Agent Orange victims offered federal help

Canadian soldiers exposed to Agent Orange at a New Brunswick military base during the 1960s will receive federal help.

Canadian soldiers who trained at a military base in New Brunswick during the 1960s are being asked to come forward if they believe their health was damaged by the chemical, Agent Orange.

The federal government allowed Americans to test the herbicide in the forests at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in 1966, during the Vietnam war.

The Canadian government said little at the time, denying the chemical was harmful at one point.

Veterans Affairs now acknowledges that the testing of Agent Orange at CFB Gagetown exposed Canadian soldiers to a health risk. Defence Minister Bill Graham said those who believe they were affected can apply for assistance.

"Anybody who could have been affected by Agent Orange, which at the time nobody understood or knew about, is clearly entitled to a pension," Graham said.

"They have to demonstrate that [they are] in accordance with Veterans Affairs rules ... and we'll facilitate that in any way we can."

In the past five years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has received 21 complaints from people who were involved with spraying Agent Orange, but only two have been granted pensions.

Most were rejected because the claimants couldn't prove a link between exposure to the chemical and their illness.

The dioxins found in Agent Orange have been associated with a higher risk for many illnesses, including leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, but Veterans Affairs says it's difficult to prove a link between the chemical and disease.

Wayne Cardinal, 62, who served at Gagetown in the 1960s, says he takes 14 medications for various conditions.

"You can see the foliage, you could see the dust on it, you could see the ribbons on it, you could see the leaves that had rotted off it," said Cardinal.

"All we were ever informed as young soldiers at that time, 'don't worry about it, it only kills the leaves, it won't harm you.'"

The American military used millions of gallons of Agent Orange to defoliate jungles during the Vietnam War and reveal hideouts of communist troops. Vietnam estimates roughly two million people were exposed to it, but American officials dispute that claim. It's still being blamed for birth defects in Vietnam.