31 March 2020

Rest in Peace, Lt Col Robert Anthony Bar


CINCINNATI – Robert A. Barry, 77, died March 27, 2020. He was born July 19, 1943 in Cincinnati, the son of Edgar and Helen (nee Schmuelling) Barry. Bob graduated from Elder High School, 1960; and the University of Cincinnati, 1965; in engineering. Following graduation, he served as a navigator in the United States Air Force and Air Force Reserve for 26 years; and served in the first Gulf War. After college he married his high school sweetheart, Mary Lubke, and settled in Cincinnati. Bob volunteered at the St. Vincent de Paul, St. Jude Chapter. He enjoyed carpentry, reading (especially science fiction), traveling, and was an avid sports fan.
In addition to his parents, he is predeceased by his daughter, Lynn Martin and his sister, Arlene Page. Surviving in addition to his wife, are his daughters, Trisha (Joe) Herbers, Christine Barry (Mike Weatzel), and Connie Ashley; son-in-law, Trevor Martin; 9 grandchildren; one great grandchild; and many nieces and nephews.
Those who wish to remember Bob in a special way, may make gifts in his memory to Alzheimer’s Association of Cincinnati, 644 Linn St., Cincinnati, OH 45203 to support CTS Walk Team Steve, Lynn and Bob’s Troops

23 March 2020

VETERANS: Put your flags out!

This is a good time to have our flag waving!

God bless our medical warriors and keep them safe.

19 March 2020

Many VA C-123 Publication and Web Page Errors Now Resolved (I hope)

Much still needs to be done, however we're grateful for all progress! Email from VA Post Deployment Public Health, received today:

Sir:

Post Deployment Health Services updated the webpage and also mentioned the C-123 group on a national call with the Environmental Health Coordinators and Clinicians this week.  We will send the link to the updated page to our VISN leads.  Thank you for your email and concern for the C-123 Veterans. 
 On web page:C-123 Airplanes and the Agent Orange RegistryVeterans (including some Reservists) who state that they flew on or worked on a C-123 aircraft between 1969 and 1986 are eligible for the Agent Orange Registry.https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/locations/residue-c123-aircraft/index.asp  Please note that VBA will have documentation requirements while for registry exams we only require a verbal declaration.

16 March 2020

VA Inspector General to look into VA C-123 literature errors!


VA has finally agreed to investigate their own publications. We explained to VA that even their Board of Veterans Affairs was denying veterans' claims by citing inaccurate forms and web pages.





VAOIG Hotline <Do Not Reply> VAOIG.Hotline@va.gov

6:36 AM (6 minutes ago)
to me
Dear Mr. Carter:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (OIG) has opened a case based on a review of the information you reported to our office regarding inappropriate denial of benefits for Veterans .  The case number assigned is 2020-02211-HL-0822.  

Now that we have opened a case, our office will review the issues you reported, or ask an impartial VA official to conduct the review. If we ask another VA office to conduct the review, we will ensure the reviewer fully examines the issues before closing the case.  Please be advised that once a case is opened, we cannot discuss its progress.

We will contact you again only if we need more information.  Otherwise, we will notify you when the case is closed.  Thank you for contacting the VA OIG Hotline.

Sincerely,



Crystal/xxxxxx
VA OIG Hotline (53E)

13 March 2020

C-123 veterans MUST exercise special coronavirus precautions

We've already had enough toxic exposures in life, and along comes this COVID-19 to add its miseries to the mess. Bummer, but that's it and we'll just have to deal with it. You've all faced worse challenges and you might be old...but you're old and you're ornery!
We need to take even more seriously than others the precautions recommended by our health officials. I'm going to stress the special steps I believe we must follow. If you have instructions from your own physician, of course obey them faithfully.

Simple stuff first.
• Wash your hands several times an hour and especially when you've touched others, handled money, used the bathroom and coughed or sneezed. Wash again before you eat. It you need to scratch or touch your face, use a tissue. Wash before you go to bed because you'll touch your face while sleeping. The virus can enter via the eyes, nose and mouth.
Coronavirus infects cells below the voice box, in the airways and deep in the lungs, unlike flu viruses which start with your nose and throat. Other than via tiny particles inhaled in air, coronavirus reaches those cells via fluid in the nose or throat that sneaks past your voice box (this is called aspiration) and slides down your windpipe, or trachea. Bingo – COVID-19.
• Eat well and hydrate to stay healthy and to be strong should you become ill.
• Avoid contact with others in every way possible. The virus is shed from one's respiratory track and travels for several feet just in the water vapor of normal breathing, and 30 feet or so in a sneeze.
• Stock up on a couple weeks' worth of supplies. That's not because society will collapse and stores overcome by insane looters....No, it is simply so you can stay home should you or your family become ill, not spread the virus to others, and have your needs for food and medicine comfortably met. Add some books and Netflix and all the better. Weather permitting, get outside and enjoy the sun on your lawn or deck. Perhaps you'll enjoy home delivery of meals, but just ask the delivery person to leave the food outside the door. Tip generously.
• Ask your physician for a month's worth of medication. In addition, consider the discomforts COVID-19 brings and also stock up on "comfort items" to make one more comfortable.
• If you're ill, don't see your doctor or go to the hospital without phoning first. Above all, we have to keep our medical folks and first responders healthy!
• If you're ill or in self-quarantine, tape a sign to your front door to that effect.
• Check on your friends and family, offering what help you can if needed.
• If you give home care for a family member who is ill or might be ill, take precautions immediately: a separate bedroom, a separate bathroom, separate meals, minimal contact if possible. The sick person should wear an N95 mask if available and everyone washes hands like crazy. Try to stay six feet apart, remembering that the virus travels even in normal breathing.
• If I were to care for a COVID-19 patient, I'd want to wear an N95 mask, goggles and gloves. Check online for the proper manner to remove after patient care.
• Clean. Clean. Clean more. COVID-19 virus can stay vaporized in the air where a sick person has breathed for about three hours. On surfaces that touching, breath or coughs settle on, it can stay active for three days and longer. Do some more cleaning. We're lucky compared to Agent Orange...no amount of cleaning could rid a C-123 of dioxin contamination, but everyday strong cleaners can tackle COVID-19 just fine. Paper towels will run out but microfiber cloths can be used, washed in hot water and used again.
Hot water and soap suds do a great job on the virus; save your spray cleaners for where you can't use a cloth. The coronavirus breaks down quite nicely with plain ordinary laundry, dishwasher and hand soap.
• Ventilate the home with an air conditioner, or have a window open.

