The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has denied a rulemaking request from a Louisiana-based veterans advocacy group to cover veterans exposed to herbicides on Guam, American Samoa and Johnston Island.
According to Military Veterans Advocacy, Paul Lawrence, the undersecretary for benefits at the VA, claimed that the herbicides sprayed in central Pacific islands had been commercial rather than tactical herbicides.
"Lawrence's dismissal of herbicides as commercial rather than tactical is a distinction without a difference," said MVA Chairman and Director of Litigation John Wells. "The Government Accountability Office noted in a 2018 report that both commercial and tactical herbicides contain the chemicals 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, which combine to make the deadly dioxin 2,3,7,8-TCDD."
Tactical herbicides include the infamous Agent Orange and other "rainbow" herbicides. There has been concerted interest over many years on whether Agent Orange had been used on Guam. A 2018 GAO report did not find evidence that the deadly herbicide was offloaded on island, but the report does acknowledge, through various military records, that Agent Orange components 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T had been used on Guam in commercial herbicides.
Herbicide 2,4,5-T was banned in the 1980s due to its toxicity.
Wells submitted his remarks on the denial to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.
"It is not the label assigned ... but the chemical composition of the herbicide that wreaks havoc on the human body. Veterans exposed to that herbicide who have manifested a covered disease or disability should be covered," Wells wrote to Wilkie, according to the release from MVA.
'Cross-contamination ... would have been rampant'
Also according to the release, Lawrence acknowledged that leaking barrels of Agent Orange were stored on Johnston Island, but claimed coverage should be denied because civilian contractors rather than military personnel maintained the leaking drums.
"In his letter to Wilkie, Wells scoffed at this reasoning, noting that the island was only 241 hectacres, or less than 1 square mile of area. Wells wrote that 'civilians and military shared common areas including latrine and shower facilities, recreational facilities, a common laundry, dining hall, chapel, etc. In these close quarters, cross-contamination between civilian and military would have been rampant,'" the release stated.
He requested that Wilkie overrule Lawrence or face litigation.