25 October 2014

The good corporal Nathan Cirillo of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regiment reports for duty with his brothers at Canada's National War Memorial. Rest in Peace.

22 October 2014

VA Wants to Hide C&P Results Until After Claim Decision – BAD IDEA

Our View: restricting C&P info until after an award decision prevents vets from any input before it is too late to correct or challenge. This throws the vet into the BVA process, taking years to then make right whatever problems were in the C&P exam.

From the National Journal October 21, 2014:
Veterans Affairs officials want to change when veterans can view some of their medical records online, fearing that some could become violent if they see negative comments and think their disability claims will be denied.

Veterans must get a medical exam as part of the process for filing a disability claim for a service-related injury. Within days or weeks of the exam, veterans can see the doctor's forms or notes by using the "Blue Button" on My HealtheVet, the VA's website for health records.

A group of department officials said Monday that they fear some veterans could see the notes from the exam, assume from this partial picture that their claim is being denied, and take out their anger on local VA officials. They voiced their safety concerns Monday to members of the department's Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation at their meeting this week in Washington.

"He walks past the [compensation-and-pension] clinic, and he's very angry. Goes into the C-and-P clinic, and we have an incident of some kind," said Gerald Cross, the chief officer in the Veterans Health Administration's office of disability and medical assessment. "Some of our C-and-P clinics are quite small, … and it doesn't have much in the way of reasonable defense. We're very concerned about that."

Patricia Murray, the director of the VA's clinical program and administrative operations, said that to try to prevent any misunderstandings, the VA is removing the compensation-and-pension medical exam from a veteran's online health record until after a decision on his or her disability claim has been made.

19 October 2014

Salem, Oregon: Town hall seeks to explain effects of Agent Orange


Town hall seeks to explain effects of Agent Orange
(note: I participated in this event as a panalist)


reporter: Laura Fosmire, Statesman Journal 6:34 p.m. PDT October 18, 2014

For Tonya Lysne, the medical mysteries began piling up when she was diagnosed at the age of 21 with leukemia.

"I was told that it was very unlikely that someone your age and otherwise in perfect health would have this kind of leukemia," she explained to a small crowd during a town hall meeting on Saturday.

After a successful bone marrow transplant, Lysne said all was well for another 20 years. But then a tumor on the roof of her mouth led to a cancer diagnosis. And then more testing turned up five other kinds of cancer.

"They told me I had accumulated this very unusual group of cancers and very unusual forms of them," Lysne said.

According to her father, Gary Lysne, family histories going back four generations indicated nothing of the cancers plaguing Lysne.

But there was one thing: Gary, a Vietnam veteran, had been exposed to Agent Orange during his time in the service.

The Lysne family's example echoed several other heartbreaking stories, all focusing on Agent Orange, during Saturday's town hall meeting at Chemeketa Community College. The town hall was held by the Oregon State Council of the Vietnam Veterans of America, or VVA, in hopes of spreading the word about the lingering health impacts of exposure to Vietnam's chemical warfare.

Agent Orange is a highly toxic herbicide that was used by the U.S. Military during the Vietnam War, sprayed across crop fields and forests to destroy possible cover and food sources for enemy forces.

In the decades since the war, veterans have reported a host of medical diseases that have been linked to exposure to the chemical: Diabetes, heart disease, lymphoma, Parkinson's, Spina Bifida and dozens and dozens of various cancers.

But what may be less known, the VVA fear, is that the children and children's children of Vietnam veterans are now experiencing illnesses and defects of their own.

"The children of veterans are now experiencing many of the same types of maladies that veterans experienced," said Oregon State Council president Ron Morgan. "Birth defects are more common among Vietnam veterans who were exposed. Children have learning disabilities at a higher rate and are more susceptible to liver and kidney diseases."

Saturday's town hall hoped to spread that message and make more local veterans aware of the risks their children may be facing.

"We want to encourage the public to get their children registered on the Agent Orange registry and file disability claims with the Department of Veteran's Affairs regarding Agent Orange for the children," Morgan said. "It's a very important topic that we just need to get the public more aware of."

Additionally, Saturday's panelists explained, they hoped to pass key legislation in the U.S. Congress that would help promote research into the issue. The Toxic Exposure Research Act of 2014 would provide a national center for research on the health conditions for the children of veterans exposed to toxic substances like Agent Orange.

By veterans attending these town hall meetings, sharing their stories and hearing the tales of others, it could provide answers into previously mysterious medical issues.

Linda Mooney, who represents Oregon for the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America, had a husband who served as a sailor during the Vietnam war. But efforts to start a family proved extremely difficult for the couple. Mooney, who now has two children, said she suffered a total of ten miscarriages.

"I did not think it had anything to do, definitely not with Agent Orange, but not even with the
military," she said Saturday. "I thought it was something I had done."

But during a conference for Vietnam veterans in Nevada, she heard eerily similar stories from other women who had also suffered miscarriages. They realized that Agent Orange was something they all had in common.

"As all of us get together like this, the importance is in getting this information out there," she said.

Vietnam Veterans of America, Oregon State Council had a town hall meeting addressing birth defects and diseases to veterans children after they were exposed to Agent Orange during the war. Photo taken on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014, in Salem.
(Photos: ASHLEY SMITH / STATESMAN JOURNAL)

15 October 2014

NEW YORK TIMES: US Military Hid Iraqi Chem Weapons Info!

New York Times publishes dramatic front page story!
 ISIS capture of some chemical weapons "likely!"

US military officials, both in the field and back in CONUS, hid evidence of troops' exposures, denied medical care to troops exposed to nerve agents and mustard gas. US military medical facilities provided inadequate post-service care.

All was hidden from Congress as well as serving EOD experts needing this vital information for their own safety and mission accomplishment! A few troops ended up handling shells dripping mustard gas –without their chemwarfare gear on–  because information about aged Iraqi munition stocks was suppressed and the shells were rusted, pitted or otherwise unidentifiable.

At least one bunker of 1991-era chemical weapons may have been allowed to fall to ISIS, and smaller quantities are known to have been gathered up by them from burial sites and old armouries around the country. Such munitions have already been used as IEDs by ISIS as well as other insurgents.
http://www.nytimes.com/

The Secret Victims of Iraq’s Chemical Arms
By C.J. CHIVERS, The New York Times

"The Pentagon kept silent as munitions left over from Saddam Hussein’s war with Iran found new targets from 2004 to 2011: American and Iraqi troops."

12 October 2014

Children of Agent Orange Exposed Vets: Apply to VA


VETERANS’ CORNER: 
Children of vets exposed to Agent Orange, other chemicals should file VA claims
A weekly column that aims to provide information on trends, help and services available to America's military veterans.
Posted: Saturday, October 11, 2014 8:00 pm | Updated: 8:01 pm, Sat Oct 11, 2014.
By JIM VINES jim.helpingveterans@gmail.com

Everyone knows Agent Orange is bad, and exposed veterans know that it causes certain cancers and other diseases after exposure.

The Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes this, and for all of these cancers and diseases, disability compensation is practically (?)  automatic. These are called “presumptive” conditions that are presumed to be caused by the military purely because of time and date in service.

Veterans’ children have long been recognized to have birth defects and diseases resulting from their parents’ exposure to Agent Orange. Currently, the VA recognizes many such conditions in the children of women veterans, but the list for male veterans’ children is significantly shorter. It includes only spina bifida, with the exception of spina bifida occulta.

