24 March 2017

VA disability claims – a couple hints for your disability claim

The Department of Veterans Affairs doesn't easy. Some of the most important benefits available to disabled veterans aren't well known and are difficult to dig up. The veteran service organizations often don't know them or don't have the time to pursue, leaving details out of the disability claim and costing the veteran time and money over the years to correct... If at all.

Let's look at a few of these:

1: bilateral. That means both of some of your parts. Both arms, both legs, both hips, etc. In most cases, VA Will assign an extra 10% to a disability if it is a bilateral issue. (38 CFR 4.26 )
• Ratings for the disabilities of the right and left sides will be combined in order of severity and 10 percent of its value will be added. 
• These disabilities will be treated as one disability & will be arranged in order of severity with other disabilities and then combined. 

2. home healthcare. If your doctor has recommended that you receive assistance at home with the normal activities of life (cooking, cleaning, transport, meds, dressing, hygiene, etc,) related to your agent orange disability, VA can provide special monthly compensation (SMC) as well as the care itself. This seems to be much like palliative care.

3. if you have received your 100% disability award from the VA, you might be eligible for a free $10,000 dollars life insurance policy but there are time limits on applying so check details carefully.

4. many vets with incontinence haven't filed for that problem VA has disability percentages between 20, 40 and 60% depending on the frequency of changes and the number of times you get up each night.

5. Agent Orange disabilities such as prostate cancer are considered "instrumentalities of war." Retirees can file for Combat Related Special Compensation. It's kind of complicated but the service figures out how much your due and at least you save taxes and in many cases your monthly check is larger. This is only for military retirees.

6. unemployability. If a veteran has a service-connected 60% disability there's a possibility that it can be raised to a 100% level with what VA calls Temporary Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU.) Regardless of your age, if you are unemployable because of the physical disability, the pain or other issues you can read about online, BA can consider you for as total of 100% disability and although they call it temporary, it can be for the rest of your life because it is not age-dependent. Further,  if the veteran is 65 years or older, the VA presumes disability and unempoyability, it does not have to be proven.

7.  A 0% service connected disability rating still gives you priority in the VA health care system.

8. A 30% or higher rating will pay you a higher amount of money if you have a spouse or dependents.

9. a 50% or higher rating means VA will provide all your necessary medical care without charge except dental.

10. A 70% or higher rating will allow a claimant to reside in a federal VA nursing home, usually at no charge.

11. When rated at 100% disability or if rated as unemployable, you will receive the highest rating and the highest pay, and you are also entitled to the aid and attendance" supplement to compensation (not to be confused with the Aid and Attendance Pension benefit) if you need another person to help with activities of daily living (walking, bathing, dressing, toileting, etc.).

14 March 2017

VA-Care vs. ObamaCare vs. TrumpCare: do we have a good deal?

I recently had a VA appointment for which the clinician noted care that he didn't actually provide and didn't provide care for serious issues impacting my health. I complained about the falsification of records and inadequate medical treatment to what I believe were proper authorities.

That didn't work out.

I haven't heard anything from VA since my inquiry. I spoke to the local hospital patient advocate and to administrators but it seems difficult to find the right place to lodge a complaint. This seems to be a systemic problem in many medical organizations but particularly one as large as the VA.

 I have strongly recommended that VA modify its "I care" and integrated ethics programs by requiring a clinician or administrator to "own" a veteran's ethics complaint until routed to the proper authority. The VA constantly states that it is as easy as always doing the right thing and yet we see from 2014 on (the Phoenix waitlist scandal) VA's problems rest mostly in its individual and departmental failure to do just that.

In my recent experience, there was nothing but "we don't do that here" or "I don't know who handles this" useless responses. Even the VA National Center for Ethics in Healthcare, a function you might expect to be a clearinghouse for every sort of ethical complaint, responded that they could not resolve or even address complaints raised about employee ethical failures.

