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



Description:
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

VA STANDS UP TO ADMINISTRATION HIRING FREEZE TO PROTECT VETERANS!

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. 


Finally.

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.

Needed: someone else to lead The C-123 Veterans Association

Friends, at this point I've become a reluctant conscript. It is been six long years at a time in my life when I'd rather have done other things but this work needed to come first. Six years, however, is plenty long enough.

Isn't there someone who could find the time to take on these modest duties? Most of the legwork and the foundation building has been done so we are left with ongoing chores of helping one another and the remaining objective of retroactive compensation. That I will continue working on thru this year if agreeable but I'm glad to pass it to others as they'd like.

Ideally, one of our C-123 veteran brothers or sisters would like to help run things but I'm certainly open to any veteran of any era who would like to serve our folks and others in the veteran community. How about you folks from Pittsburgh or Richenbacher taking a turn at the helm (sorry, stick?) Flight nurses, maintainers, navs, loads, life support??

the last bag drag
You might've noticed that we're very informal, lacking secret handshakes, membership cards, dues or anything else hinting of organization. This is strictly a volunteer opportunity where you pretty much do what you want to be as useful and helpful as possible, but only as your own time, talents and interests (and budget) permit.

I can't begin to describe the immense satisfaction in what we've done together but it is my hope within six months to celebrate by passing along the chairmanship of our association. If you can help us by leading us for however long you feel possible, please step forward!

Finally, I have some medical issues and this is becoming painfully burdensome to carry on much longer.

15 January 2017

To Secretary Bob McDonald: Sir, thank you for your service and Godspeed

From: Wes Carter [mailto:c123kcancer@gmail.com]
Sent: Sunday, January 15, 2017 3:17 PM
To: McDonald, Bob
Subject: [EXTERNAL] Thank You for your service (personal)

Dear Mr. Secretary,
Please accept the deep thanks of the men and women I represent in the C-123 Veterans Association for your dedicated service leading the Department of Veterans Affairs and serving on President Obama's cabinet.

Yours was such a tremendously important, difficult and thankless job. From the shape the department was in when you took it over, you knew there was no possibility of concluding your service free of intense criticism. You took on the mission anyway to serve veterans like me as best you could... and that was excellent service indeed.

Your mark is firmly on the Department of Veterans Affairs. The staff and the veterans the department serves owe you our thanks for the many accomplishments,  which must also bring you great satisfaction. In particular, Camp Lejeune looks like it's resolved and so are our C-123 vets.

Our only disappointment with Bob McDonald will be next Monday when you're not at your desk where we need you..

Thank you and God bless you and Mrs. McDonald.

Wes and Joan Carter

13 January 2017

Camp Lejeune Marines Get Toxic Exposure Protection At Last! C-123 Veterans Helped!

WE HELPED! The example of the way VA addressed our Agent Orange toxic exposures in 2015 was looked at very carefully by the VA in its approach to the terrible water contamination problem at Camp Lejeune.

Late last year, acting on advice from the Institute of Medicine and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry,  Secretary McDonald and the Department of Veterans Affairs proposed a series of protections for Marines and other personnel stationed at Camp Lejeune before 1987. Included are members of the Reserve Components serving there a minimum of 30 days in total. Compensation for their illnesses could reach several billions dollars.

I read the proposed new rules and on behalf of our association commented throughout as you will see in the summary copied from the Federal Register. We especially note the role of the ATSDR in helping Marines just as they helped us, and express our thanks to them for the great job done helping the Corps this day.

SUMMARY:

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) amends its adjudication regulations regarding presumptive service connection, adding certain diseases associated with contaminants present in the base water supply at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune (Camp Lejeune), North Carolina, from August 1, 1953, to December 31, 1987. This final rule establishes that veterans, former reservists, and former National Guard members, who served at Camp Lejeune for no less than 30 days (consecutive or nonconsecutive) during this period, and who have been diagnosed with any of eight associated diseases, are presumed to have incurred or aggravated the disease in service for purposes of entitlement to VA benefits. In addition, this final rule establishes a presumption that these individuals were disabled during the relevant period of service for purposes of establishing active military service for benefits purposes. Under this presumption, affected former reservists and National Guard members have veteran status for purposes of entitlement to some VA benefits. This amendment implements a decision by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs that service connection on a presumptive basis is warranted for claimants who served at Camp Lejeune during the relevant period and for the requisite amount of time and later develop certain diseases.

