Former Guam resident wins compensation for Agent Orange exposure
The fight is ongoing to get compensation to those exposed to Agent Orange on Guam. Today, one local man also exposed to the chemical during the Vietnam War is sharing how his long battle is finally over.
Putting on an Army uniform has become somewhat of a painful memory for Joey Cepeda. The retired GovGuam worker recalls his time in Korea between 1968 and 1970 during the Vietnam Conflict - the same time Agent Orange was being sprayed near the Korean DMZ. Cepeda told KUAM News, "The only thing that we noticed was the vegetation was down and it was kind of reddish."
It wasn't until decades later Cepeda says he learned about the negative effects from the chemical. - impacts that ultimately led to critical heart complications. He says he was forced to move to San Diego, California back in 2009 to get a heart transplant and for better healthcare.
"I didn't want to leave my home. I love my island and I want to go back home too, but unfortunately I can't because of the medications and there's no doctor that can help me," he stated. "And still they were refusing me saying, no, Agent Orange didn't cause my heart problems."
A battle others are all too familiar with, as many are fighting for their medical benefits after being exposed to Agent Orange on Guam, as well.
Earlier this month, Florida representative Dennis Ross introduced the Fighting for Orange Stricken Territories in Eastern Regions (FOSTER) Act. The measure, named after veteran Leroy Foster who confirmed he sprayed AO on Guam, would provide presumptive AO exposure status to Vietnam War-era veterans who served in our region so they get the benefits from the VA.
It's been referred to the subcommittee on disability assistance and memorial affairs pending a hearing.
Fortunately, Cepeda can officially exclude himself from that battle, as he said, "It took me 13 years. Some guys get it done right away and some don't."
This past November, he got a rather early Christmas gift: the call that he would be getting 100% of the VA benefits for being exposed to AO, plus 13 years backpay - from the time he filed his claim. "I was feeling so blessed. My wife and I we were ecstatic because to tell you the truth when I got my heart transplant, my medication was very expensive and I lost all of our savings. We were living from paycheck to paycheck on my GovGuam retirement," he recalled.
He, too, calls on local leaders to do more to help others still in the fight. Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo has discussed the issue with Department of Defense officials and is currently on a fact finding mission to handle it.
As for those still waiting for their benefits, Cepeda offers a stern message, noting, "All I can say is don't give up, but you do need someone, not just the VA, to help you."
Help he says to get everyone exposed to the chemical their long overdue compensation.