17 April 2015

VA Secretary McDonald Orders Medical Care for C-123 Veterans!

Exercising his great authority on April 14, VA Secretary Bob McDonald ordered Veterans Benefits Administration and Veterans Health Administration to provide VA medical care to eligible C-123 veterans!

Assistant Secretary Linda Schwartz, who forwarded the message to us, wrote that she considers this a great victory. It is.

It is a victory for the Department of Veterans Affairs, with key players who've stood up for us also victorious: Allison Hickey, Linda Schwartz, the Secretary and others. VA succeeded in its mission with Secretary McDonald's message, and now those VA hospital doors are unlocked at last.

Good job, VA!


From today's VA Compensation Service Bulletin:

The Department of Veteran Affairs has made the decision to consider a select group of Air Force Service members as being exposed to herbicides through regular and repeated duties while serving as flight medical and ground maintenance crew members on contaminated Operation Ranch Hand (ORC) C-123 aircraft that were used to spray Agent Orange in Vietnam.
The St. Paul Regional Office will process all claims for Agent Orange exposure related to C-123 Aircraft AO.  The St. Paul RO will be responsible to address all outstanding issues claimed. St. Paul Regional Office will take jurisdiction and follow standard claims processing procedures.

Since the St. Paul RO will have jurisdiction in these cases, I'm not sure what other qualifiers, or requirements are needed; however, they will provide the required information to the Veteran. Other ROs will merely forward such claims.

16 April 2015

Congratulations, Navy Reserve Association

Ten Things Every Veteran Should Know About Agent Orange

(Dr. Loren Erickson is a retired Army physician and VA public health expert.)

1. Agent Orange was a herbicide and defoliant used in Vietnam
Agent Orange was a blend of tactical herbicides the U.S. military sprayed from 1962 to 1971 during the Vietnam War to remove the leaves of trees and other dense tropical foliage that provided enemy cover. The U.S. Department of Defense developed tactical herbicides specifically to be used in “combat operations.” They were not commercial grade herbicides purchased from chemical companies and sent to Vietnam.
More than 19 million gallons of various “rainbow” herbicide combinations were sprayed, but Agent Orange was the combination the U.S. military used most often. The name “Agent Orange” came from the orange identifying stripe used on the 55-gallon drums in which it was stored.
Heavily sprayed areas included forests near the demarcation zone, forests at the junction of the borders of Cambodia, Laos, and South Vietnam, and mangroves on the southernmost peninsula of Vietnam and along shipping channels southeast of Saigon.

2. Any Veteran who served anywhere in Vietnam during the war is presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange.

For the purposes of VA compensation benefits, Veterans who served anywhere in Vietnam between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975 are presumed to have been exposed to herbicides, as specified in theAgent Orange Act of 1991.
These Veterans do not need to show that they were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides in order to get disability compensation for diseases related to Agent Orange exposure.
Service in Vietnam means service on land in Vietnam or on the inland waterways (“brown water” Veterans) of Vietnam.

3. VA has linked several diseases and health conditions to Agent Orange exposure.

VA has recognized certain cancers and other health problems as presumptive diseases associated withexposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service. Veterans and their survivors may be eligible for compensation benefits.
  • AL Amyloidosis
    A rare disease caused when an abnormal protein, amyloid, enters and collects tissues or organs
  • Chronic B-cell Leukemias
    A type of cancer which affects a specific type of white blood cell
  • Chloracne (or similar acneform disease)
    A skin condition that occurs soon after exposure to chemicals and looks like common forms of acne seen in teenagers. Under VA’s rating regulations, it must be at least 10 percent disabling within one year of exposure to herbicides.
  • Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
    A disease characterized by high blood sugar levels resulting from the body’s inability to produce or respond properly to the hormone insulin
  • Hodgkin’s Disease
    A malignant lymphoma (cancer) characterized by progressive enlargement of the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen, and by progressive anemia
  • Ischemic Heart Disease
    A disease characterized by a reduced supply of blood to the heart, that can lead to chest pain (angina)
  • Multiple Myeloma
    A cancer of plasma cells, a type of white blood cell in bone marrow
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
    A group of cancers that affect the lymph glands and other lymphatic tissue
  • Parkinson’s Disease
    A progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects muscle movement
  • Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-Onset
    A nervous system condition that causes numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness. Under VA’s rating regulations, it must be at least 10 percent disabling within one year of herbicide exposure.
  • Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
    A disorder characterized by liver dysfunction and by thinning and blistering of the skin in sun-exposed areas. Under VA’s rating regulations, it must be at least 10 percent disabling within one year of exposure to herbicides.
  • Prostate Cancer
    Cancer of the prostate; one of the most common cancers among older men
  • Respiratory Cancers (includes lung cancer)
    Cancers of the lung, larynx, trachea, and bronchus
  • Soft Tissue Sarcomas (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma)
    A specific group of malignant of cancers in body tissues such as muscle, fat, blood and lymph vessels, and connective tissues

