02 April 2011

This weekend's documents search: Some Results!

The Congressional Research Service did a very comprehensive study of the VA and treatment of veterans involved in Agent Orange exposure. Besides detailing various approaches by the different Services, the report clarifies how the VA judges whether a veteran's health problems are service-connected:

I located a decision by the Board of Correction of Air Force Records denying an officer retirement based on crew duties on C-123k aircraft. While the fact of his disability was not at question, the officer's request to have that disability amended to the "instrumentality of war" designation was refused...even though the VA had given him that finding. (bummer!)  
In 2000, the Air Force released a study strengthening the links between Agent Orange and heart disease, diabetes and some other ailments.  
"Presumption of Service-Connection:
Prior to discussing disability compensation for exposure to Agent Orange, it is essential to provide a brief overview of presumptive service-connection. In general, a veteran is entitled to compensation for disabilities incurred during active military service. There are several ways to establish that a disability is service-connected. The application of statutory presumptions is only one way to invoke compensation for a service-connected disability. In the context of VA claims adjudication, a presumption could be seen as a procedure to relieve veterans of the burden to prove that a disability or illness was caused by a specific exposure that occurred during service in the Armed Forces. In other words, the onus is placed on the VA rather than the veteran. Most presumptions are applied to chronic disease or illnesses that manifest after a period of time following service."
The Department of Veterans Affairs awarded service-connection to a veteran exposed to Agent Orange during his service at Anderson AFB, Guam. This is interesting because it is one of the few cases where non-Vietnam veterans won disability claims. The logic of the VA was that Agent Orange was stored at the base, was used for local weed control, and the veteran had disabilities associated with Agent Orange. Their language in the finding was:
"The veteran did not serve in Vietnam; therefore, he is not entitled to a presumption of service connection for his diabetes mellitus under the aforementioned law and regulations governing claims for service connection for disabilities resulting from herbicide exposure.  As previously indicated, however, the veteran may be entitled to service connection for this disease on a direct basis if the evidence establishes that his diabetes mellitus is related to the herbicide exposure."
Well, that's us, folks! The C-123K fleet was certainly contaminated when we flew the bird between 1973-1980, and we drank, ate, breathed, touched that poison every minute we were aboard. The Air Force decision to seal (and later, destroy) the surplus 123 fleet at Davis-Monthan was because tests confirmed their contamination. And the paragraph below, in something of a double-negative, explains how post-Vietnam Provider crews can/should prove their exposure to Agent Orange.
 2001, an Air Force working paper on Agent Orange provided an extensive background on Operation Ranch Hand and the crews. In detailing a study of Ranch Hand vs. non-Ranch Hand aircrews' health, the report writers expressly detailed those flying the Provider after Ranch Hand operations as not a valid non-Ranch Hand control population, because the aircraft remained contaminated and:

"Many of the RANCH HAND aircraft were reconfigured for transport and insecticide missions and thus, non-RANCH HAND crews responsible for these other missions, may have been exposed to Herbicide Orange residues in these aircraft. This group may not be truly unexposed to herbicides and therefore is not an appropriate control population. " Get it? That's us!

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