Some extra ideas:
• The COVID-19 virus affects the respiratory track so there'll be coughing and difficulty breathing at times. Have many boxes of tissues at home and discard after each cough. It is not scientific and cures nothing, but I've found Vicks VapoRub and other ointments and cough tablets with eucalyptus to give some breathing comfort and help keep the nose clear.
• Keep hydrated. Consider electrolyte replacement; some folks benefit from
Pedialyte or similar liquids.
• Adults (not small children) can consider fever-fighting meds like aspirin and ibuprofen.
• Don't share eating utensils. Wash linens and clothing carefully, and wash your hands after.
• If caring for a family member, designate just one person to provide that care rather than everyone try to help.
• COVID-19 is weird. Older folks have more trouble with it than younger folks. Also, exposed younger folks seem to transmit the illness much more readily than do old folks. Maybe the next few weeks are not the best time to have the grandkids over to visit.

God bless us all...keep safe.
     Wes Carter, Major, USAF Retired
     Medical Service Corps


20 February 2020

Zero-experience Ambassador Richard Grenell picked to run entire US intelligence system

This just can't be good, all politics aside. Ambassador Richard Grenell has been named Director National Intelligence.

That's an important job, full stop! That's a "keep the world from exploding today" kind of job. However, it is also apparently one where zero intelligence or military experience is considered useful. I disagree.

Why? Reporting to him and requiring masterful supervision are sixteen agencies with tens of thousands of staff all around the world that comprise the US National Intelligence Community. Ambassador Grenell hasn't even visited a quarter of them, much less mastered the intricacies of serving the President as the nation's spy chief.

There are many other loyal, as well as better qualified, leaders in the US government who could have stepped forward to serve. The Ambassador, although blessed with a solid advanced education plus 19 years in government service, has never managed any organization half the size of the smallest agency now reporting to him. I wish this gentleman the very best luck, because anything less is going to hurt America. A lot. 

Because he had Senate confirmation to his earlier post of ambassador to Germany, he won't face any challenge from senators of either party concerned with his lack of professional experience...and many have already expressed their worries. Republican congressional and media voices mainly praise his anticipated loyalty rather than his talents. Loyalty is cited as his chief job qualification.

Hello?? Loyalty isn't cited as the qualification needed to fly airplanes, repair
computers, paint houses, do taxes, pull teeth, teach students, drive trucks, direct orchestras, print newspapers, write poetry, fry eggs, clean bathrooms, weld steel, or anything other than, as with Mr. Grenell, keeping America, our allies and the world from exploding. All while losing as few lives as possible in a hostile international setting. Sorry for the run-on sentences.

This mistake is like assigning some hyper-loyal buddy with a farming background to be Surgeon General or Attorney General. These are obviously illogical selections because of the professional qualifications actually needed. In the very real case of Mr. Grenell as our spy chief responsible for preventing wars and more 9/11 disasters, his assignment to head the National Intelligence Community has much greater potential to harm the nation.

Wish our new spy chief all the luck...we'll need it.

Depending on Mr. Grenell's leadership and professionalism in guiding their operations are:

Sixteenth Air Force, United States Air Force
Intelligence and Security Command, US Army
Central Intelligence Agency
Coast Guard Intelligence
Defense Intelligence Agency
Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Department of Energy
Office of Intelligence and Analysis, Department of Homeland Security
Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Department of State
Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Department of Treasury
Office of National Security Intelligence, Drug Enforcement Administration
Intelligence Branch, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Marine Corps Intelligence Activity Corps
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, DOD
National Reconnaissance Office, DOD
National Security Agency/Central Security Service, DOD
Office of Naval Intelligence, United States Navy