So I'm left a little unsatisfied, and greatly concerned because as a former health services administrator in the Air Force, if this happened to me what about a young private, sailor or airman unfamiliar with medical issues and trusting of the VA to provide the care and concern necessary?

Still, after a quarter century in the VA healthcare system I do believe it has gotten better year after year even faced with monumental budget and patient population problems.

It is so easy to bitch and moan about failures in VA healthcare but in total, I believe a disabled veteran has a better package than many other Americans. It is an earned benefit and treatment for what in other occupations would be considered on the job injuries, but all in all, there is much for which we should be  (and are) grateful. 

I also believe that such comprehensive care is warranted because unlike other Americans we cannot refuse hazardous or even life-threatening duties. In fact, we have to have the initiative to step into hazardous or life-threatening situations when necessary, and not just wait for orders to do so. 

Civilians just don't face occupational hazards such as IEDs, RPGs, or Agent Orange or enemy machine gun fire, but military folks don't even have the option of avoiding them: the law says we can't say no and few of us would shirk the duty of facing those hazards.

No soldier is in a foxhole, no pilot is in an airplane for the money. If they survive getting hurt and make it home, as much as possible of the burden of their care and recovery should be lifted from their own shoulders. The basic objective of VA benefits of all sorts is to give the veteran something of the same quality of life as enjoyed by his neighbor who chose not to serve.

So the country assigns us EisenhowerCare, KennedyCare, JohnsonCare, NixonCare, FordCare, CarterCare, BushCare, ClintonCare, ObamaCare or TrumpCare, all AKA the VA healthcare system, all paid for with a stripe on the sleeve or a bar on the shoulder. If you make it home with an injury or wound, the VA care is not too bad.

07 March 2017

Important VA and military abbreviations

This list copied from a YUKO post by SC Vet .

Acronyms Used When Veterans Benefits Are Involved. 

Acronymns, Abbreviations, and Short-cuts used by the Government, both State and Federal, as well as by involved individuals when discussing Veterans Benefits, Retirement and Disability:

38 CFR - Title 38 Code of Federal Regulations
38 USC - Title 38 of the United States Code
A&A - Aid and Attendance
AAFES - Army & Air Force Exchange Service
ABD - Annuity Beginning Date
ACE Automated Certificate of Eligibility
AD - Active Duty
ADA - Americans with Disabilities Act
AFEES - Armed Forces Examining and Entrance Station
AIS - Automated Information Systems
AL - American Legion
ALS - Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
AMC - Appeals Management Center
AMVETS - AMVETS (American Veterans)
AO - Agent Orange
BCD - Bad Conduct Discharge


0% To 20% 
Certification of Eligibility for home loan guaranty. 
Home loan guaranty fee exemption. 
VA Priority medical treatment card. 
Vocational Rehab & Counseling, title 38 USC Chapter 31 (must be at least 10%) 
Service Disabled Veterans insurance (Maximum of $10,000 coverage) must file within 2 years from date of new service connection. 
10 point Civil Service Preference (10 points added to Civil Service test score). 
Clothing allowances for veterans who use or wear a prosthetic or orthopedic appliance (artificial limb, braces, or wheelchair) or use prescribed medications for skin condition, which tend to wear, tear or soil clothing. Can be more than one allowance.)
Temporary total evaluation (100%) based on hospitalization for a service connected disability in excess of 21 days; or surgical treatment for a service connected disability necessitating at least 1 month of convalescence or immobilization by cast, without surgery of more major joints. 

30% In addition to the above: 
Additional allowances for dependent(s) [spouse, child(ren), step child(ren), helpless child(ren), full-time students between the ages 18 to 23, and parent(s)] 
Additional allowances for a spouse who is a patient in a nursing home or helpless or blind or so nearly helpless or blind as to require the aid and attendance of another person. 

40% In addition to the above: 
Automobile grant and/or special adaptive equipment for an automobile provided there is loss or permanent loss of use of one or both feet, loss or permanent loss of one or both hands or permanent impaired vision of both eyes with central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in better eye. 
Special adaptive equipment may also be applied for if there is ankylosis of one or both knees or one or both hips. 

