21 February 2017

Congressman introduces Guam-inspired Agent Orange bill

Pacific Daily News

 by Jerick Sablan 
and Kyla P Mora 

(Photo: U.S. Congress)

A Florida congressman introduced a bill that would allow Vietnam War veterans who served in Guam and other areas easier access to federal benefits for Agent Orange exposure.

Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Florida, introduced the Fighting for Orange-Stricken Territories in Eastern Regions (FOSTER) Act, which would provide presumptive Agent Orange exposure status to Vietnam War-era veterans who served in specific areas, including Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa, and show symptoms of medical conditions currently associated with such exposure so they can receive U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs benefits.

The bill is named after a veteran, Leroy Foster, who served on Guam and who said he routinely sprayed Agent Orange here.

“Nearly every day, I speak to or hear about Vietnam veterans who say they were exposed to Agent Orange, but are unable to receive VA benefits for their diseases associated with this toxic herbicide because the Department of Defense does not acknowledge Agent Orange was used in the areas they claim to have been exposed. These brave men and women cannot be denied help any longer, which is why I introduced the FOSTER Act to help them qualify for VA benefits," Ross said in a release.

The DOD denies Agent Orange was ever used outside of Vietnam and Thailand during the Vietnam War, despite the influx of veterans coming forth with claims of exposure outside of these areas, including Guam, Ross said.

If veterans’ diseases or exposure locations fall outside of the current VA list, the veterans must show an actual connection between the disease and herbicide exposure during military service. There is no presumption in such cases, and many claims are denied.

The legislation would grant presumptive Agent Orange exposure status to U.S. service members who served in specific areas outside of Vietnam and Thailand during the Vietnam War and suffer from any of the diseases the U.S. government has linked to Agent Orange, Ross said.

The congressman has also asked the defense department for information on what specific chemicals were used during the Vietnam War.

The legislation was named after Master Sgt. Foster, of Lakeland, Florida, who said he sprayed Agent Orange in Guam while serving at Andersen Air Force Base during the Vietnam War. He said he has more than 30 diseases and multiple cancers due to his exposure to Agent Orange in Guam, but doesn't qualify for VA benefits under current law.

"I was shocked when I heard that they named it after me," Foster said Friday, in a phone interview. "I felt very honored for them to do that, but it's not about me," Foster said. "It’s about all the people who were affected who are living there on Guam, and all the veterans and their families. Every day I hear more and more stories coming out and it’s very very sad. I’m hoping help comes quickly to the people of Guam."

With this new bill and growing media attention, Foster said, he has "got hope back."

"My soul feels finally at peace that the truth is out and our government is accepting responsibility about what happened. All of the prayers have helped. Please ask the people of Guam to keep praying," Foster said. "This is not my doing, this is God’s doing. I know it’s all the prayers that have been said and are being said. It’s moving the hearts of the people in leadership."

Foster hopes that veterans and Guam families who were affected by Agent Orange will see financial and medical benefits as a result of the FOSTER Act.

"I will not let the DOD drag its feet on this or allow a ‘deny until they die’ attitude toward our courageous veterans. If there is a cover up, we are going to get to the bottom of it. I refuse to forget those who put our lives before their own, like Master Sgt. Leroy Foster of Lakeland who served in Guam during the Vietnam War," Ross said.

"It is downright heartbreaking and shocking to hear these veterans list off their myriad of ailments and life-threatening conditions, knowing our government isn't providing them any relief even after they selflessly put their lives on the line to serve and defend our nation. We must quickly provide them the help and services they deserve," Ross added.

UN lawyer and ex-Miss Jamaica says she was 'brutalized' by Dutch police after walking red light


Laguerre – aka “Chaka Shakira” on Facebook – said that at 9:30am on Tuesday, she was cycling to work and went to a spot where she felt unsafe due to “cars making right turns.”

“Therefore, to move myself to safety, I quickly walked my bicycle across the street to get out of the way.”

Things could have ended there, but then a police car made a U-turn and parked in front of her, with two policemen starting to speak in Dutch, which the woman does not understand.

Officers asked for her ID and told her she was under arrest.

“I asked them why I was under arrest, and I told them that I did not travel with my US or UK passports but showed them my ICJ badge ID and explained that I am a lawyer working at the International Court of Justice. I also had my Dutch identity card that was issued to me from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that gives me a status in this country,” Laguerre wrote, according to media reports.

That did not satisfy the officers, however, who allegedly pushed the woman against the car and started “aggressively pulling on and bending” her arms. There was also a struggle in the car, and Laguerre cried as they went to the police station.

“I am sharing my experience because I want people of color to know that we must continue to fight, not merely for our right to live as dignified human beings and our right to bodily integrity, but so our children can live in a society where they no longer have to feel hopeless and afraid. This is why I became a lawyer,” former Miss Jamaica-US Laguerre said.

Following her Facebook post, the Dutch Police were quick to respond, issuing a statement expressing concern over Laguerre’s “dangerous traffic behavior.” She was eventually charged with not showing her identity documents when requested to do so, and not for the original offense. A complaint will be filed to the International Court of Justice against the woman.

The statement goes on to say that any accusations of “brutalization” and “racist and violent police action” are “completely unfounded.”

According to the police, Laguerre was fined for not a having her ID with her. Every person in the Netherlands is required to carry their ID with them starting from the age of 14. After failing to produce her ID, Laguerre reportedly “wanted to run away,” the statement added.

Afterwards, the woman “repeatedly tries to escape from the officers’ grip by tearing away. She also tries to tackle one of the officers with her legs whilst shouting at bystanders.”

Finally, the officers managed to put one handcuff on the woman, and that’s how she was taken to the police station.

Police say that they have CCTV footage of the entire incident and that Laguerre was held for an hour and twenty minutes.