18 February 2020

New legislation eliminates SBP-DIC annuity offset for eligible surviving spouses

     Congress included a phased elimination of the SBP-DIC offset in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, titled "Phase-Out of Reduction of Survivor Benefit Plan Survivor Annuities by Amount of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation."
     Defense Finance and Accounting Service officials have a new webpage called “SBP-DIC News” where they will post information on the status of the implementation of this new law. Officials are working on analyzing the change and making plans for the implementation. They will not be able to answer questions about the full effect of this change in the law until they obtain legal interpretation of the changes and identify all of the impacts on policy and procedures.
     Based on the NDAA, spouse SBP annuitants will see the first change in the SBP annuity payment they receive Feb. 1, 2021. Spouses do not need to notify DFAS that their SBP payment is affected by this change in the law. DFAS officials advise that the most important action SBP annuitants can take at this time is to ensure their annuity account information is up-to-date and includes their correct mailing address so DFAS can contact them, if needed. Also, if annuitants are not using myPay online, they can set up a profile now and add their email address. To create an online myPay account, visit https://mypay.dfas.mil/ and click on “Start here” next to the Create your myPay Profile heading on the lower right-hand side of the page. DFAS officials are unable to provide individual estimates of the upcoming changes in spouse SBP annuity payments because of this change in the law.
     Officials ask SBP annuitants not to call the DFAS Customer Care Center to request an individual estimate. The webpage also states that spouse annuitants who previously received a refund of SBP premiums paid because of the SBP-DIC offset won’t need to pay back that refund because of this change in the law.
     The "Repeal of Authority for Optional Annuity for Dependent Children" and "Restoration of Eligibility for Previously Eligible Spouses" in the NDAA only affect those spouses and children of service members who died on active duty when the surviving spouse previously elected to transfer the SBP annuity to a child or children. It does not affect previous or future SBP elections by retirees or SBP annuities for a retiree's beneficiaries.
     SBP provides a monthly income to eligible survivors of Airmen upon their death while DIC is paid to survivors of Airmen who die from a service-related injury or illness.

08 February 2020

VA Just Revised Publication "C-123 AIRCRAFT AGENT ORANGE EXPOSURE CLAIMS – AIR FORCE SPECIALITY CODES AND UNITS."

Reference:
 
"C-123 AIRCRAFT AGENT ORANGE  EXPOSURE CLAIMS – AIR FORCE
SPECIALITY CODES AND UNITS."

VA corrected the dates for Westover's C-123 years, but more importantly 
has broadened the range of acceptable evidence they'll accept for all Reserve
C-123 units, and perhaps geographically separated units as well.

Our expectation, having pointed out the previous discrepancies to VA, is that our old
AFSCs will be acceptable rather than the contemporary ones VA mistakenly 
printed. Further, we identified several units not listed on their publication, and the
language on the fourth page of this publication has been very broadly expanded.

VA commits to accepting "any relevant evidence showing the required regular and
repeated contact." While not yet naming units that had C-123 duty, VA here agrees
that they'll accept most sources of official proof to support disability claims for AFSCs
and, hopefully units not yet specified.
=================================================================

US Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSCs) 1969-1986 

This is a listing of AFSCs that potentially identify former USAF Reservists and active duty personnel with regular and repeated contact as flight, medical, or ground maintenance personnel associated with post-Vietnam Operation Ranch Hand C-123 aircraft. Code numbers during the operational time frame generally consisted of four digits (with additional number/letter suffix) and many were officially changed during the time frame of operations. As a result, VA will accept any relevant evidence showing the required regular and repeated contact.

03 February 2020

Another VA Publication Error: Wrong Dates on C-123 Eligibility

Will it ever stop? Another error has been spotted on VA web pages and publications that slams the hopes of C-123 veterans hoping to quality for Agent Orange exposure benefits.

This time the error is with dates: A VA web page titled "Agent Orange exposure" specifies the dates for C-123 exposure eligibility as "On C-123 airplanes: Between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975." Their error, of course, was using the dates for general Vietnam War eligibility and not our post-Vietnam C-123 service dates of 1972-1986.

The mistake has been pointed out to them but this morning I repeated myself by filing another VA Inspector General report...the fourth so far asking VA to clean up their publications.

Here's a clip of their error:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Rlco4Rptc-7SphAcQst8MB4Q1WMv54wG/view?usp=sharing

27 January 2020

VA & DOD Release 2019 List of Agent Orange Sites (outside of Vietnam)

VA has released an updated Department of Defense list of locations outside of Vietnam where tactical herbicides were used, tested or stored by the United States military. The last list was released in 2006, and its flaws plagued vets these last fourteen year.

We tried to get DOD or VA to update their list, but both agencies said it wasn't theirs. I found the key USAF official in charge of installations, but LtGen Fedder declined to do anything to add C-123 aircraft to Dr. Alvin Young's 2006 waste of taxpayer dollars.
VA continued describing their new llst: “This update was necessary to improve accuracy and communication of information,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA depends on DOD to provide information regarding in-service environmental exposure for disability claims based on exposure to herbicides outside of Vietnam.”