11 January 2017

More $$ AMMO $$ Contributed for C-123 Veterans Association Work in Washington DC

A certain Chief Master Sergeant from Westover sent in a check to help toward our expenses in Washington. It is much appreciated ammo toward solving our remaining issue of retroactive disability compensation! Thanks, Chief H.

More such help is welcome.

30 December 2016

Harvard Business School reports significant VA improvement under Secretary McDonald

The VA, to be sure, was a national embarrassment a few years ago. So why has it every national veterans organization asked President-elect Trump to retain VA Secretary Robert McDonald?

In 2014 a wave of revelations found administrators falsifying documents in order to create the impression that they were compliant with departmental requirements regarding wait times. Veterans died while waiting for care, and overworked doctors began leaving the system in droves.

However, that was before President Obama tapped Army veteran and former Proctor and Gamble chairman and CEO Robert McDonald to take over the system in an attempt to turn it around. McDonald stepped into the role of VA secretary in July 2014, and since then, according to two recent reports by outside groups, the results have been dramatic.

20 December 2016

ProPublica Files Lawsuit Seeking Agent Orange Documents From the VA

The suit claims the VA failed to promptly process a FOIA request for correspondence with a consultant about the defoliant used during the Vietnam War.

ProPublica has sued the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, claiming the agency failed to promptly process a request for correspondence with a consultant about Agent Orange, a toxic defoliant used during the Vietnam War.
The lawsuit, filed late Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., alleges that the delays violated the Freedom of Information Act, a 50-year-old law whose mission is to provide the public with information about government operations.
 ProPublica submitted a FOIA request in May, requesting correspondence between various VA officials and scientist Alvin Young, who has guided the stance of the military and VA on Agent Orange and whether it has harmed service members. The request also sought internal correspondence about any contracts awarded to Young or his consulting firm.
To date, the VA has not provided any of the requested documents.
“We always try, as we did in this case, to resolve records issues without filing a lawsuit.” said Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica’s editor in chief. “The documents that relate to Dr. Young’s government-paid work are exactly the sort of material the Freedom of Information Act covers. We look forward to reporting on their contents as soon as possible.”

18 December 2016

"OBE?" C-123 Vets' struggles are now mostly OBE and we need to give thanks to new faces of VA that got us here

"OBE." Except for our concern about retroactivity, years of my writing on this blog and arguing with the VA have been OBE since June 2015

No, I'm not referring to the Order the British Empire but I am explaining the acronym OBE to mean overcome by events.

OBE basically says that while you may have had a beef or a problem or perhaps been screwed over by the system in the past, things are different now and the basic problem mostly resolved. The things that caused the trouble or allowed it to fester are no longer relevant.

Honest writing and advocacy means I have to distinguish between the years before Secretary McDonald in the years after his arrival at the VA.

Before Secretary McDonald took office we were being kicked around fiercely by the VBA Agent Orange desk and the VHA Post-Deployment Health Services. Individuals in those departments fought our exposure claims and did so with total success. They implemented their own policy of "holding the line" (their words!) against our claims.

That would've gone on forever but for the installation of Mr. McDonald at 810 Avenue, and the arrival of other fair-minded leaders like Assistant Secretary Linda Schwartz and Dr. Ralph Erickson.

11 December 2016

Agent Orange – Its Legacy Endures

Posted: December 9, 2016
Norman Stockwell



Forty years ago, on December 10, 1976, the United Nations General Assembly passed the “Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques” by a vote of 96 to 8. It was the first time the international body had addressed the issue of the use of defoliants in military conflicts. Article One of the document broadly states: “Each State Party to this Convention undertakes not to engage in military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects as the means of destruction, damage or injury to any other State Party.”

Agent Orange was one of a series of chemical defoliants used by the U.S. military in the war in Vietnam. From 1962 to 1971, over 20 million gallons of herbicides were sprayed on jungle and agricultural land in Vietnam and the surrounding countries of Laos and Cambodia. The spraying was ostensibly to eliminate foliage providing cover for enemy troops. It was called Operation Ranch Hand. Reaching its peak between 1967-69, Operation Ranch Hand sprayed toxic chemicals over more than one fifth of all the forests in what was then South Vietnam.