4. Veterans who want to be considered for disability compensation must file a claim.

Veterans who want to be considered for disability compensation for health problems related to Agent Orange exposure must file a claim.
During the claims process, VA will check military records to confirm exposure to Agent Orange or qualifying military service. If necessary, VA will set up a separate exam for compensation.

5. VA offers health care benefits for Veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides during military service.

Veterans who served in Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, are eligible to enroll in VA health care. Visit VA’s health benefits explorer <http://hbexplorer.vacloud.us> to check your eligibility and learn how to apply.

6. Participating in an Agent Orange Registry health exam helps you, other Veterans and VA.

VA’s Agent Orange Registry health exam alerts Veterans to possible long-term health problems that may be related to Agent Orange exposure during their military service. The registry data helps VA understand and respond to these health problems more effectively.
The exam is free to eligible Veterans and enrollment in VA health care is not necessary. Although the findings of your exam may be used to inform your subsequent care, they may not be used when applying for compensation as a separate exam is required. Contact your local VA Environmental Health Coordinator about getting an Agent Orange Registry health exam.

7. VA recognizes and offers support for the children of Veterans affected by Agent Orange who have birth defects.

VA has recognized that certain birth defects among Veterans’ children are associated with Veterans’ qualifying service in Vietnam or Korea.
The affected child must have been conceived after the Veteran entered Vietnam or the Korean demilitarized zone during the qualifying service period.
Learn more about benefits for Veterans’ children with birth defects. http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/benefits/children-birth-defects.asp

8. Vietnam Veterans are not the only Veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange.

Agent Orange and other herbicides used in Vietnam were used, tested or stored elsewhere, including some military bases in the United States. Other locations/scenarios in which Veterans were exposed to Agent Orange may include:
Possible exposure of crew members to herbicide residue in c-123 planes flown after the Vietnam War

9. VA continues to conduct research on the long-term health effects of Agent Orange in order to better care for all Veterans.

VA and other Federal government Departments and agencies have conducted, and continue to conduct, extensive research evaluating the health effects of Agent Orange exposure on U.S. Veterans.
An example is the Army Chemical Corps Vietnam-Era Veterans Health Study designed to examine if high blood pressure (hypertension) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are related to herbicide exposure during the Vietnam War. Researchers have completed data collection and aim to publish initial findings in a scientific journal in 2015.
Learn more about Agent Orange related studies and their outcomes here:http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/research-studies.asp

10. VA contracts with an independent, non-governmental organization to review the scientific and medical information on the health effects of Agent Orange.

VA contracts with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences every two years to scientifically review evidence on the long-term health effects of Agent Orange and other herbicides on Vietnam Veterans. The IOM uses a team of nationally renowned subject matter experts from around the country to gather all the scientific literature on a topic, identify peer-reviewed reports, and then examine the studies to determine the most rigorous and applicable studies. The IOM looks for the highest quality studies. The IOM then issues its reports, including its conclusions and recommendations to VA, Congress, and the public.

About the author:
Dr. Ralph Erickson is an Army Veteran of the Gulf War (1990-91) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003). He retired with 32 + years active-duty service, during which he held a number of leadership positions to include:  Commander of The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research; Command Surgeon, US Central Command; and Director, DoD Global Emerging Infections and Response System (DOD-GEIS). He is a board certified physician in Preventive Medicine and Public Health. He received his medical degree from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences  (USUHS), Masters of Public Health from Harvard University, and Doctorate of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University.

10 April 2015

Negative Attitude by VA's Agent Orange Desk Manager

Today we received a "final" set of documents from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Released under the federal court action we filed to force compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, several highly-redacted documents show the anti-veteran attitude of some VA executives.