Thorough review

DOD conducted a thorough review of research, reports and government publications in response to a November 2018 Government Accountability Office report.
“DOD will continue to be responsive to the needs of our interagency partners in all matters related to taking care of both current and former service members,” said Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper. “The updated list includes Agents Orange, Pink, Green, Purple, Blue and White, and other chemicals and will be updated as verifiable information becomes available.”
Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides during service may be eligible for a variety of VA benefits, including an Agent Orange Registry health exam, health care and disability compensation for diseases associated with exposure. Their dependents and survivors also may be eligible for benefits

A Small Success: Stopping "Weekend Warrior"

In 2018 I complained about VA use of the phrase "weekend warrior." Many of us Reservists or National Guards consider this slur both pejorative and inaccurate. Even Google defines it as "a person who participates in an activity only in their spare time." Doesn't sound much like what we did, does it? The phrase works against us and had to stop.

I'm happy to say that VA has stopped using the phrase, at least by the Board of Veterans Appeals. In 2019 the phrase wasn't used a single time vs. more than a hundred times in recent years. I can see how it got started by reading old citations....one judge used it in a decision and than others did also not by any initiative on their part but because of the all-too-easy habit among VA's administrative law judges to simply clipboard each other's work.
The problem is that a judge is like others...words matter, and to have a mental image of "weekend warrior" while deciding whether that particular warrior is deserving of disability benefits is just too prejudicial!

Is this what YOUR BVA judge thinks?

24 January 2020

BVA Appeal Decisions Reference Wrong AFSC Codes for C-123 Agent Orange Eligibility

Here is one more example of how well-meaning VA folks have let benefits-related publications be used to deny veterans' perfectly valid C-123 Agent Orange exposure claims.

First: Kudos to the VA: I'm very happy that our effort to get exposure benefits for C-123 post-Vietnam veterans has led to seven active duty bases' personnel also considered for entitlement. But that doesn't make up for the harm done our Reserve veterans in the way VA spelled out eligibilities.

Look carefully at the second paragraph below. Notice the AFSC codes....do any of them look familiar to you? Probably not, because the Air Force "modernized" their codes a few years after most of us left service, and our old AFSC is nothing like the current one. Click here for the old Officer AFSC codes. Click here for the old Enlisted AFSC codes.

Example: the old AFSC for aircrew life support specialist was 92250, and the VA is set to deny anyone without the current AFSC they show below, 1220-1229. The example below is from an appeal denied by the Board of Veterans Appeals, meaning even if the veteran or his claims advisor spots the technical failing of AFSC codes, that poor vet is stuck with another years-long wait to appeal, this time to the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Maybe he'll get lucky there. Disability awards shouldn't have to depend on luck!

So we're given a real disaster is when a regional office or the Board of Veterans Affairs denies one of our claims because we provided on our DD-214, AF Form 623 or other official document the old AFSC.  It conflicts with the VA's publication that honors only the new codes.

I've already written about VA's failure to include the 67th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, the 905th CAMS, and the VA not listing anything about enlisted aeromedical evacuation technicians and their 902XX AFSC.

I guess that means another VA IG complaint that they'll either ignore or, at best, pass along to the next unsuspecting associate to also ignore.

VA has published a list of military units who had regular and repeated exposure to contaminated C-123 aircraft.  The affected reserve units and dates of service for affected crew members are as follows: Pittsburgh International Airport, Pennsylvania (1972-1982), Westover Air Force Base and Hanscom Field Air Force Base, Massachusetts (1972-1982), and Lockbourne/Rickenbacker Air Force Base, Ohio (1969-1986). The affected active duty units and dates of service for affected crewmembers are Hurlburt Auxiliary Field, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida (1970-1973), Langley Air Force Base, Virginia (1962-1963, 1970-1973), Luke Air Force Base, Arizona (1970-1973), Tainan Air Field, Taiwan (1969-1970), Howard Air Force Base, Panama (1970-1973), Osan Air Base, South Korea (1970-1973), and Clark Air Force Base, Philippines (1969-1970).
VA has also published a list of specialty codes for military personnel who had regular and repeated exposure to contaminated Operation Ranch Hand (ORH) C-123s, used to spray Agent Orange in Vietnam, as flight, maintenance, or medical crew members. Those codes for enlisted personnel are flight engineer/aircraft loadmaster (1130-1149), aircrew life support specialist (1220-1229), and aircraft maintenance specialist/flight technicians (4314-4359). See https://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/docs/AO_C123_AFSpecialityCodesUnits.pdf.
In order to warrant a presumption of exposure based on contact with a C-123, a veteran must have had duties at one of the above listed places during the time frame specified, and the veteran must also have had a duty which entailed that he or she regularly and repeatedly operated, maintained or served onboard C-123 aircraft.

22 January 2020

President's Statement on Military Injuries Following Iran's Missile Attack

(28 Jan 2010: Update on the injuries the President dismissed as 'headaches": 
Fifty US military personnel have now been diagnosed with concussions and traumatic brain injuries following the Iranian missile attack on US forces in Iraq earlier this month, according to a statement Tuesday from the Pentagon.
That's an increase on 16 from late last week when the Pentagon said 34 cases had been diagnosed.)

In his press conference this morning from Davos, Switzerland, the President was asked about American troops hurt during Iran's missile attack. I feel he spoke (or hopefully only misspoke) of their injuries as something unworthy of his consideration.