What a lot of veterans don’t know though, is that Agent Orange exposure has also caused numerous, serious birth defects in exposed male veterans’ children, besides spina bifida, according to Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance. The list includes Crohn’s disease, Lupus, thyroid disease, chronic kidney disease, missing limb parts, and webbed toes. According to COVVHA, the list is much larger than this.

The Agent Orange Act of 1991 went into effect for the purpose of researching the diseases and birth defects found in exposed veterans’ children, to find out what they were, and to add them to the list of VA covered conditions. The act began a review of conditions in 1994 and was originally scheduled to run until 2001, but later was extended until Oct. 1, 2014.

Every few years, more conditions are being added to the VA’s list. On Oct. 1, the last review will have taken place, so any conditions not included in this report will probably be left out of the VA’s list for good, unless more legislation comes into play. It is likely we will see this last report, which covers the data from 2012, 2013, and 2014, sometime in 2015.

If you are a child of an exposed veteran, COVVHA encourages you to file a claim with the VA so that your voices can start being heard. The instructions for doing so and a complete list of diseases and defects, are found at covvha.net/. You will need to provide years your father was in Vietnam and his Social Security number. If your father has passed away, and his death was linked to Agent Orange exposure, make sure you state that information.
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10 October 2014

Thanks Today Are Due VBA!

Thanks are extended to certain VBA executives for a kindness offered a deserving veteran of the 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. God Bless!
    Wes

VA Processes More than 1.3 Million Veterans’ Claims in FY14

Good Job, Veterans Benefits Administration and all Regional Offices!

VA PRESS RELEASE:

WASHINGTON – More than 1.3 million Veterans received decisions on their Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation and pension claims in fiscal year (FY) 2014 – the highest number in VA’s history, surpassing last year’s record-breaking production by more than 150,000 claims.

This second year of record-breaking production comes as VA continues to transform the way it provides benefits and services, to deliver faster and higher quality decisions, to Veterans, their families and survivors. At the end of the year, the disability claims backlog (defined as any disability claim pending longer than 125 days) was reduced by 60-percent from the peak backlog in March 2013 and is at its lowest number in nearly 4 years. Veterans waited, on average, 119 fewer days for a decision on their claim than Veterans did in FY 2013. VA is on target to hit its 2015 goal.

These improvements were not made at the expense of quality.  The accuracy of VA’s decisions continues to rise from an 83-percent accuracy level in 2011 to a 90-percent accuracy level today. When focusing specifically at the medical issue level, accuracy is at 96 percent.

“I am so proud of our employees – more than half of whom are Veterans themselves – who continue to work tirelessly to deliver the benefits our Veterans have earned through their service to our Nation,” said Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey.  “But we all also recognize there is still much more work to do to better serve Veterans.”

09 October 2014

University of Missouri Law School Seeks Help for Elmendorf AF Veteran

From his email:

I'm a law student with the veteran's clinic at the University of Missouri. I'm working on the case of a deceased Air Force veteran who refueled airplanes at Elmendorf AFB in Alaska, where he may have been exposed to Agent Orange residue on incoming UC-123 planes. Because of your work with C-123 veterans, I'm reaching out to learn whether you know of any C-123 veterans who flew the UC-123's, so that we could search their records in St. Louis and learn whether they refueled at Elmendorf AFB between 1965 to 1968. This information could help us prove a service-connection so that the veteran's widow can receive benefits.

Feel free to get in touch with questions.

Best,

Matthew Schacht
3L
University of Missouri​​
matthewschacht@gmail.com
423-742-1429

VA Fires Gulf War Advisory Committee Leadership

James Binns, former Gulf War Advisory Chair
Despite strenuous objections from Gulf War Advisory Committee members whose terms were continuing, VA Secretary Bob McDonald bowed to recommendations from VHA's Post Deployment Health to replace current chairman James Binns of Phoenix. Binns and his departing colleagues had sought reappointment to continue their investigation of Gulf War issues, which they feel VA has failed to address.

Binns and his committee have been thorns in the side of the Department of Veterans Affairs for years. Binns points to the Institute of Medicine study on Gulf War vets as strongly suggestive of Gulf War illnesses being some misunderstood combination of toxic threats, immunizations, smoke and genetics...but VA has fought tooth and nail to prevent any presumption of service connection for the illnesses GIs have developed.

Rick Weidman of Vietnam Veterans of America and leaders of the other major service organizations have gone straight to the top on this, and Congress has listened. Rick and his allies have asked that the President realize veterans have lost faith in the VA, and want the Gulf War Advisory Committee to report to Congress, rather than the VA. This may involve Constitutional issues, however, regarding the separation of powers.

To be clear: every voice that matters was behind Binns and his colleagues continuing in their service except Post Deployment Health, Veterans Heatlh Administration.

Recently, Under Secretary Allison Hickey drew criticism for her direct approach to the IOM committee to suggest rephrasing their reports' terminology. Usually, VA influence over the committee, which is decisive enough, extends to whether to fund a study in the first place, whether to cancel it (as was done with the failed 2012 promise for an IOM C-123 report,) how to phrase the assignment to the committee, and what documents to release to best "guide" the committee to VA's desired conclusion. Then finally, whether or not to impliment the IOM's suggestions.

Weidman's VVA, DAV, VFW, American Legion and the other veterans service organizations feel the problem calls for the Gulf War Advisory Committee to report to Congress from now on.

That's the only approach, given the staff agenda's in Post Deployment Health and their determination to prevent veterans' claims. Veterans grow curious as to what marching orders they've been given...or gave themselves.

We'll see how just how tightly controlled Secretary McDonald is by VHA in his selection of replacement Gulf War Committee members, and whether those members will represent science, or Post Deployment Health.

Veterans who've been well-served by Post Deployment Health's excellent War Illness and Injury Study Center (as has been this writer) point out that it is an exceptional service which VA should be proud of, and which veterans greatly appreciate. But the Post Deployment Health record on exposures and related disability claims is overwhelmingly disappointing and a disservice to the Nation.

Thanks to the Arizona Republic which has led the nation in coverage of the 2014 scandals, and which hasn't been afraid to offer suggestions as well. A serious contender for a Pulitzer, we hope.

VA Confirmed Non-Vietnam Agent Orange Exposure Coverage in "Haas" Decision

The US Court of Appeals spoke in 2006, forcing VA's reexamination of the earlier CAVC decision in Haas v. Peake, striking down Blue Water Navy claims but clarifying the issues for many different types of claims such as Brown Water Navy, BWN with VN docking histories, and also C-123 veterans.

VA expounded on Haas v. Nicholson in the Federal Register April 16 2008, Vol 73, No. 74, page 20589. Although Haas was readjudicated the following year, VA clarified its logic regarding non-Vietnam exposures, stating:
For the reasons explained above, we believe it is far more reasonable to interpret the presumption as limited to service on land than to service at some arbitrary distance from land.
We also note that a veteran who does not meet the requirements of § 3.307(a)(6)(iii) for application of the presumption of service connection based on service in Vietnam may establish direct service connection under § 3.307(a)(6) and § 3.309(e) based on herbicide exposure if the veteran can establish that he or she was actually exposed to herbicides in service. Section 3.307(a)(6)(iii) only defines when the presumption of exposure to herbicide agents will apply. Additionally, as part of its duty to assist, VA will assist a claimant in obtaining any relevant evidence related to a claim for exposure to herbicide agents.
The VA Acting Chief of Staff also detailed the exposure coverages for non-Vietnam veterans in his 2013 letter to Mr. John Walls of the Blue Water Navy.

