07 July 2011

C-123K Aircrews: Agent Orange Exposure 1972-1982!

USAF IG complaint filed 5/06/11: AF didn't inform aircrews about Agent Orange Exposure! Complaint dismissed 6/9/11 - referred to VA and AF Historical Office?  R-U-Serious?
READ DOWN - entries are in order of date published
There is a community of us who loved, flew and maintained the C-123K Provider in the years following the return of the aircraft from Vietnam until its retirement in 1982. Some of us are Vietnam vets, most served also in Desert Storm, many in Iraqi/Enduring Freedom. Some of us flew as primary aircrew and career trash haulers, aeromedical evacuation crew or ACMs, but the point is...many of us have cancer!

Patches, Wright-Patterson AFB
Turns out the Air Force concluded in 1993 (perhaps even earlier) that many of the Providers were too contaminated for resale as surplus, even after extensive cleaning and replacement of interior components, and the passing of nearly a quarter century!

On 28 Apr 2011 I  located this fact in a decision by a board of the General Services Administration (GSBCA14165, Sept 2000) dealing with a lawsuit involving resale of the Providers for commercial use, wherein the GSA happened to include reports from Air Force toxicologists that many of the aircraft stored at the boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB remained contaminated with dioxin and other toxins! There's no conspiracy here (except perhaps by the Director of the Office of Environmental Law for the Air Force..click for their memo)...its just that nobody got around to having the thought that we'd like to know we'd been exposed. A "minor" oversight? Really? Somehow, the question about our exposure never seems to have been raised. Hard to believe these reports were written by people calling themselves our comrades-in-arms, scientists, physicians, attorneys, officers and leaders!

In particular, Patches (Tail #362) at Wright-Pat has received special attention, with a very detailed study prepared by the Air Force Medical Service in 1994. Identified as AL-OE-BR-CL-1994-0203, the study concludes (and backed up by the May 2011 Oregon Health Sciences University analysis of the Air Force data) that Patches is "heavily contaminated", "extremely hazardous/dangerous" and recommended that museum personnel not work around or enter the aircraft without Tyvek protective clothing and HEPA masks, followed by decontamination. Funny thing...I recall wearing a thin Nomex flight suit as I soared the lofty heavens, "where never lark nor even eagle flew", in Patches and our other 123s between 1973-1980...does anybody else suffer this memory lapse? Download and read this report carefully...it details the specific levels of dioxin contamination by position outside the aircraft, within the aircraft and by itself, proves the point of our having been exposed so long as we can show we flew her. John Harris of the 731st was an aircraft commander, flying over 200 hours in Patches. During these missions, he flew with the windows open in the summer to reduce the stink of Agent Orange...in the winter, he flew with the heat off to keep the smell down. The plane was drenched! The plane was deadly! We cycled a total of 26 C-123K/UC-123K aircraft through the 731st TAS over the years...records now available indicate at least eleven had been used for spraying Agent Orange! (note: FOIA info received 1 July 2011 shows $53,000 was spent to "mostly" decontaminate Patches so that at least limited access is permitted, through the plane is still kept away from public access.)

Even if you're not a Vietnam veteran, law exists (although ignored by the VA) to protect those exposed to Agent Orange:
"any other veteran who may have been exposed to dioxin or other toxic substance in an herbicide or defoliant during their military service must provide proof of exposure to enroll and obtain an AO Registry exam. For an incomplete list of locations and dates where dioxin (Agent Orange and other agents) was used, consult the VA information available online at http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/" Just remember that it seems to be VA policy to automatically deny a claim the first couple times it is submitted and in every instance to deny a claim on AO exposure except for Vietnam veterans. Still, eventually justice might prevail for one of us

In early May as I learned I have heart disease and prostate cancer, I began a phone survey of a few Air Force friends who flew with me, and instantly found five in our squadron with prostate cancer. The sixth I tried to call had died. Then I learned our squadron commanders also had AO-illnesses. As did the wing commander vice commander, hospital commander (our flight surgeon), and our first sergeant. And our aircraft commanders! There must (unfortunately) be others, and all of us need to submit claims to the Department of Veterans Affairs if we wish to get service connection due to Agent Orange exposure. Nearly two months into this project, it seems I have trouble finding crewmembers who don't have AO-illnesses!

As is our right, I have pumped out a bunch of Freedom of Information Act Requests to the GSA, Air Force Museum, Department of the Air Force and other agencies to seek documentation about post-Vietnam use of the aircraft and what might be known about its contamination.

So here's what we have so far (click & download whole presentation)
1. the GSA report citing Air Force studies establishing toxins remaining in the C-123K surplus fleet
2. Davis-Monthan spent $123,000 to put all their surplus Providers in a fenced, inaccessible area "out of sight"; workers are not allowed into the aircraft without protective equipment (we've since learned the planes were all destroyed 4/2010)
3. museum and display aircraft (Robins, Air Force Museum, etc) are sealed and no access or very limited access permitted; Robins allows contact with their plane
4. lots of us are getting cancer & other AO-presumptive illnesses, and dying
5. Two contaminated aircraft had been sold to Disney for movies! One is still available to the public, with physical contact allowed to the contaminated outside surfaces of the UC-123K.
7. Contaminated aircraft had been sold to foreign governments, with JAG officers and general officers more concerned about the "political implications" than the safety of those allied aircrews
8. the VA's web site claims that if a vet proves exposure to Agent Purple, Agent Orange and other toxins, the VA may consider award of service connection (their term for an illness being caused by military service) and that opens the door for compensation and medical treatment, as well as perhaps benefits for survivors. We also know that unofficially at least, the VA universally denies every single claim of illness related to Agent Orange exposure, no matter how verified and even if on their list of presumed illnesses, unless a veteran was exposed at one of their published list of exposure sites. You can show them videos of being forced to eat, breathe, and bathe in Agent Orange, and your claim will be automatically denied. Most Veterans Service Officers won't even encourage you to file, but everyone should get on the AO Registry!

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