I'm deeply disappointed in his response. I am a 100% service-connected totally disabled paralyzed war veteran, and so messed up the VA tossed me into something called "catastrophically disabled." But I would never dismiss TBI as "not very serious" compared to my injuries or those referred to by the President. 

I am not political, but I take a stand here: TBI is a lifelong threat to health. TBI is more serious than youthful bone spurs that somehow disappear without treatment.

The President said:
"I heard that they had headaches, and a couple of other things, but I would say, and I can report, it's not very serious, They told me about it numerous days later, you'd have to ask Department of Defense. I don't consider it very serious relative to other injuries that I've seen. I've seen what Iran has done with their roadside bombs to our troops. I've seen people with no legs and with no arms. I've seen people that were horribly, horribly injured in that area, that war. No, I do not consider that to be bad injuries, no."
Separately, and with somewhat more perspective on the medical issues facing the injured, a CENTCOM spokesman has informed reporters nineteen injured troops have been evacuated to Germany, from a current estimate of at least 34 blast injuries 

Read more about TBI from the National Institute of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Serious attention has been given since President Obama began an annual $100 million effort to address military TBI. The effort has continued with similar funding in the present administration. Since 2003 nearly 400,000 veterans have suffered moderate to severe TBI, typically blast injuries from ever-more lethal IEDs.

TBI, and indeed every military injury and illness, is worthy of our president's concern, respect and careful attention. Read here about DOD guidance for award of the Purple Heart for TBI injuries. That gets my respect.

Perhaps the administration should forward its new "not very serous" guidance to Building 3737 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC, ) the hospital's Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) & Rehabilitation Clinic. Blast injuries get serious respect there!

C-123 VETERANS ASSOCIATION FILES ANOTHER VA IG COMPLAINT ABOUT VBA PUBLICATIONS AND WEB PAGES

Several months ago we brought several problems to the attention of VA staff regarding their publications. Problems like not listing C-123 units, or enlisted AFSCS, but specifically not properly describing eligible veterans.

Today, because of their inaction, we've filed an IG complaint. Typically the VA IG won't get involved in something like this but just as often, they'll forward the issue to responsible officials to resolve.  L:et's hope for the best here, because we're all tired of C-123 claim being denied by regional offices, or even the Board of Veterans Appeals, by VA citing their own inaccurate literature as justification.

Today's specific complaint deals with "C-123 Airplanes and Agent Orange Residue" published by the Veterans Benefits Administration. VBA has a terribly misleading paragraph towards the end of the document:

Both points in this paragraph are false. The VA's own manual VA M21-1MR as well as 38 CFR § 3.307 (Presumption of Herbicide Exposure and Presumption of Disability During Service for Reservists Presumed Exposed to Herbicides) makes clear that EVERY C-123 veteran who served in a squadron known to have had C-123 aircraft after Vietnam is considered presumptively exposed and need not prove anything except the unit assigned to, and presence of an Agent Orange illness. And there is no "case-by-case' evaluation any different than any other Agent Orange claim, other than the fact all of our claims have to be directed ONLY to the VA St Paul Regional Office That's in their regulation also!


20 January 2020

C-123 Veterans Association Challenges VA to Correct Agent Orange Exposure Publications

Our C-123 Veterans Association has identified numerous errors by which VA denies our aircrews and maintenance veterans earned Agent Orange benefits.

So, we today submitted a 68-page detailed analysis of these errors to as many VA managers for whom we have email addresses.

Here's what we've addressed about VA's C-123 literature:

1. 905 CAMS maintainers cross-trained on the C-123 at Westover and should have their exposure claims honored.
2. Rickenbacker's 67th Aeromedical Evacuation squadron flew their base C-123s between 1972-1986 and their exposure claims should be honored.
3. VA has failed to specify enlisted medical crew AFSCs and has for five years simply denied most of their applications, even when submitted with ample evidence.
4. Certain aerial port units at the three C-123 bases should have claims honored, particularly for ramp and fleet service staff.
5. VA failed to see the 911th AES at Pittsburgh IAP was previously named the 33rd AES, and has let the confusion lead to denied veterans benefits.

VA has had most of this sent their way for two years and has failed to act. Perhaps there is hope this time. Worth the try!


06 January 2020

White House again delays decision on new Agent Orange diseases; is decision delayed for "late 2020" election impact?