Exposure is the key word, here and in every other Federal Register VA announcement touching on non-Vietnam Agent Orange claims. Exposure is the word and the toxicological event by which C-123 veterans qualify for presumptive service connection on the proof of the event.

Which is why in 2011 Veterans Health Administration/Post Deployment Health, acting "as part of its duty to assist," redefined exposure to prevent exposure claims. "Exposure = contamination field + bioavailability." Unique in the United States Government, and challenged by definitions set by the CDC, NIH and other authorities.

Which is also why VA Office of General Counsel in 2014 insisted VA had the right to redefine even fundamental scientific and toxicological terms contrary to their use by other government agencies, for the VA's own purpose...of preventing claims. Perhaps Counsel is unaware that the November 2013 proposed rule changes detailed in the Federal Register include the use of Merriam-Webster, Black's Law, Doward's and other standard references:
"We also propose to change the term‘‘accepted medical treatises’’ to ‘‘accepted medical literature’’throughout this section because ‘treatise’’ is a specific type of scholarly
literature, specifically ‘‘a systematic exposition or argument in writing including methodical discussion of the facts and principles involved and conclusions reached.’’ ‘‘Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary’’ 1258 (10th ed. 1998). ‘‘Accepted medical literature’’ is a broader class of literature, sufficiently authoritative and more accessible to claimants than are ‘‘treatises’’."

This wrong-headed, anti-veteran attitude must be challenged! I can't believe Secretary McDonald knows about this kind of hair-splitting to prevent qualified veterans' disability claims.
FYI:  Marriam-Webster's definition of exposure is: "the fact or experience of being affected by something or experiencing something. The act of being exposed. Medically:
1: the fact or condition of being exposed: as
a : the condition of being unprotected especially from severe weather <the hiker died of exposure after becoming lost in the snowstorm>
b : the condition of being subject to some detrimental effect or harmful condition <repeated exposure to bronchial irritants> <risk exposure to the flu> <benign skin discolorations caused by sun exposure
2: the act or an instance of exposing—see indecent exposure
By Sandra Basu, US Medicine, The Voice of Federal Medicine

WASHINGTON — A VA whistleblower told lawmakers last month that veterans’ cases waited hundreds of days for a final decision at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, even though some of them required nothing but a signature to be completed.

“Most of the cases involved decisions on appeals of waiting veterans that already had been prepared by board attorneys,” VA Board of Veterans’ Appeals (VBA) Senior Counsel Kelli Kordich told lawmakers in written testimony last month.

Lawmakers were flabbergasted by the delays, with Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) incredulous that someone might be waiting more than 600 days for his or her disability claims case to be resolved in the appeals process.

“I have to go home and look at one my colleagues who served in Vietnam … did that for our country and they are waiting for somebody to take … their pen and sign a chart?” Roe asked.

Kordich agreed that cases shouldn’t take “200 days or 606 days,” to complete, suggesting there was a leadership problem at the BVA.

Kordich made her accusations at a hearing held last month by the House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee, where Laura Eskenazi, VBA Executive in Charge/Vice Chairman of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, also testified.

VA Public Affairs – Easiest Job in the Department of Veterans Affairs?"

For the 54 folks staffing Washington DC's VA Public Affairs office, nothing could be easier, even during the 2014 Year of Scandals. Or as Queen Elizabeth put it in 1992 regarding her childrens' divorce troubles and her castle fire, Annus Horribilis.  A VA Annus Horribilis.

Still, just show up for work, write well, have a genuinely nice attitude and good attention to detail. And don't say much about anything worrying the public. or sharing with them the details needed for citizens to monitor and challenge their government's care of veterans.

We do see a better, more responsive attitude and outreach effort on the part of our regional and local public affairs representatives, especialy ours here in Cheyenne. But our problem is at the national level where VA has an information vacuum.  Public Affairs is determined to maintain that vacuum. Except for self-congratulatory press releases.

Job #1: protect the boss and protect the Department. Requirement to inform the public about the full conduct of government: Zero.

And pump out those very empty zero-content responses to nearly every inquiry from the national media, the legislative representatives and veterans themselves. Pick one, use several or use them all in a response...and they provide absolutely zero content. The reporter could have picked the line for the VA to use, fully expecting one of the vapid examples below.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee complained that such protective or non-responsive replies are “blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the executive branch of government,”

The Washington Examiner covered this no-value-added in March 2014, featuring the House Committee on Veterans Affairs "VA Honesty Project."

We've read them for years. Our eyes glaze over at their meaningless content-free blurbs:

• "We take these issues very seriously."

• "We want to ensure veterans receive all the benefits they're entitled to."

• "We will look into that and let you know."

• "We remain committed to quality veteran medical care."

• "VA is carefully reviewing the issue."

• "VA will continue to provide safe, effective, high-quality health care to the men and women we have the honor and privilege to serve every day."

• "No comment."

* Or simply, no response at all. Every senator or congressman has dozens of inquiries ignored by VA

From The Blaze: 
    “They tried to misdirect Congress and the American people away from the facts,” House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) told the Tampa Bay Times. “I think they got caught and now they are trying to modify their story…. The misdirection was, in fact, designed in Washington.”
    According to the Tampa Bay Times article, VA spokeswoman Gina Jackson said: “Is this really the most important question that you have that you want to address? Because it just seems to me it is a misunderstanding of the way the fact sheet is labeled. Am I missing something here?”
    But according to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, there are plenty more questions that need to be answered. According to its website, there are 117 outstanding requests for information from the VA – many predating even the revelations about the waiting list scandal. Of those, 66 information requests are since 2012."

VA to Continue Town Hall Events at VA Facilities Nationwide

Good move, VHA and VBA!

 Secretary BobAnnounces VA to Continue Town Hall Events at VA Facilities Nationwide
Posted on October 8, 2014 by Donnie La Curan in Veteran News

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald has directed all Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare and benefits facilities to continue to hold quarterly town-hall events to improve communication with, and hear directly from, Veterans nationwide. This follows the recent completion of town-halls at these facilities held between August and the end of September of this year.

“Every one of our medical centers and regional benefits offices held town hall meetings around the country in August and September, but we have more listening to do to better serve Veterans and their families,” said Secretary McDonald. “As part of our Road to Veterans Day, VA is taking a hard look at everything we do in order to reorganize the Department around the needs of Veterans. Direct feedback from Veterans, employees and stakeholders is an important component of that Roadmap, and key to improving our services and operations,” Secretary McDonald added.

Details of events at each location will be forthcoming from local facilities. Additionally, VA is looking to continue to improve the town hall notification process, making sure we have the benefit of extensive local input. In addition to Veterans and their families, the quarterly meetings are open to Congressional stakeholders, Veterans Service Organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations and other community partners.

08 October 2014

News Coverage of C-123 Issues – Just Published

This week saw two articles about our C-123 veterans' long journey towards VA recognition of our Agent Orange claims. The National Journal covered us on October 8 lending their great influcence in the DC area with the article repeated in other publications including Government Executive.

The second was an interview in Portland, Oregon, of Dr. Fred Berman. Berman co-authored the February Environmental Research article,  “Post­-Vietnam Military Herbicide Exposures in UC­123 Agent Orange Spray Aircraft.” I found this the most interesting, because the writer interviewing Dr. Berman "promoted" this major to an Air Force General.

