislation expanding VA benefits to Guam veterans sits in the U.S. House of Representatives, waiting for a senator to sponsor it.
The bill introduced by Florida Congressman Gus Bilirakis was prompted by 8 On Your Side reports profiling Leroy Foster’s story and that of Navy Veteran Lonnie Kilpatrick. Both were exposed to herbicides while stationed on Guam. Both staged lengthy battles with the VA for benefits tied to herbicide exposure and both died of cancer.
Eagle vows to keep fighting the VA for veterans to get the benefits they deserve.
“I’m not waiting for Congress to get it right, veterans don’t have that kind of time,” the attorney added. “We can’t give them their health back. The least we can do is give them some financial security.”
If you know of something that you think should be investigated, call our 8 On Your Side Helpline at 1-800-338-0808.
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