Comment: To me, this decision, promised since the Obama administration and repeatedly promised by the Trump VA, seems timed to the election. Mulvaney seems to have even raised the bar for coverage. Previously, VA acted when Institute of Medicine studies revealed a statistical impact for Agent Orange on a disease: Mulvaney now demands "compelling evidence" for VA to act. Or...to avoid acting at all? And why wait until the election?
The clear problem is his term compellingconclusive, convincing, decisive, effective, forceful, persuasive, satisfying, strong." That's a new, much higher standard. Science and medicine will find it almost impossible to establish "compelling" proof. Very few other exposures have "compelling" evidence for diseases. Tobacco, asbestos, radiation, perhaps only exposures like these fall into that category. The original 1991 laws for Agent Orange exposures forced VA to act when IOM showed an increase for the statistical odds of a disease. Mulvaney wants more. Very, very much more.
by Patricia Kime,
The day President Donald Trump signed a funding bill including a provision ordering VA to announce its plans to add four conditions to the list of Agent Orange-linked diseases within 30 days, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the decision wasn’t likely to come until at least “late 2020.”
In a letter to Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, dated Dec. 20 and obtained by Military Times, Wilkie said he would not make a decision until the results of two long-awaited studies are submitted to or published in scientific journals.
Then Wilkie said he was just awaiting the results of the studies — the Vietnam Era Health Retrospective Observational Study, or VE-HEROES, and the Vietnam Era Mortality Study — expected in 2019.
But the requirement that the results be analyzed, peer-reviewed and in the publication pipeline could add months to the process. VE-HEROES results are currently “being analyzed,” while data from the mortality study is “expected to be available for peer review and publication in late 2020,” Wilkie wrote in the letter.
It’s unclear whether VA plans to comply with the new law that requires it to announce its plans on a decision within the 30-day requirement.
For the 83,000 veterans with one of three conditions under consideration, including bladder cancer, Parkinson’s-like symptoms or hypothyroidism, as well as an unknown number of Vietnam veterans with high blood pressure, the wait continues.

05 January 2020

VA Fails Another C-123 Veteran's Claim

Veteran's VA Experience
Not again!

But yes, VA has screwed yet another C-123 claim beyond all recognition. In this case, an aeromedical evacuation technician from Pittsburgh's 33rd AES died while his claim was in process, so his widow continued the application.

It took quite a bit of detective work, but enough documentation was uncovered to establish the veteran's AFSC, his unit, and flying status with the 33rd during the years the C-123 was in service at Pittsburgh. I had the opportunity to provide a supporting statement, the VA Form 41-2138 to explain enough of the facts that the claim should have succeeded.

But that was not to be. For some reason, the regional claims office disregarded all the veteran's supporting documentation and also disregarded my own input, calling it "unqualified lay input."

We were lucky in this case to get support from the National Veterans Legal Services Project, and they rebuilt the claim for submission to the Board of Veterans Appeals. Once again, VA pretended everything in the claim was inadequate to satisfy their critical eye. BVA denied the widow's claim on two reasons. The judge wrote that the veteran was assigned to the 33rd AES, but VA forms explaining the C-123 program only specified the 911th AES.

Somehow, it got past these "experts" that the 33rd is the same as the 911th! Some years after the C-123 era, the squadron's name was updated to the 911th.

The other thing that got past the "experts" was the veteran's AFSC of 90210 and 90250. VA's various C-123 publications failed to list enlisted aeromedical evacuation technicians' AFSCs, and had only flight nurses listed. Ordinarily this isn't a problem because all C-123 claims are supposed to be processed by the VA St. Paul office where experts can drill down to the real facts.

Unfortunately, this claim drifted to some other regional office and there, was denied, and then prepared for resubmission the the Board of Veterans Appeals. The BVA also denied, and we found about it by reading the monthly BVA decision summaries.

The BVA errors were obvious and fatal to the claim. It was wrongly denied, for the two reasons named above. The last few days we've tried to alert every contact we know at VA to see if reason can prevail, to get the claim reconsidered without having to await the next higher level of appeal, the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

Will it work? There's a chance, and we've succeeded before when VA's mistakes were so glaring. NVLSP has continued their involvement and won't let this go unchallenged. We sure could use help from Pennsylvania's legislators to pressure VA to reconsider the denied claim and to update the publications that caused these problems.

Stay tuned!

04 January 2020

I'm troubled by the attack on Iranian General Qasem Soleimani

     Was it assassination for American drones to target and kill Iranian General Qasem Soleimani? I hope not, but I'm very troubled and trying to learn and understand more. Was this combat, or crime, or somehow both?
     As a student of history, particularly World War II, I read with concern about the shoot-down of Japanese Admiral Yamamoto by US Army Air Forces. Knowing the enemy's flight plans, American flyers conducted an extremely challenging mission ("Operation Vengeance") and shot down the Admiral's aircraft over the Solomon Islands on April 18, 1943.
     Writing about it, some historians called it an assassination, questioning the morality to intentional targeting even of combat leaders. Tellingly, Navy Secretary Knox himself had to give permission for an attack he considered morally questionable in targeting an individual, and in this case he knew it was both for vengeance and for tactical advantage. Rather than the legality of it, Knox questioned the insult to American morals He was swayed by the military considerations of eliminating the Japanese naval mastermind. Researching it, Knox concluded that, under the laws of war at that time, the mission to kill Yamamoto was a legal act of war. But not necessarily a moral act; Knox was forever troubled by the injury done to American values with his attack order.
     Avoiding targeting of opposing leaders isn't just a modern moral or legal question: even at Waterloo, Wellington stopped his artillery firing upon Napoleon.
     So the American drone targeting a specific Iranian general (a legal visitor to Iraq and a military officer from a nation with whom we are not at war) certainly has invited questions and even direct challenges, especially because our moral and legal foundations have evolved over the years since 1943, in part influenced by serious and appropriate self-questioning about the Yamamoto mission. For instance, assassination has been illegal per American law since 1981. It is clear that the morality of war changes with time. Let's hope that's for the better.
     For me, the most serious question comes about because of recent years and clear legal prohibitions against CIA and other intelligence assassinations.
    Generally-accepted morality and the laws of war do not prohibit the targeting of generals and admirals; in fact the killing of soldiers is nearly always permissible, unless they lay down their weapons in which case it is always illegal. In fact, the underlying concept in the laws of war is military necessity, meaning that even those things prohibited by the laws of war, such as the unintentional killing of civilians, can be argued as permissible if they are a matter of military necessity.
     It is the motivations of the decision makers that dictate the morality of the mission, for targeting military leaders solely for the purpose of revenge is in fact unethical and immoral – lethal revenge is best left to legal processes, if possible! If we accept what has been reported about General Qasem Soleimani's actions in Iraq, he was actively targeting American and allied interest and conducting terror campaigns, and thus himself became a legitimate target.
     The 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, a congressional resolution, seems to grant the president the power to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against terrorists with impunity. Thus, nobody should expect to be completely safe (physically, morally or legally) from an overhead MQ-9 Reaper armed with a Hellfire missile when actively plotting the deaths of Americans and our friends.
     While US officials have determined that Soleimani is a terrorist, he was also a ranking general in a sovereign government, so targeting him tempts war with Iran in a new way.
     I don't expect nations in the Middle East will see it our way, especially with administration speaking points focusing more on the general's death to prevent vague future operations against us, or as retaliation for suspected bad acts in the past...because those excuses sound more and more like an illegal revenge assassination.

