September 29, 2013 - 6:54pm By DAN ARSENAULT Staff Reporter
Her husband, a former Royal Canadian Navy member, has been dead for more than a year and Dawn Collins lost in her third attempt to secure compensation from Veterans Affairs Canada this summer.
"I think they owe Wayne something," the Beaver Bank native said in a recent interview.
"I have no money to legally fight it."
Wayne Collins, her husband of 47 years, was a stoker in the engine room of several ships during a five-year stint in the navy in the 1960s. He later went into the grocery business, managing a Halifax Superstore and then running the Foodland in Chester.
He got sick in 2001 and the couple believe that his multiple system atrophy, or MSA, arose from his time in the navy, when he used carbon tetrachloride as a degreasing agent.
Because of his illness, the couple had to give up their Foodland business and spent $30,000 on a stem-cell treatment in Germany in 2009. It provided him increased mobility for a year.
He eventually became confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak. In January 2012, pneumonia put him in hospital for months. He didn't have coverage for that $99-a-day stay in hospital, but Dawn said she could not care for him at home alone.
He was able to go home five weeks before his death at age 69 in July 2012.
"He was glad" to be home, she said, adding it meant he could be with his dog and other comforts.
She has paperwork from Veterans Affairs that offers to cover his expenses for that home care, but claims she hasn't received any of that money yet. She hasn't started paying for his hospital stay yet and doesn't want to.
She believes her husband is due compensation through a special pension because of how he became sick. Now that he's gone, she thinks she should have those pension benefits extended to her. She currently receives a pension of $160 a month because of the hearing loss he suffered while in the navy.
Collins said she is a low-income earner, working at a nearby Walmart.
"I'm angry because I think Wayne would still be alive if he didn't serve his country. I feel ripped off. Wayne got this disease and I honestly, in my heart, believe that it was from exposure to the chemicals."
She takes issue with Veterans Affairs' dismissal of her claim. In essence, they argue there is no record to show her husband was exposed to carbon tetrachloride and there is no evidence to prove that is what made him sick.
She said paperwork from the decommissioning of the ships claims that dangerous chemicals were found. Also, a recent court decision in England accepted that someone there had come down with MSA because of exposure to carbon tetrachloride. She also says that her friend's stepfather contacted MSA from carbon tetrachloride use.
And she argues that members of the Veterans Affairs appeals board didn't have medical experience.
Halifax lawyer Ray Wagner has been monitoring Collins' attempts to win compensation. He said Veterans Affairs provided counsel to the family free of charge.
He agrees that proving Wayne Collins was exposed to carbon tetrachloride and proving it led to MSA is very challenging.
In addition, it is difficult to get the federal government to work hard to find their own records, which would confirm carbon tetrachloride usage.
"The records, sometimes, are not available," he said. "Compassion is not the law."
Losing three Veterans Affairs appeals essentially ends that part of the legal battle and Wagner thinks a civil suit is unlikely because of the costs involved and the unlikely chance for success.
He thinks a civil suit would need experts, such as epidemiologists and toxicologists, and could cost up to $150,000.
The best plan would be to find other people who worked alongside Wayne Collins and can support the claim that he was around carbon tetrachloride. Another big help would be to find people who suffered from MSA because exposure to the chemical.
Wagner and Collins have been in touch with one former navy man who supports her claim that carbon tetrachloride was used on ships.
Now 74, Ron Laronde lives near Saint Andrews, N.B.
He was in the navy in the late '50s and worked as a stoker in an engine room. He contacted the Beaver Bank couple after seeing them on a television news show once.
Back in his navy days, he said one of his first duties in the morning was to grab a scrub bucket, pour out a half gallon of solvent, take some scrubbing brushes and go to work. He said he'd get the chemical all over his hands and breathed it in without a second thought.
He's sure it was carbon tetrachloride. "They had a big sign right over the barrels."
His health isn't very good, but he can't be sure if it has anything to do with his time in the navy. He went on to other seafaring work, much of which involved the use of chemicals.
"We had it in aerosol cans. We used to spray it for cleaning motors and things."
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