Determined to prevent C-123 Agent Orange claims, Mr, James Sampsel's memorandum below rips into our efforts to detail eligibility for VA care, and ignores challenges to the errors which he included in the draft provided to Secretary Shinseki's response to Senator Burr. Much of his memo and the Secretary's response to Senator Burr have been shown in time to be in error...errors paid for by veterans denied VA medical care.

Why is this memo by Mr Sampsel important? Because VA's manual VAM21-1MR requires regional VA offices to forward for his attention any non-Vietnam Agent Orange exposure claims. Mr. Sampsel has insisted since the first of our claims came across his desk that they were to be fought.

Mr. Sampsel's memo is also revealing in that he recommends ignoring my privacy complaint which dealt with a VA contractor being provided my medical information. And ignore it VA has done for two years, despite requests to the VA National Center for Ethics in Health Care.

Although VA touts its "case by case" evaluation of our claims, in fact they are prevented by Mr. Sampsel who informs the regional offices that VA "cannot concede" the exposure as claimed. So, on a case by case basis each case is ordered denied, although VA objected to this being termed a "blanket policy of denials." No C-123 claims have ever been permitted under his watch, although two veterans' claims were successful under appeal.

His actions are in contrast to VA's required pro-veteran, non-adversarial, benefit of the doubt approach. His actions show VA's determined efforts to, as one executive put it, "draw the line somewhere."

Here is how veterans' efforts are blocked by Mr. Sampsel at VA Compensation Service's Agent Orange desk. Mr. Sampsel is still a key player advising the Secretary on obstruction of the Institute of Medicine C-123 report's conclusions.
From: Sampsel, James, VBAVACO 
To: Flohr, Brad (SES EQV), VBAVACO Cc: Murphy, Thomas (SES), VBAVACO; Flynn, Mary A. (SES), VBAVACO; Black, Paul, VBAVACO; Imboden, Jacqueline, VBAVACO; Strickland, Allison, VBAVACO 
Subject: FW: 12 Nov 2012 C-123 Report to Compensation Services Date: Friday, August 23, 2013 10:31:00 AM Attachments: Young Article Response Aug 22.pdf image001.jpg 
This is one more attempt (among numerous others) by Wes Carter to attack the VA and claim he and the other 1500 post-Vietnam C-123 crew members were “exposed” to AO. This latest is a grandstand attempt to imply that there is a conspiracy between VA and Dr. Alvin Young to deny Wes Carter his “deserved” benefits. His attached statement is long on rhetoric and short on substance. He is again stating that he was “exposed” to AO by virtue of the dried/solidified TCDD found in one C-123 (“Patches” in the USAF Museum), and that VA “law” requires service connection as a result. He is likely pressing the issue anew because of the recent DRO C-123 grant publicized in the media.The question I have is: where did he get Dr. Young’s C-123 Report to Comp Svc? (note: one of this contractor's $600,000 no-bid sole-source contract for post-Vietnam monographs opposing veterans' claims.)
He definitely did not get it from me or Dr. Young. My only release of this report was to the Boston/Manchester RO when they requested Comp Svc input from the AO Mailbox on the claim of the C-123 Veteran who was ultimately service connected by the DRO. The RO may have shared it with congressional sources, since there was much congressional pressure on this case. And, Wes Carter has direct and extensive contact with all members of Congress interested in this issue. As usual, he distorts the issues for dramatic effect with his question: “How was the Advisory Opinion on my own disability claim provided to the consultant (Dr. Young)?” 
Comp Svc did not provide any advisory opinion to Dr. Young. Wes Carter’s own website contains multiple references to the Comp Svc advisory opinion, (note: correct, but such references were not published before Dr. Young was provided a copy by VBA, only after.) which he criticizes at great length, stating that the RO wanted to grant but Comp Svc overruled them. Anyone in the Internet universe could read about Wes Carter’s case. He has a long standing dislike of Dr. Young and many other scientists who do not agree that he was “exposed” to AO. He refers to them with abusive language on his website. This includes VHA toxicologist Terra Irons, who he singles out for website name-calling based on her statements at a SVAC and Senator Burr staff meeting we attended on the Hill, where Wes Carter showed up in person. I suggest that Wes Carter should receive no reply based on this e-mail. As I have learned, any reply to him will generate additional attacks.