25 December 2019

END OF THE UNFAIR DOD/SPB – VA/DIC "WIDOWS' TAX"

BY: Jennifer Barnhill December 20, 2019

‘Widow’s Tax’ finally axed when the President signed the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2020.

As the President signed the National Defense Authorization Act Friday night, a 40-year battle to repeal the military “widow’s tax” came to an end.

Surviving families joined forces with advocates and lawmakers to pass nonpartisan legislation, with Congress putting actions in front of words and dollars in the hands of those who paid the ultimate price. The “widow’s tax” was a longstanding policy oversight that affected over 65,000 military survivors. When a service member dies while on active duty or from a military-related illness their families may be eligible for both the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) & Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). Because of concurrent receipt laws (provisions to avoid double-dipping in government benefits), for every dollar paid out via the DIC, one dollar was deducted or “offset” from the SBP insurance payment. This offset cost families roughly $11,000 annually. Not only have these families lived through the nightmare of losing a spouse or loved one, they have had to fight to stay afloat both emotionally and financially.

In 2013, Gold Star widow Kathy Prout started the Military Widows: SBP-DIC Offset Facebook Group as a way for survivors to share their concerns about the offset and related legislation. What began with six members grew to over 2,000 today.

“With privacy laws you can’t find anybody. You can’t find another widow unless somebody says ‘I know somebody,’” Prout said. Over time — and with the power of social media — this group grew in number and purpose.

Prout, who is a teacher, used lesson plans to create a plan of the week with assignments to call representatives who were on the fence.

“Everybody in the [Facebook] group was responsible for calling their own congressmen and senators weekly to remind them about the issue and to keep this on the front burner,” she explained.

One key focus of their effort was coupling consistency with kindness. When cosponsors signed on to support the repeal of the offset, she instructed members to write thank you letters. No one was to be shamed for not signing. Instead, they were to be educated. They didn’t take out frustrations on congressional staffers, who they now knew by name. They helped make supporting their cause easier.

“We provided all the information. Staffers have too many issues [to research] … there is no time in the day,” Prout said.

By speaking the language of government in addition to telling their own authentic stories these survivors became an unstoppable force.

Key players:
As intentional as surviving families were, they needed an advocate, someone to champion their cause. While there were many supporters, Senator Doug Jones, D-Ala. made passing this legislation a main priority. According to Jones, including the repeal of the offset in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) demonstrates “our commitment to our veterans, our military service members and their families because they are the ones making the sacrifices for us. We have got to do more than just give this lip service and talk about the support for our military and throw money at modernizing our military. This is for families. This is for human beings.”

Jones emphasized the need for consistency and maintaining momentum. Because of the lack of understanding and high price tag associated with this legislation, “it wasn’t something that you could just file and make a speech on. You had to constantly work at it. That is what we did and it made a big difference,” Jones said.

His personal investment in the cause was evident as he emotionally recalled hearing from a widow in an Alabama press conference who said, “‘now my husband can finally rest in peace knowing that his commitment to me has been fulfilled.’ That was incredibly gratifying,” Jones says.

Advocacy groups:
Another resource that made 2019 more successful than the previous two decades was the unified message presented by a coalition of military service organizations, including Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), VFW, National Military Family Association, Gold Star Wives of America, MOAA and others. Because of the groups’ familiarity with government along with connections to elected officials, they provided guidance and leadership to the widows-turned-activists.

“The most significant thing this year was the grassroots advocacy effort from the impacted spouses themselves. It was stellar. That is really what has been missing in the past,” Candace Wheeler, policy director for TAPS, said.

Alongside military survivors and political leaders, these organization emphasized that this was not a partisan issue. It was not even a bipartisan issue. It was a nonpartisan issue that needed to be corrected.

