By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Speaker Therese Terlaje this week introduced two resolutions expressing the 36th Guam Legislature's support for two U.S. House of Representatives bills that would recognize Guam’s Agent Orange exposure.
The first resolution, Resolution 199-36, backs H.R. 3967, titled "Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act of 2021."
H.R. 3967 advocates for the expansion of the toxic exposure definition of "covered veteran" to include those who were deployed on Guam on or after Oct. 30, 1980.
Despite service members’ sworn testimony on the use of Agent Orange in Guam and scientific studies identifying the toxic herbicide’s presence in Guam soil, the U.S. federal government continues to deny its use of Agent Orange outside of Vietnam and Thailand during the Vietnam War.
H.R. 3967, introduced by Congressman Mark Takano, has 59 co-sponsors, including Guam’s Delegate Michael F. Q. San Nicolas.
H.R. 3967 includes seven Titles whose main purposes are to improve health care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances.
The more notable amendments within H.R. 3967 include: a compensation clause for veterans who were part of the nuclear fallout clean-up of Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands; the recognition of Guam’s exposure to Agent Orange, which would provide health care and benefits for those veterans present on island from Jan. 9, 1962 to July 31, 1980; and definitions of ‘covered veterans’ and locations affected by toxic exposure due to the U.S. military’s use of burn pits.
Sen. Sabina Perez, chair of the Committee on Environment and co-sponsor of Resolution 199-36, recently held an informational hearing on the dangers of the U.S. military’s use of open-air burn pits.
Perez’s insight into this issue brought forth one of the resolution’s main purpose, which is to advocate for Guam’s inclusion within the definition of ‘covered veteran’ for exposure to toxic substances from burn pit use.
"Agent Orange, radiation exposure, burn pits—our veterans have been exposed to all of these, and know first-hand, the true costs of war,” Perez said. "This crucial legislation will finally establish disability and healthcare benefits for veterans who have suffered serious health impacts of exposure to toxic chemicals. We must do everything we can to ensure that our people are given fair and equal access to healthcare."
Specifically, the resolution’s amendment to the definition of ‘covered veteran’ says “a veteran who on or after Oct. 30, 1980, performed active military, naval, or air service while assigned to a duty station in Guam”.
The second resolution, Resolution 200-36, supports the passage of H.R. 3368, the “Lonnie Kilpatrick Central Pacific Herbicide Relief Act” introduced by Congressman Michael San Nicolas in the U.S. House of Representatives on May 20.
The bill seeks to correct injustice, clarify the eligibility of affected veterans, and expedite the processing of veteran claims of health conditions caused by Agent Orange exposure on Guam.”
The Lonnie Kilpatrick Central Pacific Relief Act has identical intentions as H.R. 3967 in that it will federally recognize Guam as an area affected by Agent Orange exposure. The 35th Guam Legislature unanimously passed Resolution 71-35 supporting an Act like H.R. 3368 that was also introduced by Delegate San Nicolas into the 116th Congress.
"Exposure to Agent Orange causes debilitating diseases that many in our community have had to endure," Terlaje said. "The passage of H.R. 3967 and H.R. 3368 and the recognition of Agent Orange exposure to our veterans in Guam will help them to receive the healthcare and benefits necessary to improve their quality of life and to finally attain justice,."