09 April 2015

Dino White – passed away this morning

Dino White, a member at the AME as well as Westover's clinic, passed away today after enduring the effects of a stroke for the last eighteen months.
Rest in peace, dear friend.

07 April 2015

C-123 Agent Orange exposure claim awarded – here are the details

In November the Boston VA Regional Office held a Decision Review Officer hearing for a C-123 veteran from Westover AFB, MA. The claim was decided in his favor for all Agent Orange-recognized illnesses, and a copy of the VA' decision is posted HERE.

Yale School of Law deserves great credit for this victory, and thanks are due them and the many vets who personally appeared to give evidence for this veteran. It probably didn't hurt that the veteran's story was carried as a front page story in the Sunday edition of the Boston Globe.

Key point: The VA conceded the veterans' Agent Orange exposure at Westover AFB, where his squadron flew the former Agent Orange UC-123 aircraft. The decision closely parallels that of LtCol Paul Bailey's 2013 award from the Manchester NH VA Regional Office.

Although both veterans flew the same airplane, the same days, performing the same duties as others who've made claims, these are the only two awards made in favor of the veterans and all other claims have been ordered denied by VA's Compensation and Pension Service. I note that both claims were for men I flew with and trained on the C-123, but my claim and others like mine remain denied.

VA decisions, even those by Decision Review Officers and the Board of Veterans Appeals, have no effect on other claims, regardless of how parallel the situations. Here, one veteran's claim for exposure aboard his C-123  is awarded while another on the same airplane is denied.

Perhaps VA finds no discomfort in contrary situations such as this. I also note that my request for DRO (claim submitted 3/2011, denied 9/2012) was made in 2012 and still has not been acted upon in over two years, while the attached claim requested DRO in March and received the hearing in November of 2014.

05 April 2015

C-123 Agent Orange Claims Progress 2011 to 2015?

Its not like we're sick or anything. 

Its not like having our soft tissue sarcomas, heart disease, diabetes, prostate cancer, ALS and other illnesses treated now or months from now will make any difference in the end. 

We might live a little longer. We might be in less pain, but really, what difference would it make? To VA...nothing at all.

A few months here, a few months there...what's the problem with VA refusing care even if the Institute of Medicine said we were exposed to Agent Orange and harmed thereby?

Its not like we have any special right to have our illnesses cared for. Indeed, our lesson from VA is that for their reasons not shared with us, we shall do without.

We're tough. We were taught for years by the military to tough it out, work through the pain. Now, we'll just have to learn to do without medical care...a lesson taught us since our first C-123 Agent Orange claims was denied by Compensation and Pension.

After all, the Director of VA Compensation and Pension has explained in ordering all C-123 claims denied* (on what they termed a "case by case" basis) that there is no evidence of TCDD causing any adverse health effects
and therefore, Agent Orange claims are without merit. 

And Post Deployment Health leaders helped us understand that, just like Vietnam veterans, we were never exposed anyway. 

This was later termed "an unfortunate choice of words," meaning the claim was ordered denied but other excuses should have been created for refusing the medical care sought by the veteran. 

The "unfortunate choice of words" was left to be appealed, a process underway since 2011 and which may or may not be resolved at some point prior to the veteran's death. It was important to Post Deployment that "a line had to be drawn somewhere."

There is firm VA protection for a veteran' right to appeal, but precious little assurance of a fair and accurate decision in the first place.

*2012 Agent Orange exposure claim denial by Compensation and Pension. Mischaracterized actual scientific opinion by Dr. Thomas Sinks of CDC/ATSDR that veterans were exposed. Please compare Dr. Sinks' letter to VA with the summary prepared of it by VA.  Dr. Sinks later made clear to VA that C-123 veterans should have been wearing full HAZMAT in the contaminated airplanes. VA Office of General Counsel explained that such errors can be appealed, even if the correction process takes years. Years during which VA refuses care and benefits.

03 April 2015

Senator Blumenthal's Office: "Nothing soon from VA" to allow any C-123 Agent Orange exposure claims

VA C-123 Claims SITREP
Yesterday Senator Cory Gardner's (R-CO) staff informed us they'd just checked with Senator Richard Blumenthal's office and were told that no VA action is expected anytime soon. Blumenthal is Ranking Member on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and was briefed last Friday by VA on their confidential deliberations.