What’s next:
There is still work that still needs to be done. Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS) will now begin to calculate what is owed to these families, an undertaking that will likely require a significant amount of work and time. There will be a phase-in process to receive this SBP benefit starting in 2021. DIC benefits will remain the same. Details:
January 1, 2021: ⅓ of owed SBP, SSIA
January 1, 2022: ⅔ of owed SBP, SSIA
January 1, 2023: full benefits, child-only option phased out & those whose children “aged out” can start to receive benefits

QUESTIONS?
Updates to the SBP-DIC Offset can be found on online or contact TAPS at policy@taps.org.

Don’t forget the ‘kiddie tax’:
Whenever there is “bad” legislation, like the offset, there are workarounds. In this case, many spouses with dependents chose to transfer SBP payments to their children to avoid the offset reduction. However, the 2017 Trump tax law moved these surviving children into a higher tax bracket, in the same category with wealthy trust-fund kids, costing survivors thousands more in taxes each year. This penalty is called the “kiddie tax.” This oversight has also been corrected with the inclusion of the Rep. Elaine Luria’s (D-Va.) Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act in another appropriations bill.  Affected families are now eligible to amend last year’s tax returns.

18 December 2019

90,000 Sailors Owe John Rossie the World's Biggest "THANK YOU!"

For years John Rossie of Colorado Springs was the principal fighter for Agent Orange benefits he felt due Navy veterans of the Vietnam War...the Blue Water Navy.
On January 1, under pressure from Congress and veterans' organizations, VA will finally begin honoring Agent Orange exposure claims from the approximately 90,000 former sailers, providing they evidence one of the recognized Agent Orange illnesses.
I did the work for our C-123 veterans, but we number only around 2,100. John's work has a potential to impact 90,000 veterans...truly a staggering victory. John had to pursue his distant victory for four more years after we won ours.
Congratulations!
John and the sailors he served in his years-long mission give me the thought, "shipmates forever," though most will have never met John. That's dedication! Every veteran he has served so doggedly must thank him for never giving up, for years of brilliant ideas, crafty schemes and down-right unflinching target-oriented hard work. Not for himself, but for shipmates, their families and survivors.
God Bless.
    Wes Carter, Major, USAF Retired
    Chairman, The C-123 Veterans Association

VA extends Agent Orange benefits to Blue Water Navy Vietnam Vets January 1, 2020

Law also affects survivors of Veterans, certain dependents and Veteran homebuyers 

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) begins deciding Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 claims, Jan. 1, 2020, extending the presumption of herbicide exposure that include toxins such as Agent Orange, to Veterans who served in the offshore waters of the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
Prior to the measure, only Vietnam War Veterans who served on the ground in Vietnam or within Vietnam’s inland waterways were eligible to receive disability compensation and other benefits based on a presumption of herbicide exposure. (CORRECTION: certain post-Vietnam War C-123 veterans are also entitled to a presumption of exposure to Agent Orange.)
Signed into law June 25, the law specifically affects Blue Water Navy (BWN) Veterans who served as far as 12 nautical miles offshore of the Republic of Vietnam between Jan. 6, 1962 and May 7, 1975, as well as Veterans who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between Jan. 1, 1967 and Aug. 31, 1971. These Veterans can apply for disability compensation and other benefits if they have since developed one of 14 conditions that are presumed to be related to exposure to herbicides such as Agent Orange. Veterans do not need to prove that they were exposed to herbicides. The specific conditions can be found by searching Agent Orange on www.va.gov.
“For six months, VA worked diligently to gather and digitize records from the Naval History and Heritage Command in order to support faster claims decisions,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “These efforts will positively impact the claims process for Veterans filing for these benefits.”
Qualifying recipients, in addition to affected Veterans still living, are certain survivors of deceased BWN and Korean DMZ Veterans.
Survivors can file claims for benefits based on the Veteran’s service if the Veteran died from at least one of the 14 presumptive conditions associated with Agent Orange. The law also provides benefits for children born with spina bifida if their parent is or was a Veteran with certain verified service in Thailand during a specific period. The Blue Water Navy Act also includes provisions affecting the VA Home Loan Program. The law creates more access for Veterans to obtain no-down payment home loans, regardless of loan amount, and the home loan funding fee is reduced for eligible Reservists and National Guard borrowers who use their home loan benefits for the first time. Certain Purple Heart recipients do not pay a funding fee at all. VA’s website describes these and other benefits
Veterans who want to file an initial claim for an herbicide-related disability can use VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits or work with a VA-recognized Veterans Service Organization to assist with the application process. Veterans may also contact their state Veterans Affairs Office.
BWN Veterans who previously filed a claim seeking service connection for one of the 14 presumptive conditions that was denied by VA may provide or identify any new and relevant information regarding their claim when reapplying. To re-apply, Veterans may use VA Form 20-0995, Decision Review Request: Supplemental Claim. As a result of the new law, VA will automatically review claims that are currently in the VA review process or under appeal.  
For more information about the Blue Water Navy Act and the changes that will take effect visit https://www.benefits.va.gov/benefits/blue-water-navy.asp.