50% In addition to the above: 
VA Medical outpatient treatment for any condition except dental. 
Preventive health care services. 
Hospital care and medical services in non-VA facilities under an authorized fee basis agreement. 

60% In addition to the above: 
Increased compensation (100%) based on individual Unemployability (applies to veterans who are unable to obtain or maintain substantially gainful employment due to service-connected disability) 

100% In addition to the above: 
Dental treatment. 
Department of Defense Commissary privileges. 
Veterans employment preference for spouse. 
Waiver of National Service Life Insurance premiums. 
National Service Life insurance total disability income provisions. 
Specially adapted housing for veterans who have loss or permanent loss of use of both lower extremities or the loss or blindness in both eyes having light perception only plus loss or permanent loss of one lower extremity or the loss or permanent loss of use of one lower extremity with loss or permanent loss of use of one upper extremity or the loss or permanent loss of use of one extremity together with an organic disease which affects the function of balance and propulsion as to preclude locomotion without the aid of braces, crutches, canes or wheelchair. 
Special home adaptation Grant (for veterans who dont qualify for Specially Adapted Housing) may be applied for if the veteran is permanently and totally disabled due to blindness in both eyes with visual acuity or 5/200 or less or loss of or permanent loss of use of both hands. 

100% (Permanent and Total) in addition to the above: 
Civilian Health and Medical Program for dependents and survivors (ChampVA) 
Survivors and dependents education assistance 

03 March 2017

CAUGHT: vet faked blindness for SMC

By Nick Viviani | Posted: Thu 4:21 PM, Mar 02, 2017
WICHITA, Kan. (WIBW) -- A Kansas Army veteran allegedly pretended to be blind in order to collect tens of thousands of dollars in benefits.

U.S. Attorney Tom Beall said authorities were tipped off after the suspect was seen driving away from his appointment at the VA Hospital in Wichita.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Billy J. Alumbaugh, 61, of Turon, lied about being legally blind and claimed he needed help with some tasks, like reading medication labels, grocery shopping, and going to doctor's appointments. As a result, he was receiving supplemental monthly pensions.

Alumbaugh would periodically go to the Wichita VA hospital where specialists stumped as to why he couldn't see, Beall said.

He even reportedly maintained his Kansas driver's license, which said he didn't need corrective lenses, from 2009 to 2016 and kept driving during that time.

He was even seen driving away from the VA shortly after a visit last October, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. His ex-wife Debra K. Alumbaugh, of Turon, was allegedly driving when they arrived for an appointment. After the appointment, however, she helped him get back into the passenger seat and they drove for a few blocks before switching seats so he could drive.

22 February 2017

Good week in DC for C-123 Veterans (February 16-21)

On Friday February 16  I met with Oregon Senator Merkley's senior staffer and attorney Adrian Snead and Mr Brooks Tucker from VA's Office of Congressional Liaison. Both men have worked to help C-123 veterans for nearly six years. I updated them on our retroactivity efforts.  A good work day for C-123 veterans' issues.

Tuesday morning I met with Pennsylvania Sen. Casey's staff about our 911th veterans. I asked that the senator help get the word out to the veterans community about our benefits by using his website and also his newsletter. They like that idea and also suggested we approach the state veterans affairs organization for their help.

The other issue discussed was the retroactivity due from our exposure claims because VA unjustly limits their look-back to June 2015. I went over what we see as the VA deceptions that prevented any claim succeeding between 2011 and 2015.

At noon I met with Mr. Brooks Tucker, senior advisor from the VA Office of Legislative Liaison and Mr. Scott Blackburn, executive director of MyVA.

MyVA is the VA effort to consolidate the veteran experience, redirect the agency to focus on veterans' needs rather than the departments', and instill ethical values dear to the organization. He generously gave me over an hour to discuss the VA track record and obstacles placed before us. My goal was to gain his understanding of our retroactivity argument and also our disappointment with VA ethics.

