Veterans group files appeal to force VA to provide benefits for herbicide exposure

Drums of Agent Orange were marked with destination information and an orange band. (Source: National Archives and Records Administration. | GAO-19-24)
Lawsuit filed against the VA by The Military Veterans Advocacy (MVA) Board

A Louisiana-based veterans advocacy group has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs seeking to force the agency to provide health insurance coverage for veterans exposed to lethal herbicides while they served on Guam, American Samoa, and Johnston Atoll.

The Military Veterans Advocacy (MVA) Board filed the lawsuit on July 10th with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C.

The suit asks the appeals court for a review of a decision by the VA’s Undersecretary for Benefits Paul Lawrence who refused to issue rules to govern herbicide exposure in those U.S. territories.

The lawsuit can be found here.

MVA Board Chairman and Director of Litigation Commander John B. Wells (USN, Ret.) is quoted in a news release from the organization as saying that the suit was necessary to force the VA to comply with the realities of toxic exposure on the Central Pacific Islands.

“We have definitive proof of the presence of dioxin and other toxic chemicals on Guam 40 years after the last known use,” Wells said. “We also have affidavits, that we have provided the VA, from personnel who spayed the herbicide.”

The MVA news release cites a recent report prepared for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that analyzed soil samples from Guam taken in October of 2019.

2019 Agent Orange Soil Sample Report

Among the findings in that report:

“It is probable that TCDD dioxin congener concentrations detected in soils are associated with chlorinated herbicides.”

“Records of chlorinated herbicide use by the military on Guam (Navy, 1958) and veteran affidavits documenting the use of 2,4,5-T and 2,4,5-TP along with data collected from previous soil sampling events suggest the presence and use of chlorinated herbicides was likely. Finally, the herbicides in question were known to contain TCDD.”

That report can be found here.

“It is a shame that veterans have to fight for their benefits when the vast weight of the evidence indicates exposure,” said MVA Executive Director Col. Rob Maness, (USAF, Ret.), who also served on Guam. “The VA’s denial was simply irrational.”

Current MVA Director of Central Pacific Islands, Technical Sergeant Gary-Noy Garvin, (USAF, Ret.) also decried the VA action. “The evidence is clear,” Garvin said. “We were exposed to the chemicals on Guam while we were doing our duty. The VA has promised to take care of us, but has not.”

Wells, who along with Moyer have advocated in Congress and with the VA to provide coverage predicted that the court would be sympathetic to the veterans.

“Unfortunately, the VA has a well-deserved reputation of delaying and denying claims until the veteran dies,” Wells said. “Hopefully the court will force them to do their job.”