Speaker supports change to VA rules to include Guam veterans exposed to Agent Orange

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Speaker Therese Terlaje (PNC file photo)

On April 22, 2021, an amicus brief was filed on behalf of Speaker Therese Terlaje in the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in support of the Military-Veterans Advocacy, Inc., who filed an appeal on July 28, 2020 after their petition for rulemaking was denied by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on May 12, 2020.

The appeal calls for the Court to require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recognize, through rulemaking, a presumption of exposure to Agent Orange for Guam and Johnston Island veterans in the Agent Orange Act of 1991.

This Act established a factual presumption of herbicide exposure for veterans’ claims arising from the use of toxic herbicides in Vietnam. Without the VA’s recognition of the presumption on Guam, veterans who suffer conditions such as certain types of cancer, Type II Diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, among others, routinely lose their benefits claims as a result of the government’s poor record-keeping and the inability for individuals to show conclusive and individual proof of exposure to toxic herbicides.

The United States deployed roughly 20 million gallons of herbicides between 1962-1971 to include 11 million gallons of Agent Orange. The appeal outlines testimonies from veterans stationed on Guam who recall the use of the herbicide, stating they experienced the smells and skin blistering that are often telltale signs of exposure. Veterans also recalled “preparing, mixing, and spraying Agent Orange along pipelines, flightlines, building perimeter, and security fences on the island.

Speaker Therese Terlaje stated, “Our veterans and community members have spent a lifetime seeking justice for their exposure to Agent Orange while on Guam and I am humbled to join them in this fight and all those who have petitioned the VA, Congress and the courts. I hope these efforts will help them receive the benefits they deserve.”

Speaker Therese Terlaje has spent many years advocating for veterans on Guam, passing three resolutions as one of her first major actions in her first term as senator. These resolutions address the environmental and health impacts of Agent Orange, radiation exposure and nuclear testing clean-up on veterans and the people of Guam. In her second term, Senator Terlaje also introduced Resolution 71-35 supporting H.R. 1713 the “Lonnie Kilpatrick Central Pacific Herbicide Relief Act.”

The Department of Defense continues to deny the existence of Agent Orange on Guam, despite signed affidavits from veterans and overwhelming testimony from veterans and residents. Speaker Terlaje has continually urged for more environmental testing to include locations cited via first-hand accounts from veterans in order to overcome DOD denial, to promote clean up, and to ensure health benefits for those exposed.

(Speaker Therese Terlaje Release)

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