We were joined at lunch by Rick Wideman, legislative affairs director for the Vietnam Veterans of America. And VA paid!

11 February 2017

10 things every Veteran should know about Agent Orange

Learn the basics of VA's Agent Orange benefits and care

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 the Agent 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 with exposure 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 tissu

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 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 (PRESUMPTIVE EXPOSURE EFF.ECTIVE 06/19/2015))

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. Dr. Erickson was instrumental in resolving the C-123 issues.

Just In: Welcome financial help from vets at Pittsburgh's 911th TAG

Over the last couple weeks I've received envelopes with welcome financial help from our vets with the 911TAG in Pittsburgh.

Bart Farzattu, Chief John Casey and others have been beating the bush out there and I very much appreciate their support.

Let me ask for even more support, And in the area of our Agent Orange exposure claims. VA wants all of those claims processed in their St. Paul office. If you're doing your own claim or are working through one of the veterans service organizations please make sure to write "C-123 Agent Orange" in big letters on the envelope and on the first page of your package so they can flag it. St. Paul gives us expeditious service and if your claim is sent to any other regional office they'll just have to forward it to St. Paul themselves and you'll lose a bit of time in that process.

Who is eligible? Aircrew, maintenance, life support, and aeromedical evacuation.

Another thing to remember: if you are retired Air Force and get a VA Agent Orange disability award, You should then apply for combat-related special compensation (CRSC.) As a retiree, you're eligible for CRSC because Agent Orange is considered an "instrumentality of war." It's a great benefit, as are Pennsylvania benefits for its disabled veterans.

31 January 2017

VA Ethical Failures: C-123 veterans' experiences with the VA claims system (free booklet)

...A Case Study of Unethical VA Actions: Agent Orange Claims by C-123 Veterans 2007-2015

C-123 veterans flew these former Agent Orange spray aircraft after the Vietnam War. The aircraft remained contaminated but in a long series of ethical shortfalls, the VA refused to acknowledge claims in the period 2007-2015.

Unethically, VA staff insisted they had imaginary “overwhelming preponderance of evidence against exposure claims, denying 100% of all claims while insisting VA also had no “blanket policy” against veterans’ applications. VA paid its favored consultant $600,000 in a unique no-bid, sole source contract to help block veterans’ claims.

VA staff violated regulation VAM21-1MR and the Veterans Claims Assistance Act, ignored exposure confirmation from CDC, US Public Health Service and dozens of other authorities, citing instead the VA website as the paramount authority. VA mislead elected representatives.

In January 2015 the Institute of Medicine confirmed crew exposures. in June 2015 VA finally began honoring disability claims but blocked all retroactive compensation normally provided once claims finished adjudication. Ethical failures were in advocacy, privacy, scientific accuracy, fairness, excellence, and respect.

Had VA adhered to their established value system, scandals like Phoenix and the abuse of C-123 exposure claims could have avoided to the benefit of all veterans and the Nation.

Going forward, VA needs to adhere to “I Care” values, and develop a measurement system for job performance in ethical values