News like this of continuing VA delays comports with statements by VA spokesperson Ms. Meagan Lutz who informed reporters that VA now has no set date for any C-123 Agent Orange announcement, in effect, an indefinite postponement of the announcement first promised for the first week in March.

Different VA sources have offered different reasons for the delays. After the Institute of Medicine published its January 9 2015 C-123 Agent Orange report which confirmed exposures, VA was supposed to formulate a response within 60 days. Whatever the reason(s) the effect is that VA's ban on medical benefits for these Agent Orange-exposed veterans will continue just as it has since 2011, with all claims denied per Compensation and Pension. Claim delays are money-savers for VA.

Compensation and Pension is the VA function which has ordered Agent Orange exposure claims denied on the basis that other federal agencies' confirmation of C-123 exposures are unacceptable to VA, and that dioxin (the toxin within Agent Orange) has somehow "not been shown to be harmful." Of course, dioxin is recognized elsewhere in VA and throughout science as the most toxic toxin made by humans and a known carcinogen. VA later wrote that it had used "an unfortunate choice of words" but the claims are allowed to remain denied as was the objective.

The inference was clear:  as has been the case from the first, all such claims were to be denied no matter what, citing anything as basis, whether accurate or not.

Perhaps voices within the Department preferring a pro-veteran program in compliance with the law are in conflict with other folks, mostly in Post Deployment Health and VA's Agent Orange desk and other leaders in VA's C-123 committee, who prefer to continue their own agenda of denying benefits to C-123 veterans regardless of merit.

There is concern among the veterans that VA still might create a response which excludes, rather than includes, exposed veterans. We are about each of our men and women, and their families.

01 April 2015

Our "high-tech" 21st Century Air Force??

From today's publication of Air Force Magazine. Look very carefully at what Lt. Hunt is using to boot up his Minuteman missile command post...an 8-inch floppy disk! How can we run a world-class 21st Century strike force with stuff Radio Shack dumped as obsolete two decades ago?

No doubt familiar with far more modern technology, Lt. Hunt probably had to be shown how to insert the floppy after his instructor finished explaining what it was and waited for the laughter to subside.
On the other hand security is probably enhanced by the fact these have to be the only 8-inch floppy drives left in the entire world!

31 March 2015

Board of Veteran Appeals Uses Boilerplate Denial Language for C-123 Claims, IGNORING VA's own Institute of Medicine Report

The Board of Veterans Appeals regularly posts its most recent decisions on claims veterans appealed to that body. We note that as in months and years past, BVA continues to use its error-laden boilerplate language to deny veterans' claims. Cited below is a paragraph from an unfortunate veteran's decision.

Furthermore, the Department of Veterans Affairs did address residual Agent Orange exposure concerns by post-Vietnam crews that later flew C-123 aircraft that had previously sprayed Agent Orange. VA's Office of Public Health is noted to have reviewed all available scientific information regarding the exposure potential to residual amounts of herbicides on the C-123 aircraft surfaces. It was concluded that the potential exposure for the post-Vietnam crews that flew or maintained the aircraft was extremely low and therefore it was concluded that the risk of long-term health effects was minimal. See: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange
This citation references the Office of Public Health having "reviewed all available scientific information regarding the exposure potential to residual amounts of herbicides on the C-123 aircraft surfaces." What the citation avoids mentioning is the highly selective approach used by Public Health when they first listed their carefully selected references in 2011. Only references arguing against veterans' claims were permitted, and all references supporting C-123 exposures were ignored.

The March JSRRC report and the January 2015 Institute of Medicine report completely put to rest the above error-laden assertions...C-123 aircraft were indeed contaminated and the veterans were indeed exposed. Although VA has yet to react to this report done at their own expense, BVA and other VA bodies continue denying C-123 veterans' claims by repeating the same paragraph.

What was ignored by VA in its review of "all available scientific information?"
• CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry report to VA
• Concerned Scientists & Physicians Group Report to VA
• Oregon Health Sciences Perspective on C-123 Aircraft Exposures
• NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences report to VA "concluding exposures were plausible"
• All works of Dr. Jeanne Stellman

VA Web Sites Reference C-123 Vets, But Still ORDERS ALL Our Claims Denied

VA has over the years begun mentioning C-123 veterans on their web pages. Initially, the single page with C-123 information was a solitary note dedicated to explaining VA's opposition, As time passed VA then added information from the flawed USAF 2012 C-123 Consultative Letter.