Forgive me if I take a few days to savor this before offering a correction.

06 October 2014

President Promises "to move Heaven and Earth." VBA Ops Out.

The President's commitment on behalf of America to "move Heaven and Earth" should have been vetted first by Veterans Benefits Administration and Veterans Health Administration. His promise was made at the dedication of the monument to us.

With the greatest respect to the President, he should know that VBA and VHA both instead prefer tactics to hold claims decisions off, at least in the case of C-123 veterans' Agent Orange. With officials at all levels promising "case by case" evaluations while the Institute of Medicine study progresses, the fact remains that all claims are either denied, or postponed for decisions only after the IOM report is released. Someday.

"Heaven and Earth" apparently does not refer to our claims. Maybe our claims are VA anti-matter?

Apparently, the fewer C-123 veterans left alive once the dust settles, the less VA has to pay, the fewer for whom to provide medical care. And year by year, veteran by veteran, we're doing our bit to help out as fewer and fewer of us remain.

That IOM C-123 report was first officially promised by VA in 2012 by Dr. Wendi Dick of VHA's Post Deployment Health. The promise somehow disappeared without VA comment. It was renewed in 2014 only with legislative pressure and after peer-reviewed scientific articles appeared supporting C-123 veterans' arguments, as VA's stall to prevent any awards based on evolving scientific understanding.

Now, postponed another month, the IOM report is yet unpublished, and C-123 veterans are denied VA medical care for soft tissue sarcomas, ALS, prostate cancer, heart disease, lung cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

Waiting for an Air Force to Die? What about moving Heaven and Earth?

VETERANS AFFAIRS: "A Higher Calling"

Bob
On Oct. 14, the newly appointed Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald will engage the students, faculty, and staff at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing with a talk titled "Veterans Affairs: A Higher Calling."

Secretary McDonald will discuss the VA's noble mission to serve its clients, veterans, and their families. He will also share information about clinical, research, and leadership career opportunities for nurses and physicians at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

(Webmaster: WE NEED THE BEST! CHALLENGE THE VA WITH YOUR OWN SERVICE!)

The Problem in VA Contracts Also?

Iraq? What about the VA?

05 October 2014

IOM C-123 Report- Coming in October!!

It has been clarified...the C-123 report continues through the review process and will be posted separately from the basic project with which it was funded and orangized. All is well.

The IOM a couple weeks back posted the Agent Orange study described below, and noted that the ongoing C-123 report was to be included...with a report due in approximately two years. The confusing part was the earlier understanding that the report was due late September, delayed recently until late October. Now...no problem!

We also noted on the basic IOM C-123 report page it no longer mentions the October release date. The source code shows the promised date was removed a week or so ago with no date at all now.

Here's the basic project, with the C-123 to be spun out in its report this month!
Project Information 

Project Title: Review of the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides - Tenth Biennial Update PIN: IOM-BSP-13-02      
Major Unit: Institute of Medicine
Sub Unit: Board on the Health of Select Populations
RSO:  Paxton, Mary
Subject/Focus Area: Health and Medicine

Project Scope
An ad hoc committee will undertake an updated review and evaluation of the available scientific evidence regarding the statistical association between exposure to dioxin and other chemicals in the herbicides used in Vietnam and various adverse health outcomes.
This updated review would build upon the information developed in previous IOM studies and included in the following reports:  Veterans and Agent Orange (1994), Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 1996, Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 1998, Veterans and Agent Orange: Herbicide/Dioxin Exposure and Type 2 Diabetes, Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2000, Veterans and Agent Orange: Herbicide/Dioxin Exposure and Acute Myelogenous Leukemia in the Children of Vietnam Veterans, Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2002, Veterans and Agent Orange: Length of Presumptive Period for Association Between Exposure and Respiratory Cancer, Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2004, Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2006, Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2008, Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2010, and Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2012, but would focus on scientific studies and other information developed since the release of these reports.
Additionally, the US Department of Veterans Affairs has also asked the Update 2014 committee to determine what the probability would be (low or high) for long-term adverse health effects from Agent Orange in C-123 post-Vietnam crewmembers.

The project is sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs
The approximate start date for the project is 8/01/2014
A report will be issued at the end of the project in approximately 24 months  (for the entire report...the C-123 part issues in Oct 2014)

04 October 2014

VA Argues With Itself Over Agent Orange

Fact: Agent Orange (not all of it) contained a toxin called TCDD, a recognized human carcinogen.

Fact:  Different agencies within VA see it from opposite perspectives: one is from science (VHA) and the other from preventing veterans' claims (VBA)

Here are quotes from the two major VA agencies, VHA and VBA, and the Secretary himself:

-Veterans Health Administration: "TCDD is the most toxic of the dioxins, and is classified as a human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency"(1)

-Veterans Benefits Administration: "In summary, there is no conclusive evidence that TCDD exposure causes any adverse health effects."(2)

-Secretary Shinseki: "The Secretary remains committed to ensuring Vietnam-era Veterans receive benefits they have earned through their service.  This commitment includes determining presumptive service connection related to Agent Orange exposure when appropriate."(3) "TCC is the most toxic of dioxins. TCDD causes cell damage.  TCDD raises IHD rates.  TCDD damages arteries. "(4)

(1) VA web page "Facts About Herbicides"
ACTUAL CDC-Mandated C-123 Flight Suits. Confirmed by
Joint Services Records Research Center to VA May 2014.
(2) Mr T. Murphy, VA Director Compensation and Pension, "Advisory Opinion," denying a C-123 veteran's exposure claim. Mr. Murphy was modifying for VA's purposes the official finding by which the CDC/ATSDR actually concluded C-123 veterans have a 200-fold greater cancer risk, and that if the contamination on the airplanes had been known when they were in service (1972-1982) CDC would either order crews to wear full HAZMAT or ground the C-123s as a toxic hazard. ATSDR considers TCDD a toxic hazard and nothing in the report otherwise.  VA twisted everything! Mr. Murphy's rewrite, over his own signature of the CDC/ATSDR finding was read back and discussed with him face-to-face as well as in several letters and emails.
(3) VA Fact Sheet
(4) Senate Testimony by then-Secretary Shineski

Gosh...don't you wonder why Compensation and Pension skipped all but the Director's personal opinions and instead took the CDC/ATSDR finding that veterans were exposed and dismissed it, taking a official finding and clearly mistating its conclusions? And ignored the Secretary's "committed" approach?

This veteran considers the twisting of the ATSDR finding by Compensation and Pension to be a clear prevarication. On February 28 2013 it was brought to the attention of the Director of C&P who offered no correction then or since. It is still in the veteran's "C File," his Agent Orange claim denied.

It stands as another example of how the Secrretary's trust in the loyality and abilities of his staff was misplaced, leading to his resignation as scandal after scandal began unfolding.

"Merchants of Doubt" Confuse Public About Agent Orange & Other Poisons

Or at least, be confused!!
Tobacco, lead paint, Agent Orange, coal dust, DDT, patent medicines, acid rain. Other poisons. Or here, a poisonous airplane, the former Agent Orange spray plane, the C-123 Provider.

For years "Merchants of doubt" had many products to defend, and they've done well. Create some doubt, and extend a deadly product's life cycle, or delay product restrictions from legislators. Make that buck as long as possible, and minimize control over profit-making activities regardless of the harm to others

"Allegation.""Controversy.""Debate."

