Cancer-stricken soldier denied disability claim over exposure to depleted uranium
Published Tuesday, January 20, 2015 10:05PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 20, 2015 10:07PM EST
A cancer-stricken warrant officer who served with the Canadian military for nearly three decades is facing a long appeal process after Veterans Affairs denied his application for disability compensation.
Alain Vachon of Calgary spent 27 years in military service, which included deployments to Afghanistan, Kuwait, Bosnia and Kosovo, among other places. For the past two years, he has been battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of cancer that affects the lymphatic system.
Vachon believes his exposure to depleted uranium at Camp Doha in Kuwait caused his illness.
Although Canadians did not use depleted uranium, the American troops at the base did, Vachon said. There was an incident in which “their ammunition dump blew up,” he said in an interview with CTV Calgary.
After years of suffering from breathing problems, Vachon was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2013. He underwent seven months of chemotherapy and applied for disability compensation with Veterans Affairs, but was denied.
“We filed a disability claim because of the cancer and believing that the depleted uranium caused it,” said Vachon’s wife, Alex.
The couple has a letter from the military admitting that Vachon was exposed to depleted uranium, pesticides and other unknown substances. But the level of his exposure is not clear.
“We have our side that says yes, it could be a cause (of cancer) and their side says no – they don’t even say, ‘could be,’” Vachon said.
CTV Calgary reached out to Veterans Affairs to ask about Vachon’s case, but did not hear back.
The Vachons say they are even more frustrated because some other veterans have been able to file successful claims for exposure to dangerous substances, but the government does not seem to be recognizing that precedent.
In a 2013 report, Veterans Affairs said it reviewed numerous studies looking at depleted uranium exposure. The department acknowledged that depleted uranium is potentially dangerous, but concluded that it’s “unlikely that Canadian soldiers have been exposed to levels of depleted uranium which could be harmful to their health.”
Vachon’s appeal will be heard in February.
Dr. Aaron Goodarzi, a radiation biologist at the University of Calgary’s medical school, said depleted uranium is most dangerous when it’s ingested or inhaled, but there isn’t enough scientific data out there on the subject.
“I think with more cases and further experimentation, the conclusions that people draw become more and more consolidated and more and more believable,” he told CTV Calgary.
With a report from CTV Calgary’s Rylee Carlson