Publisher The C-123 Veterans Association

28 January 2017

TSgt Bob Ranck Passed Thursday, January 26 2017

CHICOPEE – Robert E. “Bob” Ranck, 82, of the Fairview section of Chicopee, took “His Final Flight Home” on Thursday, January 26, 2017. He passed into Eternal Life at his home surrounded by the care and comfort of his loving family and his wonderful caregivers. He was born in Coatesville, Pennsylvania on November 20, 1934, a beloved son of the late Robert E. and Dorothy V. (Gray) Ranck. 
He was raised in Coatesville and was a graduate of Coatesville High School. He enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1953 and proudly served his country during the Korean War and received the National Defense Service Medal. He later re-enlisted and traveled throughout the United States while in the military.   In 1957, he was stationed at Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee and, in 1963, he ended his active duty status while he was stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. 
He eventually settled in the Fairview section of Chicopee and enlisted in the United States Air Force Reserves at Westover where he was employed as a Radio Radar Technician for the Department of Defense. 
He retired in 1984 after a long career in the Air Force with the rank of Technical Sergeant. 
He remained true to his Air Force family, participating in a long battle to gain recognition of claims brought on behalf of aircrews and maintainers who flew and worked on post-Vietnam C-123K Agent Orange “spray birds” after it was discovered that these men and women were being diagnosed with Agent Orange diseases. After years of administrative battles and litigation, the Department of Veterans Affairs conceded the legitimacy of these claims and opened its system of medical care and other benefits to suffering veterans.
Active in his Catholic faith, he was a communicant of Saint Anne Church in Chicopee. During his younger years, Bob formed a band called the Music Makers where he was a drummer. In his later years, he met monthly with his friends who were known as “The Geezers” from Westover Air Reserve Base. Above all, Robert was a quiet man who loved spending time with his family and his wonderful friends.
He leaves his beloved wife and best friend, Elinor M. (Paul) Ranck. They were married on April 19, 1958 at Saint Anne Church in Chicopee and were blessed with over 58 years of happiness together. 

27 January 2017


Today the VA issued a memorandum that I believe is in quiet defiance of a federal hiring freeze ordered by President Trump.
Refusing to set aside its obligations to veterans the VA, led by Acting Secretary Snyder, took extraordinary exception to the federal hiring freeze and said it would hire as necessary personnel for front-line medical care and safety.

Either the VA directly defined the president which I take as unlikely, or they went to the administration and fought for the necessary exemption. In the first case their actions could be overturned quite easily, But in the second case if the administration conceded to the VA's urging and authorized this action,  then all is well.

In fact, it speaks well for everyone involved.

The New York Times made a special point in their phrasing of the news:

"A few hours later, the acting secretary of veterans affairs, Robert D. Snyder, seemed to contradict the White House, saying in a brief statement that the department plans to “exempt anyone it deems necessary for public safety, including front-line caregivers.”
Putting it in the best light possible, VA said their actions were "in the best spirit" of the President's intentions. CLICK for the press release describing the VA actions:

24 January 2017

Thanks for checks received! Address here is 1233 Town Center Drive, Fort Collins CO 80524

Several checks arrived from our veterans over the past couple days and I thank you all very much. If others also care to send anything here is the address:
C-123 Veterans Association
1233 Town Center Drive, Fort Collins CO 80524. Visitors welcome anytime–gets lonely out here on the Front Range!

We now have enough to cover most of the next trip to DC so checks coming from this point on go for the following effort which should be late spring early summer. Because almost all our money goes for travel if you'd rather (or can only) provide frequent flyer miles or something like that it's just as good as cash for what we need.

If you'd rather put a ticket or a hotel on your own credit card for accountability or your own preference, that's perfect as well.

I would very much appreciate the company of one of our other veterans for the next trip to Washington. It's a little more effective with two folks working the Senate and the House offices. I will even treat for lunch at the Senate dining room where you can enjoy their famous bean soup.

C-123 Vets join in ProPublica's Freedom of Information suit against VA

Yesterday, C-123 Vets joined in ProPublica's Freedom of Information suit against VA.

ProPublica, winner of three Pulitzer prizes for its solid public interest investigative journalism, and the Virginian Pilot newspaper have conducted almost two years of an intensive Agent Orange investigation, with several articles focused on C-123 veterans' experiences. They sought information from the government but in response, the Department of Veterans Affairs has failed to honor the public's right to access information through our media for nearly two years.

The reporters have already uncovered a great deal of information about veterans' health and our children's health. Their rights under the Freedom of Information Act have been ignored for almost two years. The publisher and ProPublica's reporters have been forced to file suit in the US District Court of Washington for VA's failure to respect the law.

