Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutionsby Senator Susan M. Collins
Posted on 2013-12-20
COLLINS (for herself and Mr. King):
S. 1892. A bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to
establish a registry of certain veterans who were stationed at or
underwent training at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, New Brunswick,
Canada, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, today I am introducing a bill addressing an issue important to Maine veterans who served at Canadian Forces Base, CFB, Gagetown. Veterans who served there may have suffered from adverse health impacts due to exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange, which was used at CFB Gagetown in 1966 and 1967. This bill would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, VA, to establish a registry of U.S. veterans who served or trained at CFB Gagetown between 1956 and 2006 and have subsequently experienced health issues, which may have resulted from exposure to these chemicals. It also directs the VA to commission an independent study investigating any possible linkage between the spraying of Agent Orange at CFB Gagetown and subsequent health problems among the American soldiers who served or trained there. The legislation I am offering with Senator King is similar to another bill that has been introduced by Congressman Mike Michaud in the House of Representatives.
Protecting the health of those who have served our Nation is a solemn responsibility. I have heard from veterans in Maine about how they have suffered from diabetes, cancers, and respiratory illnesses. Many of these veterans fear their illnesses are linked to the use of Agent Orange in the 1960s. These veterans, however, have had difficulty in persuading the VA that their health problems are related to this chemical exposure.
By requiring the VA to establish a registry of these veterans, we recognize these widespread concerns and provide veterans with a way to make their claims known to the VA and to identify commonalities among their shared experiences. It also provides the VA with the ability to reach out to veterans on this issue of critical importance.
Last month, I personally raised this issue with the Canadian Minister of Defence. Many Canadian veterans who served or trained at CFB Gagetown voiced similar concerns with their government. He described how the Government of Canada found a way to appropriately compensate service members affected by the toxic chemicals used at Gagetown. Ultimately, the Canadian government approved one-time ex gratia payments of $20,000 for qualifying veterans who demonstrated that they were at CFB Gagetown during the days when the toxic agents were sprayed.
A crucial provision in this legislation requires the VA to commission an independent study that investigates the connection between health problems and exposure to Agent Orange at CFB Gagetown. Previously, I requested that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry conduct an investigation into whether Maine veterans were exposed to toxic chemicals while training at CFB Gagetown. A significant deficiency with the CDC report, however, was that it relied solely on existing Canadian government studies on this subject rather than conducting interviews of those who trained there. Many Maine veterans feel strongly that they suffered negative consequences from exposure to Agent Orange while training at Gagetown. The United States Government should conduct its own independent study with interviews.
This legislation keeps faith with our veterans by demonstrating that our government takes the allegations of exposure to Agent Orange seriously. The bill will help identify and bring together the shared experience of those who trained at CFB Gagetown. This bill will make it easier for the VA to conduct outreach on this issue pending any new developments. I look forward to working with Senator King and all of my colleagues to pass this important bill.