Although the authoritative Institute of Medicine C-123 report on 9 January 2015 identified fatal scientific flaws and erroneous conclusions in the USAF C-123 Consultative Letter, it remains on-line, unamended, without note as to any corrections, and cited by VA in its "Scientific Review of Agent Orange in C-123 Aircraft."

That was the sole Internet VA document for quite some time, but as more and more proofs of C-123 veterans' Agent Orange exposure evolved, VA used more Internet pages to dismiss the proofs

Today, VBA Compensation and Pension Agent Orange Desk continues to order claims denied, although the current VBA approach is often to order claims "postponed" indefinitely without decision. That step even blocks the veteran's appeal of a denied claim because the Board of Veterans Appeals only accepts denials: preventing denials by stamping "postponed" on them sends claims into a wilderness of wasted years.

• Scientific Review of Agent Orange in C-123 Aircraft 

• Agent Orange Residue on Post-Vietnam War Airplanes

• Institute of Medicine Reports on Agent Orange (VA summation page)

• Exposure to Agent Orange by Location  – Public Health

The other official document addressing C-123 exposures is Fact Sheet for the Honorable Richard M. Burr Regarding Processing of Disability Claims Based on Agent Orange (AO) Exposure Aboard C-123 Aircraft Outside the Republic of Vietnam, authored by the VBA Compensation and Pension Agent Orange Desk for Secretary Shinseki's signature. The Fact Sheet is now two years old with more current VA and IOM investigations clarifying its numerous fatal flaws, but has not been updated.

While error-laden and carefully deceptive of the senators to whom it was addressed, it remains VA's position and vehicle by which all claims continue to be denied...or "postponed." The C-123 veterans authored a response to the Fact Sheet which was submitted, with source documents but without VA response, to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

While cited in its own VAM21-1M1 manual for claims adjudication, the March 2014 Joint Services Records Research Center affirmation of C-123 veterans' Agent Orange exposure and harm has been ignored by VA. In the manual, and in previous denials of C-123 claims, a negative JSRRC response to a VA inquiry is cited as authority to deny a claim. Currently, all positive JSRRC responses are ignored by VA to avoid any impact on these claims and to better reflect the preferences of Compensation and Pension Service that the claims be obstructed.

30 March 2015

April begins, and still no action by VA on C-123 Agent Orange Exposures

Don't they know what's happening? Don't they know our men and women are refused proper care and benefits for want of reasonable, proper, lawful, necessary decisions?

Don't they care, or know there is a price paid by us for their inaction and attitudes? That price is in denied medical care somehow sought elsewhere, in denied state benefits for us and our families, and in denied financial compensation for our line-of-duty illnesses.

Reasons? Maybe they don't care. Maybe they're too busy. Maybe hardliners in Post Deployment Health and in the Compensation and Pension Agent Orange Dsek are pushing back, still determined to deny 100% of all claims "on a case by case basis." Maybe because every month, every day VA postpones action on these claims is money saved, appointment lists kept shorter, and claims denied and off the backlog lists.

Seems like the VA decision is already in place.
Of course, some do, but the powers that be...just don't!

28 March 2015

C-123 Agent Orange Exposure Benefits: NO WORD YET

VA Hospitals & C-123 Veterans
One month ago, Secretary McDonald responded to Senator Brown's question with assurances that VA was to announce its program for treating C-123 veterans' Agent Orange-related illnesses within a week

Since then, from the Secretary down to his public affairs staff, different reasons have been floated to explain why VA still hasn't announced its program. And the most recent input from VA to the media is that the C-123 program's announcement has been postponed with no date suggested.

This is a bad, bad deal for us.

Colorado C-123 vets lose this year's Colorado disabled veteran property tax exemption, paying about $1,000 on taxes because VA hasn't finished their claims. Other states' veterans are in much the same situation...state benefits withheld until the VA decides what to do about Agent Orange illnesses.

All states' C-123 veterans are still locked out of VA hospitals, unless they're otherwise eligible for care. We're all senior citizens now, a time in life when diseases ravage us so unrelentingly. Rather than treat our Agent Orange illnesses, VA has us standing outside their hospitals with our fingers stuck to the door bell...not allowed in until their C-123 program is announced and our disability claims can be processed.