As the authors of "Merchants of Doubt" says, its the "troubling story of how a cadre of influential scientists have clouded public misunderstanding of scientific facts to advance a political and economic agenda."

Merchants of Doubt have as their clients, Merchants of Death, Disaster, Suffering. Agent orange redux.

The manufacturers and others who profit from unregulated deadly products fund hip-pocket scientists to confuse and delay the public's coming to understand the threat.

Anything to turn a buck. Or in the case of the VA, to keep from handing a buck to a veteran and having also to pay for his/her hospital care for Agent Orange illnesses. From 1921 to 1957, the tobacco industry gave others the perfect case history of how to drag out any issue and the VA's Veterans Health Administration has been an apt student of that history.

With tobacco, Readers Digest, which at the time didn't accept advertising, brought to America the first glimpses of truth about tobacco: Smokers didn't live as long, or as well, as non-smokers. No absolutes...only proof through statistics the odds were with non-smokers, rather than smokers. This simple fact, a conclusion already reached by researchers since 1920, was hidden from the public by the tobacco industry's powerful advertising lobby. Tobacco ads were the mainstay of many periodicals, as well as of the broadcast industry. Advertising contracts required magazines to submit articles involving tobacco to the advertisers, so nothing negative was allowed to reach print. Until 1952 when Readers Digest dropped a dime on the whole industry, with their article, "Cancer by the Carton."

Invisible Bullets: toxins, biohazards, dirty water and more!
With Agent Orange, it took Bill Kurtis of CBS News and VA employee Maude De Victor, with her 1977 simple observation that Vietnam veterans were more ill than non-Vietnam veterans, and were filing more disability claims, to bring to America what veterans had been claiming for many years...Agent Orange was making them sick.

 "Allegation." "Controversy." "Debate." That's what the tobacco industry called the deaths of their customers. Labeling statistical proofs of smoking deaths "a debate!" Now the VA and its apologists/partners in industry are doing the same with Agent Orange and other military exposure situations, following the playbook left by Big Tobacco.

"Allegation.""Controversy.""Debate." Repeated again, not by Big Tobacco but in the monographs Veterans Benefits Administration paid to have produced under a unique no-bid, sole-source two year, $600,000 consulting contract to help VA oppose post-Vietnam Agent Orange claims. VA actually opposed the very question they put to the IOM!

Since May 2014, the Institute of Medicine has been investigating C-123 veterans' Agent Orange exposure issues. But the efforts by Dow, Monsanto, the VA, USDA, Diamond Shamrock, Hercules and others have been overwhelming veterans' concerns for decades and the obstructions continue today. The current IOM received from the VA a report sponsored by Dow and Monsanto, arguing against C-123 veterans' exposure experience and illnesses.

Even though Congress, showing their loss of faith in the VA with passage of the 1991 Agent Orange Act, thought it settled the issue, VA continues to oppose veterans' Agent Orange exposure claims wherever it is not compelled by law to honor them....and sometimes, those, too! The Air Force was an early leader in defending Agent Orange against veterans' assertions of its dangers. The Air Force even loaned its Agent Orange experts to the Department of Veterans Affairs (back then it was the Veterans Affairs Administration) to help man its Agent Orange Desk and fight against claims. With the support of his staff, in 1982 the VA's director Bob Nimmo insisted Agent Orange illnesses were "no more than teenage acne." (note: list expanded to soft tissue sarcoma, ALA, prostate cancer, lung cancer and other life-threatening illnesses VA tried to hide for another decade.)

"Allegation.""Controversy.""Debate." Words dusted off, repeated frequently by VA. Up until the 1991 Agent Orange Act passed, VA fought hard against vets' exposure disability claims with only a handful permitted to sneak through for approval. After that, VA's efforts shifted to targeting non-Vietnam exposure situations to keep such claims denied.

Rather than argue the innocence of Agent Orange, the tactic shifted to "there's no Agent Orange there." In 2006, DOD commissioned a Battile subcontractor's study to list US Agent Orange testing and storage sites. The Air Force expert loaned to the VA back in the early 1980's himself selected which sites to list and which to ignore. VA then cited the DOD report as proof that no Agent Orange was ever at sites not listed, denying claims.*

In 2011, VA's continuing opposition of veterans' Agent Orange claims led to a new tactic. Not only could VA deny exposure claims by citing the absence of locations on the DOD list, it began saying even if Agent Orange was present, it somehow did not expose veterans. VA developed a new definition of exposure, "exposure = contamination field + bioavailability." Using that redefinition, despite the fact it is considered unscientific by other agencies, VA continues to deny C-123 exposures.

The IOM C-123 study had two public meetings, the first during which VA presented its carefully worded "charge," assigning the IOM to its task. The second was a series of presentations and panel discussions held June 16, 2014. The VA did not speak directly, although a consultant presented what he described as "the science behind the VA's conclusions" against the veterans' exposures...which were principally his own monographs prepared under that $600,000 contract.

"Allegation.""Controversy.""Debate." Those magic words appeared again at the IOM in word and in print. Not to defend tobacco or lead paint this time, but dismissing C-123 veterans' exposure concerns. These are words which have definitions as well as emotional content:
-Allegation: a claim or assertion that someone has done something illegal or wrong, typically one made without proof.
-Controversy: a prolonged public dispute, debate, or contention
-Debate: a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward

-BUT: the C-123 veterans' claims were substantiated with evidence from other federal agencies, universities, medical schools, VA physicians, expert toxicologists, peer-reviewed journals...there were proofs, so "allegation" is an inappropriate dismissal of the claims

-But: there is no remaining controversy. Decades of research have shown the toxin in Agent Orange, TCDD, to be a known human carcinogen. VA, the Congress and the Public have long accepted the fact that Agent Orange exposure is harmful, and no "controversy" remains, just fact and settled law.

-But: although there was civil discourse and open debate during the Institute of Medicine C-123 meetings, it actually can't be called "debate." Because the VA threw $600,000 into creating the consultant's monographs which carefully ignored contrary evidence, and not a penny into considering the veterans' arguments, VA outspent any balanced scientific "debate" which might have happened. VA carefully chose the words of its "charge" to constrict the IOM's finding, rather than address the only actual question of whether or not there was an exposure situation on the C-123s. Further, there remains no legitimate debate about Agent Orange because it is a settled issue in science and law. VA suggests otherwise to prevent claims, but calling its opposition to veterans' claims a debate is a mere deception.

* Despite frequent requests and ignoring substantial proofs, DOD has refused requests to amend the 2006 DOD list of Agent Orange cites, referring inquiries back to the VA – which refers inquiries to the DOD.


03 October 2014

DOD Agency Confirms C-123 Vets' Agent Orange Exposures

Development: Beginning May 2014, the Army's Joint Services Records Research Center (JSRRC) began submitting official confirmation of C-123 veterans' Agent Orange exposure evidence to the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is a big deal...this should be a game-changer.

That is, if the VBA will permit claims adjudicators to follow VA's own regulations per VA 21-1MR.

Up to now, JSRRC responded to VA inquiries about aircrew and maintenance veterans with an inconclusive, "no records found to substantiate veteran's exposure claim." VA's manual "has the force of law," according to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. JSRRC's military archivists in Fort Belvoir, Virginia research official documentation to help confirm or deny PTSD and exposure situations for all services except the US Marines...including C-123 post-Vietnam claims. JSRRC's empty response satisfied VBA's objective of preventing C-123 veterans' claims. The JSRRC answer, since May, has not been empty any longer...it is instead the final YES answer veterans were seeking!

