Ottawa widens eligibility to apply for payments

A New Brunswick widow who lost her husband to cancer six years ago is praising a decision by the federal government that will allow more people to qualify for Agent Orange payments.

FREDERICTON — A New Brunswick widow who lost her husband to cancer six years ago is praising a decision by the federal government that will allow more people to qualify for Agent Orange payments.

Bette Hudson, whose husband Ralph died of bone cancer after two decades in the military, said Wednesday that Ottawa finally got it right in loosening the rules on who can get a $20,000 ex gratia payout.

Veterans Affair Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn announced in Fredericton that the government is removing a controversial condition that required applicants to be alive on Feb. 6, 2006 — the date the federal Conservatives came to power.

“It makes me feel as if my husband is worthy,” she said at the announcement, moments after Blackburn outlined the changes.

“We were left out of this from the beginning. Now I feel as if he was worth something and I’m happy because we have fought a hard fight.”

Hudson, 72, is one of more than 100 spouses from CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick who had applied to receive the special tax-free payments, but were denied because they didn’t meet the criteria.

She and other women in the group Widows on the Warpath have lobbied the federal government to change the payment rules, which they have said are unfair, exclusionary and politically motivated.

Carol Brown Parker, co-president of Agent Orange Association of Canada Inc., also commended the government for removing the 2006 requirement.

“I believe that we are moving in the right direction in supporting our veterans and civilians who were exposed to Agent Orange and other toxic herbicides at CFB Base Gagetown,” she said in a statement. “But we also must continue to work together.”