27 March 2015

Vietnam Vets of America demands Agent Orange benefits NOW for exposed C-123 Westover vets

The national president of the Vietnam Veterans of America is calling for bureaucrats from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to be "relieved of their duties" for their continuing failure to grant benefits to veterans from Westover Air Reserve Base and three other military installations who were exposed to Agent Orange while flying planes previously used in the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam Veterans of America has been a strong supporter of the C-123 Veterans.

The two page letter expressed frustration over the fact that the veterans, who flew C-123 Provider planes after they had been used to spray Agent Orange to defoliate the Vietnamese countryside, have been fighting a four-year battle to receive medical benefits and disability payments for those who have fallen ill or become ill later.

"These VA bureaucrats attempting to delay justice ought to be relieved of their duties so they can no longer abuse veterans with their tactic of 'delay, deny until they die.' There is no excuse for why these worthy veterans are still not being treated with the appreciation and the respect their service warrants," John Warren, national president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, wrote.

He said the delay is especially vexing after an Institute of Medicine study commissioned by the Department of Veterans' Affairs determined that the about 2,100 military reservists who flew in or worked on the planes at Westover, Pittsburgh Air National Guard, Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base in Ohio and Hanscom Air Force Base in eastern Massachusetts, had been exposed to Agent Orange and are vulnerable to contracting the more than 20 diseases tied to the chemical.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is continuing to study the Institute of Medicine report, said Meagan Lutz, public affairs specialist for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"In order to better inform and serve our veterans, the Department is examining policy and legislative issues in order to proceed with its final proposal," she said in an email. (note: different VA executives and public affairs spokespersons have offered a wide range of reasons for VA's delay; Ms. Lutz is the first to suggest the delay is to "better serve" veterans by continuing to refuse them medical care!)

Led by Retired Maj. Wesley T. Carter, now of Colorado, who served as an air medical technician and flight instructor and examiner with Westover's 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron for 20 years, the C-123 group is made up mainly of Westover veterans and has been fighting for the same benefits as those who served in Vietnam. They only discovered four years ago.the planes, which they spent 10 years flying in and working on, had been contaminated with Agent Orange since Vietnam.

The federal government automatically grants anyone who served in Vietnam, even for an hour, health benefits which includes free medications, dental care and other services, and disability payments if they fall ill from any of the diseases known to be caused by Agent Orange.

Also included in the list of supporters is the National Veterans of Foreign Wars. In February six senators, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, a Democrat and Republican respectively, who have been advocating for the veterans for several years, as well as Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts; Ron Wyden, D-Oregon; Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, and Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, also signed a strongly-worded to the Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald to show their support.

"I think it is high time this battle, which has gone on for four years, is over," said Archer Battista, of Belchertown, who retired from Westover as a colonel in 2001 and is a semi-retired lawyer.

Battista, who flew planes at Westover starting in 1974, said he has been trying to help some veterans and their families who are completely overwhelmed by trying to fight the battle for medical care. As a Vietnam veteran, he is already eligible for the benefits.

"All this time the clock is ticking on some very sick people and their survivors," he said. "We know they have a decision and the decision is favorable so what is holding this up?"

It is even more frustrating since there is a second part to the battle. The C-123 Veterans are still trying to acquire squadron rosters with the names of veterans who flew on or worked on the planes at the four bases so they can contact as many veterans as possible to warn them they had been exposed to Agent Orange.

So far all requests to the Air Force have been denied.
reporter: Jeanette DeForge

25 March 2015

Senators Call on VA Secretary to Ensure Post Vietnam USAF C-123 Veterans Receive Benefits and Compensation

Bipartisan Group of Senators Call on VA Secretary to Ensure Post Vietnam USAF C-123 Veterans Receive Proper Benefits and Compensation

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A bipartisan group of senators led by Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) today called on VA Secretary Robert McDonald to ensure that veterans long denied care for exposure to Agent Orange receive timely and proper benefits and compensation. The letter follows a recent Institute of Medicine (IOM) study that provides new and compelling evidence on exposure to Agent Orange of veterans who flew contaminated aircraft after the Vietnam war.

Burr and Merkley were joined in a letter by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

The IOM study, which was published in January, found “with confidence” that post-Vietnam veterans serving on C-123 aircrafts were exposed to potentially dangerous levels of dioxin from aircrafts that were used to carry and spray Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and that were never properly decontaminated.

