TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Thousands of U.S. military personnel supported the Vietnam War effort from Guam.
Science shows that herbicides sprayed on Guam cause the same medical conditions that make veterans so sick.
Getting the Department of Veterans Affairs to approve a Guam veteran’s claim for benefits is no easy task, especially when the government is playing word games.
Joe McHale lived in Clearwater from 1995 to 2014. He watched 8 On Your Side stories online about the struggles Guam veterans faced in their struggles for VA benefits and wanted to share his.
It began in 1972, at a time when the United States stepped up its bombing campaign in North Vietnam. The Air Force sent Joe McHale to the Pacific Island.
Most of the B-52s involved in these bombings were based in Guam.
“Basically what I did, I went from place to place, I did interviews, on the radio, on television and in the newspapers of the people who were serving there to send back news from my hometown, ”recalls Joe McHale.
Filming his video and photos, Joe says he tends to lie down in the grass and pull up.
“I kept getting this oily stuff soaked in my uniform,” he told 8 On Your Side.
This oily substance was a herbicide mixed with fuel to kill vegetation.
“In 2006, I had lung cancer,” Joe said.
Lung cancer is one of the many illnesses associated with exposure to the herbicide known as Agent Orange. In 2006, Joe filed for disability and medical treatment with the VA, claiming exposure to Agent Orange caused his lung cancer.
From there, things got a bit tricky.
“I was told they never had it (Agent Orange) in Guam, they never stored it, they never used it,” Joe recalls.
The VA denied his request.
In 2015, doctors diagnosed Joe with Parkinson’s disease, another disease linked to Agent Orange. He filed another claim, which was also rejected. The VA told Joe that the military had never sprayed Agent Orange in Guam.
“The VA regulations don’t say Agent Orange, they say herbicidal agents,” explained Joe’s lawyer Katrina Eagle.
Eagle, who is a certified veterans advocate and only represents veterans and their families, accuses the VA of playing puns.
“A lot of veterans would file Agent Orange claims, and VA would say, ah-ha, you weren’t exposed to Agent Orange, we didn’t use Agent Orange in Guam,” she declared.
According to Eagle, a new twist on puns is that the VA is now denying the allegations, advising veterans that they have been exposed to commercial and non-tactical herbicides.
“Commercial versus tactical is a VA ploy primarily to prevent veterans from gaining their benefits,” Eagle said. “They are creating categories that are not in the law, they are not in the regulations and that is more than disrespectful to veterans at this point in their lives when they are battling cancer and serious health issues. “
However, a 2018 report from the Office of General Accounts states that “available documents show that the DOD (Department of Defense) stored and used commercial herbicides in Guam, possibly including those containing n-butyl, 2 , 4,5, T, during the 1960s. And the 1970s… ”
Eagle also unearthed the EPA and other official government reports listing pages of contaminants in soil and water in Guam, as well as medical experts who may link Joe’s illnesses to specific contaminants on those lists.
She presented all of this to the Veterans Appeal Board. In April, the VA quashed its denials, approving Joe McHale’s demands and granting him benefits.
“I had lung cancer, I had Parkinson’s disease, I’m at level four, so I’m at the final level. I don’t feel angry about it, I don’t feel like woe to me, because I did my job, I did what I was supposed to do, ”Joe said. “What hurt me was that when I needed help, I didn’t get it.”
“For Mr. McHale, I’m always grateful that we can get the call while he’s still with us,” Eagle explained. “So that he can enjoy what he has earned and so that he receives the satisfaction that the US government concedes that, yes, you are sick, and you are sick because of what you have done for our country. . “
If you are aware of anything that you think should be investigated, call our 8 On Your Side hotline at 1-800-338-0808. You can also contact Steve Andrews at [email protected]