A Maine Army National Guard helicopter approaches the Gagetown military base in New Brunswick, Canada, on Oct. 20, 2001. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer, file

David Donovan noticed unexplained wildlife deaths while he was training with the National Guard at the Gagetown military base in New Brunswick, Canada, in the early 1970s.

“For no apparent reason, you would see these little animals die – birds, a fox even,” said Donovan, 75, of Fort Fairfield. “We just kind of wondered.”

Donovan was one of thousands who trained for two weeks at a time at the Canadian facility. Decades later, they learned that the Canadian and American governments used Agent Orange near the base in the 1960s to control foliage growth and prevent forest fires.

Despite living a healthy lifestyle and not smoking or drinking, Donovan contracted prostate cancer in 2017 and then skin cancer in 2019. While not able to prove that cancers were caused by exposure to Agent Orange, he strongly suspects they were, and he said dozens of his fellow National Guard soldiers also contracted cancer or a serious respiratory disease – about 30% of his 110-member battery.

Donovan recently served on the 10-member Gagetown Harmful Chemical Commission, which was formed by the Maine Legislature last year. It completed its report in January and presented it to a legislative committee this month.

The commission is requesting that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs allow National Guard members who served at Gagetown and were exposed to Agent Orange or other harmful chemicals to have access to Veterans Affairs medical care. Currently, National Guard members do not qualify.


Agent Orange was sprayed over seven days in 1966 and 1967 in Gagetown. The herbicide was also used in Vietnam to reduce tree foliage to make it easier to see Vietnamese troops. Agent Orange exposure has since been found to be linked to cancers and birth defects in the children of those who were exposed, among other health conditions.

The Canadian government and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have both said there is no proven link between exposure to the chemicals at Gagetown and National Guard members’ health problems.

But the report by Maine’s Gagetown commission said that while it may not be possible to prove a definitive link, exposure to harmful toxins can be a health hazard, so National Guard members should have access to VA health care. While Agent Orange was only sprayed in 1966 and 1967, many other toxic chemicals were used to control vegetation at Gagetown through the 1980s. The Maine National Guard still trains at the base, according to the commission’s report.

“The federal government is failing to support those members of the National Guard who, through their commitment to and willingness to serve their country, have been exposed to dangerous and harmful chemicals that have directly impacted their health, including directly leading to premature death,” the report said.

Current and former National Guard members have been trying for decades to get help.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has periodically worked to help the Guard members who trained at Gagetown.


“Sen. Collins has long supported legislation to ensure all veterans receive the health care they have earned in service to our country,” said Annie Clark, a Collins spokesperson.

Clark pointed to the 2022 PACT Act, which entitles veterans who were exposed to harmful chemicals while deployed access to VA health care and benefits even after they leave the military. But because it specifies people in the military who were deployed, it does not appear to apply to those who were exposed at training sites like Gagetown.

Maine Army National Guardsmen load a round into a Howitzer gun on Oct. 20, 2001, during training at the Gagetown military base in New Brunswick, Canada. The guardsmen belonged to the Alpha Battery of the 1st Battalion, 152nd Field Artillery. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer, file

Donovan said it’s time to help people who served the nation by being in the National Guard and were exposed at Gagetown. He said he trained there for two weeks every year and was in the Guard for 12 years, so he was exposed to chemicals many times.

“We are just asking to be treated the same as others who served the country,” Donovan said. “We are not looking for the sun, moon and stars. Enough is enough.”

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