Veterans support aid for radiation, Agent Orange exposure
“The VA continues to claim that there was no Agent Orange in Guam. But there are consistent reports that show that cleanup measures were taken here because water sources here were even tainted.” – Robert Celestial
More than a dozen military veterans testified yesterday in favor of two resolutions that would add Guam veterans and civilians to a number of federal radiation and chemical exposure compensation proposals.
The Guam Legislature’s Committee on Culture and Justice held a public hearing for resolutions introduced by Vice Speaker Therese Terlaje that support Senate Bill 283, which would add veterans who participated in the cleanup of Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands to the Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act.
The measure funds the medical expenses of such veterans who suffer from cancers and other diseases connected to the exposure of radiation from nuclear testing.
Atomic Act advocate Robert Celestial, a military veteran, sat alongside Jose Garrido and three other Chamorro veterans who gave testimony at the hearing.
From 1977 to 1980, Celestial, along with other Pacific Islanders and other Army personnel, helped fill the Department of Defense’s Runit Dome with radiated debris.
"You know what our decontamination process was back then? They (higher-ups) told us to jump in the ocean to wash ourselves off – that was our decontamination process,” Celestial said recently.
Participants also provided testimony for a separate resolution supporting the inclusion of Guam civilians and veterans to H.R. 809, the Fighting for Orange-Stricken Territories in Eastern Regions Act.
Agent Orange is an herbicide used widely by the United States to kill vegetation during the Vietnam War.
Earlier this year, 68-year-old veteran Leroy Foster told national news publications that he sprayed Agent Orange in military facilities and defense properties in Guam.
Foster has said he suffers from 33 diseases, including five different cancers.
Former senatorial candidate Jose San Agustin said as a child, he lived near a pipeline near Andersen Air Force Base.
“It all makes sense, when I look back at my childhood, why there was never any vegetation anywhere near that pipeline,” San Agustin said. “They’ll say they only used it (Agent Orange) in Vietnam. But in fact it happened on our own frontline. And the people who lived along that pipeline were also affected.“
First-term Sen. Regine Biscoe Lee took a moment to compose herself while sharing that the issue of Agent Orange exposure is especially close to home for her.
Lee said her father is a Vietnam War veteran who continues to suffer from serious health issues.
Officials have consistently denied that the U.S. military used Agent Orange outside of Vietnam, Post files state.
“The VA continues to claim that there was no Agent Orange in Guam,” Celestial said. “But there are consistent reports that show that cleanup measures were taken here because water sources here were even tainted.”