Agent Orange victims push for government action

Victims and activists unite to tell their story

Stephanie Kelly – The Aquinian

Community members, local activists and veterans assembled at the Hugh John Flemming Forestry Center on March 29 to hear stories from those affected by Agent Orange.

Agent Orange is a code name for a herbicide used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have died or suffer from disabilities because of its toxicity.

In the late 1960s, Agent Orange was used at CFB Gagetown. Since then, there’s been a drastic increase in illnesses in the Gagetown area, including type 2 diabetes, bronchitis, asthma and varying forms of cancer.

Social activist Art Connolly lost his brother, mother, and sister – and her unborn child – to diseases linked to chemical exposure.

Sandra Coleman suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and skin cancer. One of her children was born with a physical deformity, and her other child died at birth.

Coleman and Connolly want the government to compensate victims.

In 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued the Ex-Gratia Compensation Package. The package gives $20,000 to those who lived or worked within five kilometers of CFB Gagetown between 1966 and 1967, have been living as of Feb. 6 2006, and can prove they suffer from spina bifida, Hodgkin’s disease, or multiple myeloma.

“Those who are sick and have lost loved ones over there are being completely excluded from compensation, because of a few extra miles,” said Marilyn Kirchgessner, an Oromocto resident.

“[Stephen Harper] is telling us that the lives of our loved ones who died before Feb. 6, 2006 are worth nothing.”

Wayne Cardinal was a member of the Canadian reserves and armed forces at CFB Gagetown at the time Agent Orange was sprayed. He said he resents the government’s ignorance.

“Deep in my heart, I can never forgive [the government]. I will never stop fighting, I will never let it die,” Cardinal said.

David Coon of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick accused the Canadian government of ignoring citizens and justice.

“For people in government, you’re a problem they want to go away,” Coon said. “Victory will only be achieved by spreading awareness and pressuring politicians for justice.”

Bette Hudson, the founder of “Widows on a Warpath,” an organization of Canadian widows fighting for compensation, wants the government to own up.

“Stand up. Tell us you screwed up, admit you were wrong, do the right thing. Admit that the government of Canada did a disservice to the country’s servicemen,” Hudson said.

Former serviceman Don Teakles served at CFB Gagetown during the 1960s and 1980s. He suffers from Graves disease, COPD, and skin conditions.

“All I want the Canadian government to do … is take care of my health. All they want me to do is die and I’m not going to.”

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