12/16/2014 10:30 EST | Updated 02/15/2015 05:59 EST

NDP Seeks Inquiry Into Defoliant Use At CFB Gagetown

MONCTON, N.B. - The veterans affairs critic for the NDP is calling for an inquiry into defoliant spraying at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick and is encouraging anyone who was exposed to the chemicals to file a claim with the federal government.

Peter Stoffer didn't limit his appeal to members of the military who have been affected, saying Tuesday that civilians or their families should also step forward if they think they have a claim.

"If you believe you have a legitimate claim to make towards (the Department of Veterans Affairs) we're encouraging you now to get the forms and send them in," he told a news conference in Moncton with Basil McAllister, 83, who has been fighting for compensation for 10 years.

Stoffer used McAllister's case to encourage others to come forward.

"He wasn't asking for a Rolex watch or a trip to Florida," Stoffer said. "He was asking for basic dignity and basic compensation to help him and his family live through the ailments they are suffering from."

McAllister, who is from nearby Burton, has a list of health problems, which he attributes to exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange.

"I have prostate cancer and it has gone into my bones. I have Type 2 diabetes. I have skin cancer and I have a pacemaker to keep my heart going," he said.

Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino said in a statement that the federal Conservatives introduced a $20,000 ex-gratia payment that was paid to over 5,000 veterans and other Canadians for exposure to Agent Orange.

"Our government was the first and only government in Canadian history to recognize veterans and Canadians who waited for answers on their exposure to Agent Orange for so long under the previous Liberal government," Fantino wrote.

Agent Orange was part of a toxic herbicide that was sprayed at CFB Gagetown in 1966 and 1967 by the U.S. military, with permission from Canada. It's now known that exposure can lead to skin disorders, liver problems and certain types of cancers.

The federal government first announced the compensation program for soldiers in 2007 and extended the deadline twice.

McAllister received the $20,000 ex-gratia payment in 2007. He later discovered that some of his colleagues who were at the base with him were also getting other compensation so he applied, but was denied on numerous occasions.

"I served for 21 years and the biggest fight that I've had was with my own government," he said.

In October, the Federal Court ordered the Veterans Review and Appeal Board to look again at McAllister's case. Last month, the board approved compensation including five years' worth of retroactive compensation payments.

McAllister said he hasn't been told what the value of that compensation will be, but he encourages others to apply and to go to court if necessary.

"If you have to go to court, it's not a big thing. I represented myself twice and won both times," he said.

"Finally, in the end, it might be worth it."

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