Thus, because VA21-MR directs claims adjudicators to inquire with JSRRC to get an official thumbs-up or thumbs-down on Provider aircrews and maintainers, the recent JSRRC action means the final hurdle should have been resolved.

Problem: VA regional offices are postponing decisions on C-123 claims, for some reason waiting for the Institute of Medicine C-123 report to come out. We can only hope that repeated official promises, detailed earlier on this blog,  of "case by case" evaluations continuing are honored.

Action:  We think its time for Post Deployment Health to set aside that department's agenda and follow the law, VA 21-1MR, the US Constitution, and the many Federal Register statements that all veterans establishing proof of Agent Orange (herbicide, military herbicide, call it whatever) will have recognized Agent Orange illnesses cared for.

Let us into the hospital, please.


01 October 2014

VA: Still "A Lack of Integrity"


Should veterans have to "Check Six?"
Secretary Shinski said that ethical failures and a lack of personal integrity on the part of some of his juniors helped result in the scandals which plagued VA and ended his leadership of the Department of Veterans Affairs. This lack of integrity on the part of senior staff resulted in employee violations of many published standards of conduct.

The predictable result: financial loss, physical suffering and deaths of the affected veterans.

We don't know all the issues he faced which overwhelmed his stormy tour at VA's helm.We do know, however, that one stab in his back, and ours, was the poor staff work resulting in his error-laden response to Senator Richard Burr's (R, NC) April 2013 letter about C-123 veterans. The Secretary's June 7 answer which VA emails show was staffed for him by by VBA Agent Orange experts, contained clear violations of VA core values, VA Directive 0005, as well as VA Employee Handbook 5021/15 Rule Number Twelve:
"Intentional falsification, misstatement, or concealment of material fact; willfully forging or falsifying official Government documents; or refusal to cooperate in an  investigative proceeding."
Burr, the ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, had challenged VA's position opposing C-123 veterans' claims. He raised a series of questions regarding VA's universal denial of disability claims from C-123 aircrews. Secretary Shinski responded with a letter and "Point Paper" which, to be fair, were the results of staff failures in the preparation of the Secretary's letter, not General Shinseki's failure. Except trusting his juniors to properly and honestly staff VA's highly detailed, but deceptive, response to the United States Senate over his signature.

1. The dozens of errors are summarized in our analysis, but the June 2014 Institute of Medicine hearing brought clarity on yet another deception handed the Secretary for his signature back in June 2013. In his two page fact sheet attached to his letter, Secretary Shinseki mentions the "several scientists" who have "independently and without solicitation come forward" to argue against C-123 veterans' exposures.

-This turned out to be one VA consultant, and two scientists sponsored by Dow and Monsanto, and they were all paid. Three. Not "several." Paid. Not "without solicitation."

2. The Secretary also mentions "some scientists have argued against VHA."

-This turned out to be dozens of scientists and physicians, including the Director, National Toxicology Program/National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, the Director, CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and even a VA physician/cancer researcher. All were unpaid, other than the fact that the government employees were salaried. It would seem relevant to mention that other federal health agencies...all of them...disagreed with the VA. They've even traveled to VA to tell them, and CDC/ATSDR testified at the June IOM.

3. The Secretary mentions a scientist, whose input "sheds light on the issue."

-That scientist was under a $300,000 per year VBA no-bid sole-source consulting contract for writing monographs opposing C-123 veterans' exposure claims, from Sept 2012-Sept 2014.
-Previously, in a 2011 communication the contractor denigrated C-123 veterans as "trash-haulers, freeloaders looking for a tax-free dollar from a sympathetic congressman. I have no respect."
-In 2009, the consultant personally recommended to the USAF that all stored C-123s be destroyed as toxic waste, due to concern about exposed veterans' claims and visibility of the toxic aircraft issue.
-Decades of articles by the consultant reflect his own unyielding argument (not VA's) that few, if any, Vietnam veterans were ever actually exposed to Agent Orange during the war. His reports on C-123 were consistent with his historical perspective, and are not in accord with contemporary research.
-Some in VHA Post Deployment Health build on his unique view about exposure requiring proof of bioavailability (even decades after the exposure) to be considered exposure, for constructing barriers to Agent Orange exposure claims and skirt laws and VA 21-1MR. This VA-unique redefinition of exposure to prevent exposure claims has been challenged by toxicologists, medical schools, and other federal agencies. "Ludicrous" was one expert's observation. By it, most veterans' exposure situations can be defined away this VA linguistic trick. This would affect virtually all military exposure situations (such as dirty water, immunizations, toxins, biohazards, infestation, etc.) for which the issue is not identified and protected by legislation, as in the case of the 1991 Agent Orange Act.
-This is why VA has redefined "exposure," in a manner contrary to science, and contrary to its own standard reference, Doward's Medical Illustrated Dictionary.  Other government agencies use the CDC definition of exposure, not that created by VA for its claims denials.
-VA's redefinition of "exposure" would have the poor Dallas Ebola patient "unexposed" because the unfortunate gentleman presented with symptoms in the Dallas hospital at which point tests could have revealed the virus...but that hospital failed to meet its responsibilities. The gentleman, terribly ill and exhibiting symptoms, was released to home still not meeting VA's redefinition of exposure because tests hadn't been performed. 
-VA actually redefined the Ebola victim as "unexposed" from the moment he helped move Ebola patients in Liberia, then reached the Dallas hospital and was ill with the possibility of having endangered others.  VA would consider none of the Dallas residents he was in contact with to be exposed...until they become ill and testing proved their Ebola. CDC, EPA, WHO, Fox News, CNN, US Public Health Service and our church's Cub Scout pack all would consider him to have been exposed from the moment he assisted friends to the hospital in Liberia, but not the VA...not if they apply their special anti-veteran C-123 exposure definition. Only once he's ill, and can prove to the VA when and where and how he was biologically harmed, would the VA define that he'd been exposed. To the rest of the scientific and medical world, he was truly exposed once he'd had contact with another Ebola victim.
–Our point: VA's special and unique redefinition of exposure is scientifically and medically inadequate and inaccurate, and created solely to target post-Vietnam Agent Orange exposed veterans. Until our exposure claims were submitted to Veterans Benefits Administration in 2011, no special definition of exposure by VHA and VA's Office of General Counsel was necessary – to block our claims, now it is. 
(Could VBA and VHA explain to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, or the Federal Circuit, or the Supreme Court, just how creating a unique VHA definition for exposure was "veteran-friendly?")

4. The Secretary described C-123 testing which showed some aircraft contaminated and some not.

-Other USAF tests, including the one where seventeen of seventeen were tested positive for dioxin contamination, were not pointedly not mentioned, and failure to do so was a clear prevarication.For some reason, the Secretary's letter did not repeat the CDC recommendation that if the C-123s were flown today, they'd require full HAZMAT protection for the aircrew, or ground the planes as unsafe for flight.
-In 2009, the VA consultant himself repeatedly recommended the immediate destruction of the toxic aircraft with no further testing, and was cited by USAF as the OSD authority.