Yesterday, our C-123 Veterans Association joined in this suit. We believe the information sought about Agent Orange, about the VA contractors who opposed our own claims, and about VA personnel who obstructed our claims all needs to be made public. Our contribution to the suit specifically included justification for an immediate temporary injunction ordering the VA to comply or justify their refusal.

It's disappointing to have to waste money and time just to access information that the government stores that is otherwise publicly available and not classified or confidential. Too often, but particularly with the VA, federal agencies simply opt not to cooperate because FOIA requesters have a little recourse other than an initial request and an expensive lawsuit if that request is dishonored.

Two years ago, that was our experience. Paul Bailey and I had waited years for our Freedom of Information Act to be honored. But after some limited release, the VA simply didn't bother with anything else requested. Paul had even passed away while the VA stalled.

We had to go to court. Over $50,000 in legal fees later, the Department of Justice in representing the VA agreed to provide the materials requested. 


22 January 2017

Welcome Aboard, VA Secretary David Shulkin

VHA head Dr. David Shulkin was named by President Trump to move up to Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Welcome aboard Dr. Shuklin! We look forward to learning about your agenda now that the Senate has confirmed your new post.

21 January 2017

Some Checks Just Showed Up! Thanks!

Thank you! We've had support the last several days to help with the expenses of our work in our association. Checks have come in from folks I've never met but who are our comrades in Idaho, Georgia, Massachusetts, Florida, Ohio and elsewhere. The widow of one of our maintainers sent in $10: that might not sound much but it is a lot too many of us and it covers a full day using the metro in Washington when I'm working there. Earlier, checks came in from a DAV post and a Vietnam Veterans of America chapter. Altogether that covers my week working in DC earlier this month.

Shoulders at the wheel now include flight nurses, pilots, navs, loads and maintainers... and a couple MSC officers. All of is appreciated! I understand John Harris (aka "Big John") wrote a few emails – many thanks, John.

More checks are welcome..if you care to help. There are at least two trips remaining to DC to work on our retroactivity issue and to help VA address ethical failures that we've pointed out and (amazing!) that they're willing to discuss. If all goes well, we will have even more trips as we pursue issues about our claims up to the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

Address: 1233 Town Center Drive, Fort Collins CO 80524

I promise I will spend every dime carefully, and I also promise I will spend more than is sent because there is so much we can do!

20 January 2017

ProPublica Seeks Federal Court Order for Release of VA Agent Orange Files

by Robin Fields
ProPublica and the Virginian-Pilot filed a lawsuit today in federal court against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, accusing the agency of stonewalling requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
The lawsuit, ProPublica’s second against the VA in two months, seeks a preliminary injunction compelling the government to immediately release correspondence about Agent Orange, an herbicide used to kill vegetation during the Vietnam War, including documents sent to and received by Dr. David Shulkin, the VA’s undersecretary for health. Shulkin has been nominated to be VA secretary by President-elect Donald Trump.
ProPublica and the Pilot have been reporting about Agent Orange for 18 months, documenting ongoing effects on veterans and their families. The FOIA requests at issue in today’s lawsuit date back to May and September 2015.
As the news organizations have reported, the VA faces a number of imminent decisions about whether to cover certain groups of veterans who claim they were exposed to Agent Orange, as well as certain diseases that research has shown to be linked to the chemical mixture.
Exhibits attached to the lawsuits show how the FOIA requests submitted by the news organizations were subjected to one delay after another. ProPublica and the Pilot sought help from the VA’s Office of General Counsel, the agency’s chief information officer, as well as the Office of Government Information Services, also known as the FOIA ombudsman. Those efforts were not met with success.
“Repeated pleas to the VA to process two FOIA requests, which now have been pending for 618 days and 506 days, respectively, have been utterly disregarded. Indeed, ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot have done everything short of turning cartwheels in front of VA’s headquarters to draw attention to these requests,” the legal memorandum in support of a preliminary injunction said.