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July 5, 2013 @ 10:40 pm

Ep. 152 “Agent Orange in Guam, Part 2: Guam Veterans/Advocates Speak Out”

(hosted by Dr. Vivian Dames with production assistance of Joy White) airs 6/28/13.

This episode is the second in a series on Agent Orange (AO) exposure in Guam. In Part 1 of this series [Ep. 149 (5/31/13) program guests were retired and disabled US Air Force veterans MSgt. Leroy G. Foster and Sgt. Ralph A. Stanton who are key figures in the campaign to uncover the extent of damage done to veterans, their dependents, and civil service employees stationed at Anderson Air Force Base-Guam during the Vietnam War era,  as well local civilians who may be affected by the legacy of this toxic contamination. [see http://guamagentorange.info/personal_stories].

The national campaign for service connected disabilities claims for veterans due to AO exposure goes back several decades. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Veterans Affairs (VA) denied tens of thousands of claims related to disabilities and deaths attributed to AO exposure. However, beginning in 1990, the VA was forced to acknowledge that many types of cancer and other serious diseases are related to AO exposure. As a result of the Agent Orange Act of 1991, the VA is now required to provide presumptive service connection for a disease if the Institute of Medicine shows a positive association exists between AO and the disease. This list of AO related diseases, which includes many cancers and Type 2 Diabetes with a high incidence on Guam, grows as the Institute of Medicine continues to analyze scientific studies on the health effects of AO and issues bi-annual reports, expected through 2015.  As a result of these reports, hundreds of thousands of Vietnam War veterans and their survivors across the country have received billions of dollars in disability and death benefits.

Although retroactive payments may be made for all presumptions made before 2015, Guam advocates believe there are still many Vietnam era veterans and survivors eligible for these benefits who have never applied, applied but the review process was never completed, or applied but were denied and never appealed the decision. Unlike Vietnam War veterans and some veterans who served along the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ), claims for disability compensation for AO exposure by veterans stationed on Guam during the 1960s and 1970s are not presumed and must be proven on a case by case-by-case basis.

Program guests in Part 2 of this series are four Guam veterans who are also advocates in different capacities for the local veteran community, estimated to be between 8,000-14,000.  They discuss Agent Orange exposure in Guam as a compensatory justice issue for veterans and as an environmental justice issue for the local community.  They are:

Tony Guzman (tony.guzman@gvao.guam.gov) has served as a volunteer advocate for veterans since his retirement from the US Army in 1996.  Since 2009, he has been employed as a Veterans Service Representative with the Guam Veterans  Affairs Office (GVAO), Office of the Governor. The GVAO, established in 1970, is the principal state office responsible for the development and management of policies and programs related to veterans and their families. The GVAO acts as a liaison between the Governor and veterans organizations and also between veterans and the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

Benjamin Guerrero (Chamorro1947@hotmail.com) is a retired Major (USMC), Vietnam combat veteran and recipient of disability benefits related to Agent Orange exposure. He served as Director of the GVAO from 2001-2004.  After leaving this position, he founded the non-profit organization Veterans Helping Veterans located in the John Gerber compound in the village of Ordot and serves as the organization’s volunteer director and advocate.

Tom Devlin (mophtd@ite.net) is also a Vietnam combat veteran and Commander of Chapter 1315, Military Order of the Purple Heart.  He is the originator and producer (with Art Mesa)  of the K-57 weekly radio talk “Vet Talk” which has been on the air for seven years. His many guests on Vet Talk include US Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki who visited Guam in May 2011 in conjunction with the  opening of the new Veterans Clinic.  Shinseki has supported the addition of presumptive diseases related to AO exposure, based on the Institute of Medicine reports, regardless of the economic impacts of these presumptions or how common the disease might be.

Victor Rodgers (victor.rodgers@guamcc.edu) is the current program host for Vet Talk.  He served in the US Navy for 23 years and was stationed with his family at the US Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, from 1982-84.  Camp Lejeune was officially listed as a Superfund site in 1989 due to water contamination from 1953-1987.  Toxic chemicals reportedly leeched into ground water from a poorly maintained fuel depot and indiscriminate dumping on base, as well as from an off-base dry cleaner. Victims who later developed cancer and other ailments claim that USMC leaders concealed knowledge of the problem and did not act properly in trying to resolve it or to notify former base residents that their health might be at risk. In August 2012 President Obama signed a law to begin providing medical care for people who may have been affected by this toxic contamination.

Like the issue of Agent Orange exposure on Guam, claims for compensation have been hampered by the lack of official documentation by military authorities and testing and monitoring of toxicity levels.  Anderson Air Force Base is one of the Superfund sites in Guam designated under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) due to groundwater and soil toxic contamination, including dioxin, a primary component of Agent Orange.  This site is on the US Environmental Protection Agency National Priority List of the most hazardous sites across the US and its territories.

Music selection: “Agent Orange Song’ by Country Joe McDonald

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