Conclusions:

1. Unless General Shinseki somehow outlined this letter without staff input and inserted the falsehoods himself, his VA staff failed the Secretary, themselves, and C-123 veterans, with this stark example of personal and professional disloyalty

2. VA staff will need to reflect on their honor and duty under the Constitution, as well as loyalty to the new Secretary, or he had better double-check each and every fact on each and every letter handed him for signature.  Especially, if that letter is headed for a veteran's Congressional representative, and especially if VBA helped draft it.

3. The letter of June 7 2013 was faulty, disserved the VA and veterans, deceived the Senate and included apparent prevarications which require correction. The extra emphasis given the Secretary's "Fact Sheet" are left to guide VAROs, BVA, VSOs and claims adjudicators with inaccurate information.

4. What has happened to VA's National Center for Ethics in Health Care and the others who should have spoken up?

Mississippi State Univ Offers All Vets On-Campus Medical Services – Unique Program!

Well-done, VHA. Good idea!

STARKVILLE, Miss.--Mississippi State University will be the first higher learning institution in the nation to partner with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide timely, specialized health benefits to veterans.
Polytrauma services--occupational, speech and physical therapies, as well as mental health services--will be available on the university's Starkville campus, whether veterans are students or local residents.
"It's a true partnership between the university and the VA Medical Center (in Jackson)," said psychologist Patricia Grigoryev, who led the VA's development of the collaborative model. "We're helping to provide specific polytrauma services for veterans so that veterans don't have to travel as far or leave campus for services."
The first local veteran to participate in the program visited campus Tuesday [Sept. 30] to receive physical therapy treatment.
"It's much closer; Jackson is quite a distance to travel," said Columbus resident Carla Bush, former U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class. "I think this will be better for me to be able to drive to Starkville instead of Jackson. I'm glad they are going to try to help me here."
MSU President Mark E. Keenum said the partnership continues the university's longstanding tradition of veteran support.

Florida Vets Caught Fudging Travel Vouchers – Indicted for Fraud

Seven Florida Vets Indicted For Fraudulently Requesting Travel Reimbursement Expenses From Department Of Veterans Affairs

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Monty Stokes, Special Agent in Charge, United States Department of Veteran Affairs, Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG), announce the indictment of seven defendants for making false statements in connection with fraudulent requests for travel reimbursements, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001(a)(2). Dennis L. Bradley, 52, of South Bay, Lee Dixon, 55, of Boca Raton, Terrence M. Fanning, 53, of Delray Beach, Harry J. Kapton, 70, of Greenacres, Kenneth Leggett, 55, of Palm Beach Gardens, Robert Moorer, Jr., 58, of West Palm Beach, and Randi D. Seltman, 45, of Riviera Beach, were arrested. All have been released on bond pending further court proceedings.

According to affidavits filed earlier this month in support of criminal complaints, the defendants submitted travel vouchers falsely claiming entitlement to reimbursement for expenses much greater than they incurred. Combined, the defendants received approximately $148,813 in VA travel reimbursement funds.

If convicted, each defendant faces a statutory maximum penalty of up to five years in prison, to be followed by up to a three-year term of supervised release, in addition to payment of restitution.

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the VA-OIG. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandy Galler.

An indictment is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Don't do this!

Stalled South Florida Veterans Claims to Receive Free Legal Help

Good job, VBA! Creative! Effective!

South Florida veterans whose disability claims have been lingering for at least four months will be getting a special offer from the Department of Veterans Affairs: a free attorney.

The regional VA office in St. Petersburg is one of two claims centers in the nation to be tapped for a pilot project slated to start early next year. The Veterans Claims Assistance Network will provide lawyers at no cost to vets with disability claims backlogged at least 125 days and who have no one, such as a service officer with a veteran's organization like the American Legion, working with the VA on their behalf.

How it will work: Vets who meet the requirements will receive a letter from the VA, offering them assistance from either a veterans service officer or a specially trained pro-bono attorney. The project – a joint effort between the VA, the American Bar Association and the Legal Services Corporation – will cover only disability claims, not ones for pensions such Aid and Attendance or other benefits.

Those interested will be directed to a website, where the vets will be matched with a representative.

VBA's Claims Accuracy Only 25% – Corrections Take Three-Four Years at BVA

According to the Vietnam Veterans of America and the American Legion, about 75% of all disability claims processed by the Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Benefits Administration are flawed in some manner, minor or serious, affecting the veteran's benefits. A 75% failure rate in aviation be mission-unacceptable, a certain suicide before completing two missions. Similarly, VA literally condemns many of us to a suicide mission while awaiting claims processing following by appeals at BVA to fix the VARO errors. This is troubling enough without contemplating VHA's determination to prevent C-123 claims altogether.

Claims appeals: Why they take forever
The American Legion - June 19, 2013

On June 18 2013 the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs held a hearing to find answers as to why the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) appeal process for veterans’ benefits takes so long to complete.
According to a fiscal year 2012 report from VA’s Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA), it takes about 900 days from the time an appeal is filed to when a final decision is reached. The claims appeals of more than 45,000 veterans are currently pending at BVA.
The American Legion, which has 2,500 accredited service officers nationwide and about a dozen full-time national appeals representatives in Washington, submitted a statement for the record. From Jan. 1, 2010 to June 1, 2013, the Legion’s appeals representatives have represented 29,542 veterans and their dependents who were trying to get benefits claims from BVA. The Legion effectively demonstrated that VA had erred, or failed to fully develop a claim, in 21,632 (nearly 75 percent) of those cases.
On June 3, VA reported an accuracy rate of 89.6 percent for claims adjudicated over the previous three months. Yet, the Legion’s statistics indicate that VA regional offices (VAROs) are providing quality decisions in less than one-fourth of the claims processed. Admittedly, claims handled by the BVA are only a portion of those submitted. However, they are a sampling of work that reflects the quality of claims decisions at 56 VAROs nationwide.
Unquestionably, the appeals process proves to be time-consuming and frustrating for our veterans. By the time BVA renders a decision, a claimant will often have spent several years in the appeals process.

30 September 2014

VA Blocks C-123 Veterans' Exposure Claims: A Summary of VA's Methods

There are several ways in which VA arranges the denial of C-123 veterans' Agent Orange exposure claims. And that's not counting their fundamental "not on my watch" mentality that our claims must be prevented by any means, fair or foul. Rather than find a way to help within the law, VA instead twists the law and regulations to squeeze out illogical and unfair...and unconstitutional barriers against us.

I'm not trying to have a shrill or radical voice about this, but readers have to understand the impact of VA engineering ways to avoid providing care for our ill veterans. Waiting for a claim to be processed is long enough, but being slammed with their an automatic denial is very depressing...this is not the right way to treat service-connected cancers, heart disease, ALS and the other ailments associated with Agent Orange exposure.

Here we'll show five of the basic "slight of hand" tricks used by VA to block our claims. Of course, denied C-123 exposure claims can be appealed to the BVA where we are always successful, but VA wins there, too. A denied claim saves VA years and years of patient care, because they refuse care until a claim is awarded. Veterans cannot recover medical costs for trying to survive while a claim awaits justice. Clearly, VA views approved claims as a loss to their department. (Note: we did request VA to permit veterans with substantial proofs of their claim to receive care during the claims and appeal process, but were refused.)