According to the study, an estimated 1500-2100 personnel served on the affected planes, and numerous veterans among that group have developed symptoms, including cancer, consistent with Agent Orange exposure.

The senators pushed the VA to reverse previous decisions that have denied veterans benefits and compensation, writing:

“Despite (1) multiple Air Force reports going back to 1979 showing that the C-123s were contaminated, (2) numerous expert opinions from inside and outside the government suggesting these veterans were  exposed to Agent Orange and other toxins, and (3) a judge’s order stopping the resale of these C-123s because the planes were a ‘danger to public health,’ the VA to-date has doggedly insisted  there is no possibility that post-Vietnam era C-123 veterans might have been exposed to dangerous levels of Agent Orange.  It also has denied all but one of the C-123 veterans’ claims for benefits.”

They continued, “It is our desire to see that C-123 veterans who suffer today because of service-related exposure to Agent Orange receive the help they need. To speed the award of benefits, we ask that you provide a presumption of service connection for these veterans.”

The senators also called on the VA to immediately review all C-123 Agent Orange exposure claims, including those that have been denied and are under appeal, and to work with the Department of Defense to proactively contact all veterans who served on any C-123s previously used in Vietnam to spray Agent Orange defoliant that were subsequently assigned to Air Force Reserve units based in the United States from 1972-1982 in order to notify these veterans that they may be eligible for benefits.

24 March 2015

Ohio Public Radio: Vietnam Veterans: VA Is In “Delay, Deny Until They Die” Mode With Agent Orange Vets"

The group Vietnam Veterans of America is criticizing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs over its painfully slow response to concerns from Air Force reservists exposed to Agent Orange in the 1970s and 1980s.

The organization has joined the chorus of veterans organizations demanding answers for about 2,000 people who crewed C-123s, the clunky cargo planes that were used to spray Agent Orange, after those planes came back from the war.
A study released by the VA in January confirmed previous findings that these vets could have been exposed to Agent Orange at dangerous levels while they were flying and maintaining the planes on bases in Ohio, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania from 1971-1982. The Air Force knew as early as the 1990s that the planes still had some Agent Orange residues on them. Agent Orange, a defoliant, contains dioxin, which can be very toxic if humans are exposed in high enough amounts or over sustained periods.
But today, almost all of the C-123 vets who are sick with diseases that can be related to Agent Orange have had their VA claims denied.
A group led by Major Wes Carter, a C-123 vet who is himself quite sick with potentially related conditions, has been calling for the VA to include these reserve veterans in what’s called presumptive benefits. Vietnam vets who had boots on the ground are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange, removing the burden of proof from the vets if they apply for benefits.
More than three weeks ago now, VA Secretary Robert McDonald told senators an announcement would be coming within the week on the issue, responding in part to WYSO’s NPR report about C-123 veterans. Now that announcement has been pushed back to an unknown date—which Barbara Carson says is disappointing. She’s appealed her claim for benefits after her husband, a former reservist, died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“They’ve denied this for years, and they can’t deny it anymore,” Carson says. “They’ve got to admit to it.”
The Vietnam Veterans of America have now joined with the reservists and families calling for a more aggressive response from the VA, issuing a press release on Sunday that accused the VA of taking a “delay, deny, until they die” approach to these vets.
In an email, a VA spokesperson said “in order to better inform and serve our Veterans, the Department is examining policy and legislative issues in order to proceed with its final proposal.” In other statements to the press, VA officials have offered wildly differing reasons for their delay, including conflicting meetings, and senior leaders travel schedules. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs even offered his own perspective on the justification for continuing to refuse medical care to these veterans.
“The issue frankly is how to execute once the announcement is made,” Secretary McDonald told the Dayton Daily News on March 21. “For whatever reasons, it’s very hard to find the people who worked on or flew those C-123s and we want to make sure when we announce we can have perfect clarity on the next steps for those veterans who served with C-123s that sprayed Agent Orange.”
Whatever reason VA cites to justify its continuing delays, the result is indeed...delay. For years, delay after delay, until the most positive spin that can be put on this miserable mess is that VA simply can't get its act together. Any less positive spin as to wny VA is treating these veterans as it does would suggest paranoia.
Lewis Wallace is WYSO's managing editor, substitute host and economics reporter. Follow him @lewispants.