Of the 2.7 million U.S. troops who served in Vietnam, more than 39,000 have filed claims with the Veteran’s Administration (VA) for Agent Orange related health issues and, according to the Vietnamese government, more than 4 million of its citizens were victims of the spraying. The VA acknowledges more than 14 forms of cancer and other nerve and heart diseases to be directly associated with Agent Orange exposure. Birth defects in children of those exposed carry the toxic legacy forward into the next generation on both sides.

The Progressive first covered concerns over the toxic effects of Agent Orange in a May 1973 column noting: “…two Harvard scientists reported that a chemical defoliant widely used by the United States in South Vietnam during the recent unpleasantness has contaminated that nation's food chain. The scientists—chemist Robert Baugham and geneticist Matthew Meselson, who have made previous ecological surveys of Indochina—found the chemical, dioxin, in shrimp and five species of fish taken from various waters in South Vietnam. Dioxin, an ingredient of the defoliant known as Agent Orange, was present in amounts known to cause disease, genetic damage, and death in animals. The effect on humans has not yet been determined, but we are likely to find out before too long.”

It was exactly four years later in June 1977, that Maude DeVictor, an employee at the VA in Chicago first began to document the cases of cancer clustered in veterans who had been exposed to Agent Orange. A June 1978 article in The Progressive by Michael Uhl and Tod Ensign told her story: “Maude DeVictor works behind a cold, steel gray desk in the Benefits Section of the Veterans Administration regional office in Chicago. She is not your average paper shuffler. In recent months, Maude DeVictor has joined the select ranks of whistle blowers — those heroic individuals who discover an outrage and, in defiance of bureaucracy or suppression, bring it to public notice. The outrage Maude DeVictor discovered was the shocking effect of dioxin poisoning on American veterans who came into contact with the herbicides that were used to defoliate more than five million acres of the Vietnamese countryside between 1962 and 1970. Her efforts have not only focused attention on the plight of these latest victims of the Vietnam war, but have also raised new warnings against the domestic hazards posed by the herbicides.”

07 December 2016

C-123 Veterans Ethical Concerns

VA Ethical Failures:

An examination of worrisome ethical failures involving Veterans Benefit Administration and Veterans Health Administration is warranted. I am just a Veteran badly served for years by VBA ethical missteps. I’m no student of ethics. I looked up the definition of ethics: Gaymon's definition of ethics:  “viewing decisions through a lens of values, and determining the better alternative course of action.”
 In this paper I look at ethical problems in the light of that reasonable definition but also in the light of the VA mission statement. I believe too many decisions about C-123 Veterans were made without holding up any lens of values and without seeking any better alternative course of action.

02 December 2016

Rickenbacker's Col. Bob Shondel passes

Obituary:
Robert George Shondel, 68, of Newport, KY, passed away on November 30, 2016 at the Cincinnati VA Hospital. 
He was a pilot with United States Air Force Reserves, serving in Desert Storm. He was the former Wing Vice Commander of the 445th Airlift Wing and former Squadron Commander of the 356th Airlift Squadron; He was inducted into the Order of the Rhino. 
Bob was a member of St. Catherine of Siena Church and a member of the Catholic Order of Foresters. He was a graduate of The Ohio State University with a degree in computer engineering and a master's of business; he retired from various leadership roles at the IBM Corporation. He was a member of the National Ski Patrol, active with the Boy Scouts of America Troop 86 and a member of the Cincinnati War Birds. 
Bob also enjoyed sailing, boating and camping. He was preceded in death by his parents, John Robert and Helen (Bidinger) Shondel. Bob is survived by his wife, Lynn (Joseph) Shondel; sons; Brandon (Rachel) Shondel and Robert C. Shondel; daughters, Cassandra (Benjamin) Greenwell and Bridget (Jordan) Sammons; brothers, William Shondel and Edward Shondel; sister, Kathleen (Dean) Blair, cousins, John (Dee) Shondel, Joe Shondel, Joyce (Paul) Oeschle and Ann Layer and many other family members.