1. VA claims adjudicator originally dismissed the vet's claim for absence of "boots on the ground" service. The CAVC determined that every veteran with proof of service elsewhere that resulted in proven exposure, that veteran will be treated with the same presumptive service connection as the Vietnam veteran. CAVC also noted the Federal Register statement by VA to that affirmation. However, VA regional offices universally ignore the three Federal Register assurances from VA to C-123 veterans that our exposures are to be recognized. In the case cited below, the veteran's claim is awarded, but the problem is he had to wait three-five years to get justice from CAVC instead of his local regional office.
Citation Nr: 1420702:
"The Board notes that the Veteran did not have any service in Vietnam during his period of military service, nor does he claim such service.  See 38 C.F.R. § 3.307(a)(6)(iii).  However, that does not preclude the Veteran from establishing entitlement to service connection for diabetes mellitus or prostatectomy status post carcinoma due to exposure to herbicides.  In the final regulations published in the Federal Register, which established diabetes mellitus and prostatectomy status post carcinoma as diseases on the list for presumptive service connection based on herbicide exposure, VA re-affirmed that, if a Veteran did not serve in Vietnam but was exposed to an herbicide agent as defined in 38 C.F.R. § 3.307(a)(6) during service and has a disease that is on the list of diseases subject to presumptive service connection, then VA will presume that the disease is due to the exposure to herbicides.  See 66 Fed. Reg. 23,166-69 (May 8, 2001); 38 C.F.R. § 3.309(e)."

2. Many C-123 claims are denied with the claims official insisting that regulations forbid our claims' approval, not only at the VARO but even at the BVA where both the administrative law judges and the VA counsel should be more expert. The fact is, no such regulation exists. The governing regulation is VA21-1MR which spells out the management of non-Vietnam exposure claims. The regulation, according to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, "has the force of law" so we are puzzled that VA ignores it...but we can't demand its protection. VA21-1MR says VA will inquire with the Joint Services Records Research Center for confirmation of our Agent Orange exposure incident. JSRRC now provides that confirmation. Before JSRRC was able to confirm, VA denied claims because of that. Now that JSRRC does confirm, VA ignores that proof which should have been persuasive.

3. VHA and VBA training materials instruct VAROs that no amount of veteran's scientific and medical information will be considered to weigh against the VA's existing "scientific evidence" formed from decades-old materials, Dow & Monsanto letters and contractor's monographs. In fact, this violates the promises made by dozens of VA executives for "case by case evaluation" of claims and this predetermination that veterans' evidence is insufficient amounts to a denial of the right of due process, guaranteed in the Fifth Amendment – but not by VA!
.
A Supreme Court decision referred to as "Cushman" found that the VA must evaluate a veteran's claim in accordance with VA's own regulations and the duties of the adjudicators to perform their duties as public servants...raters' job descriptions describe evaluating claims, not dismissing claim evidence upon HQ instructions which are clearly improper.
The following paragraph's instructions that veterans' claims are predetermined to be "insufficient" is the core of VA's assault on the Due Process Clause. We also note that the questionable "opinions by scientists" are from Dow, Monsanto, the VA contractor who called us freeloaders, and a handful of articles from the early days of VA opposing Agent Orange claims. Current science, including the only peer-reviewed article addressing C-123 exposures, holds that C-123 veterans were exposed, and were harmed aboard our aircraft.
"Opinions by scientists supporting stateside C-123 Veterans stating that TCDD
was present in the aircraft and that this led to “exposure” is insufficient to
overcome VHA scientific data showing no bioavailability (i.e. no routes for
human body entry) for any TCDD residuals in aircraft"
4. VA officials are comfortable repeating frequently their decisions, both by VHA and VBA, that C-123 veterans' claims are unacceptable to them. The Deputy Chief Consultant Post Deployment Health told Major Terry Rudd, US Army Chemical Corps in March 2012 that "VA cannot permit C-123 claims." She told me the same thing in a telephone interview, phrasing it that none of the C-123 veterans were exposed (and neither were any of the Vietnam ground veterans) and therefore claims will not be approved.
The Director Compensation and Pension refused to permit expert toxicologist evidence, including from the CDC and National Institutes of Health, He also recommended claims be denied on his own belief that TCDD (the carcinogen in Agent Orange) "hasn't been shown to impact health." (Perhaps so, but only if one excludes cancer, heart disease, ALS, etc., and also ignores the 1991 Agent Orange Act and the multiple IOM reports.)
Post Deployment Health, part of VHA, told the Associated Press, "We have to draw the line somewhere." We just don't see "hold the line" in the law, nor in the US Constitution, nor in VA leaders' oaths of office, nor in the Federal Register publications assuring veterans and the Congress that VA will treat non-Vietnam veterans with proof of exposure with presumptive eligibility.

5. As detailed elsewhere in this blog, the Federal Register clearly and repeatedly stated the Secretary's commitment to Congress and veterans to consider non-Vietnam vets with proof of exposure with presumptive service connection for the recognized Agent Orange illnesses. Yale Law School's finding clearly supported the C-123 veterans in this. Which is why VA opted to simply redefine the word "exposure" so that exposure claims could be refused, redefined away by linguistic trick. It is like redefining "swallow" or "blink" or some other standard word in medicine or science...and VA OGC helped arrange the redefinition strictly to prevent C-123 claims.

Conclusion: the system seems rigged against veterans, regardless of the merit of their claims, because it permits individual VA staffers to implement their personal agendas. VA staff are able to feed the Secretary misleading responses to Senate and House inquiries, just as Secretary Shinseki claimed at his resignation. VBA staff even managed to scrape up an unscheduled $600,000 for a unique no-bid, sole-source consulting contract to develop post-Vietnam monographs opposing C-123 and other veterans' claims. No other group of veterans have submitted such substantial proofs, including military documentation of the contamination situation and findings from other federal agencies, yet faced such determined VA opposition.

29 September 2014

VHA Contracting Official: Scandal AGAIN!

October 2 Update: Today the Washington Post reported that FedBid, mentioned below, also "leaned on" Secretary Shinseki before his resignation, sending a retired Army Chief of Staff and others with significant influence...to influence, to turn a buck, and to corrupt.

By Bruce Alpert, NOLA.com | Times-Picayune 
Bruce Alpert, NOLA.com | Times-PicayuneEmail the author | Follow on Twitter 
on September 29, 2014 at 2:58 PM, updated September 29, 2014 at 3:33 PM
More VA contracting complaints, following on our concerns over VBA's sole-source, no-bid unsolicited proposal for an even larger $600,000 contract on post-Vietnam War Agent Orange studies.

WASHINGTON -- A secret affair, an attempt to "assassinate" the character of an official who got in the way of a contract, and blatant conflicts of interests: This isn't a TV soap opera, but a report from the inspector general for the Department of Veterans Affairs about a contracting scandal at the agency's health services agency.

The report, issued Monday, doesn't read like any routine federal audit. It centers on Susan Taylor, deputy chief procurement officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

For starters, the report notes, Taylor "allowed her subordinate, to award a purchase order with an annual value of $80,000 to William Dobryzkowski's private business.

Sounds like a routine contract. But the report discloses that Taylor and Dobrzykowski were lovers, and the contract enabled him to work directly with Taylor as a consultant, and travel with her on government related trips.

It quotes from an email found in Taylor's government account. It was addressed to Dobrzykowski's wife

"I am sorry to have to inform you that your Bill has been having an affair for over 18 years," and "I will share with you as much of the details as I know." Further down, the email indicates that "Bill" asked the woman to marry her, and on 'Christmas Eve 2007 "he gave her a diamond engagement ring."

Taylor admitted in subsequent interviews, the IG report said, that she had a relationship with Dobrzykowski since 1994 when both worked for the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs.