31 July 2011

Where's Help When We Need It?

The following agencies have been approached for help of any kind (advise, referrals, data analysis, suggestions, free candy, ideas, medical information, VA claims assistance, understanding the scientific content of the various AF tests, whatever) without response or with only a comment that our needs are not within their area of responsibility. This is buck-passing. At the most, some of these groups offered the sterling advice to go see the VA. Duh.

Buck passing is their job. Glad it wasn't ours.

State of North Carolina Department of Health, many other departments
State of Oregon Department of Health, many other departments
Centers for Disease Control
National Institutes of Health, Institute on Medicine
Disabled Veterans of America -"we don't do single-issues like this"
Surgeon General of the Air Force
School of Aerospace Medicine
Edwards AFB and other bases' Bioenvironmental Engineering Officers
Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States
Military Officers Association of America
Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs
Office of Secretary of the Air Force
Environmental Protection Agency
Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
Paralyzed Veterans of America
Wounded Warrior
County of Yamhill, Oregon
Congressman David Wu, NC (called after 2 months to send request again)
Buncomb County Health Department, North Carolina
Various professional associations involved with law, workplace safety, environmental health

Initial responses were received from the following, without word of any further activity:
Six United States Senators

Open Letter to Chief Air Force Reserve, LtGen Stenner

25 July 2011

Lieutenant General Charles E. Stenner, Jr.
Chief, Air Force Reserve
Robins AFB, GA  31098

Dear General Stenner,

The year you graduated from the College of Wooster, the 731st Tactical Airlift Squadron and the 74th (now 439th) Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron started flying the Fairchild C-123K/UC-123K “Provider”, which until the previous year had been used in the Vietnam War for spraying Agent Orange. Our aircrews were exposed to the dioxin that remained on the airplanes. Please forgive this overly long letter bringing our situation to your attention to resolve for us. 

Please also consider that even the minutes you'd take to read this while seated in one of our dioxin-contaminated aircraft would have been hazardous to your health.

We didn’t know it then, although conversations started circulating among the veterans around 2007, but the planes remained heavily contaminated with Agent Orange and its deadly component, dioxide. Though dioxin is odorless, Agent Orange residue with the poison inside it and the dried stuff mixed in for the proper spray viscosity continued to make our aircraft stink to the point maintenance folks at Westover refused to allow certain former spray aircraft into base hangars, and occasionally missions had to be terminated due to crew illnesses and inability to tolerate the stench.

I watched a former paratrooper and qualified flight instructor (now Lieutenant Colonel) Paul Bailey, USAFR Retired, routinely become sickened from the stench in Patches and our other eleven tainted aircraft. Bailey would vomit within a few minutes of entering the aircraft, then continue his duties. Colonel Bailey now has prostate cancer that has spread to his lymph nodes, detected on his retirement physical. Colonel Bailey did not know he’d been exposed to Agent Orange. Or he'd have paid attention to his rising PSA numbers which he ignored instead.

Official Air Force awareness of our aircraft’s toxicity first began with the Air Force Museum having our plane Patches, Tail #362, checked out in 1994 by the Wright-Patterson bioenvironmental engineering folks before it was moved into the museum. That move halted immediately when the Armstrong Lab at Brooks AFB described the dioxin levels and described Patches as “heavily contaminated”, so Patches stayed outside until $57,000 had been spent by AFMC to decontaminate it enough to allow limited access as LtGen Hudson described to me.

This test was twelve years after we ourselves flew Patches to the museum, twelve years during which the aircraft’s dioxin was less intense due to its half-life on surfaces…dioxin levels which were so much more intense during the decade of our flying Patches and the other aircraft. The 731st cycled a total of 26 C-123K/UC-123K aircraft through its inventory during that decade, and we know now, from reports by Davis-Monthan and AFMC, that at least eight and more likely eleven of our aircraft remained contaminated with dioxin.

Further tests were done on the stored aircraft at the Boneyard, and every result was positive for presence of dioxin. But the problem for our Reserve aircrews began in 1996 with a memorandum from the Air Force Office of Environmental Law at AFMC recommending that the dioxin contamination “be kept within official channels only” and thus denied to us. While our exposure to the airplane’s dioxin was during the decade 1972-1982 and during a time when little was known about the dangers, the decision in 1996 not to alert us to having been exposed borders on criminal, under an employer’s duty to inform (OSHA, EPA, CDC all refer to it, although DOD is not affected where it opts not to be affected).

In fact, here in Oregon, it is criminal to have an employee exposed to hazardous substances and fail to notify that employee once the danger is identified. EPA, NIH and CDC have some thoughts on that as well.

But Oregon doesn’t have an Air Force Office of Environmental Law. Thus, aircrews like ours in the 731st continued our service, some retired, some left for other interests when their tours of duty concluded…but none of us were alerted to pay attention to our PSA numbers, or to do anything relative to the toxin we’d been exposed to. I’m grateful to the Toxicity Department of the Oregon Health Sciences University which in May 2011 analyzed the Air Force test data, confirmed their results, and concluded that exposure of the aircrews to dioxin was “most likely.

We flew these airplanes because it was our voluntary duty to which the Air Force assigned us…and because we loved them, despite their stink, reciprocating P&W R2800 engines busting jugs all the time, significantly sub-sonic airspeed and being out-paced by Cessna 150s, lousy paint job, too hot/too cold climate control, little bitty porta-potty, no MP3 player, no iPad recharger, un-glass cockpit, navigation by wet finger and sextant, E6B guessing and concrete OMNI, no autopilot, a pee-tube way in the back, av-gas shortages, snickering from C-130 crews, etc. Sir, I was a Stan/Eval flight examiner, charged by the United States Air Force with being the most expert, most qualified, most motivated, most dependable, most everything I could possibly be relative to this weapon system relative to my AFSC…but the Air Force Office of Environmental Law decided it was inappropriate to alert me as the responsible expert in my AFSC and this aircraft about such an important safety and health issue, nor did it inform our wing surgeon, the wonderful late Colonel Warner Jones, who died of Agent Orange-related ALS. Nor our squadron commanders, nor the wing vice commander, Lou Paskovitch who also died of ALS. Nobody.

And its actions, or failures to act, insured that the late Lieutenant Colonel Aaron Olmsted, USAFR didn’t have any information either, when he appealed his denial of veterans’ benefits and had his appeal denied in August 2007 (Reference: )

On 23 August 2007 the Board of Veteran’s Appeals denied the appeal of this good man and dedicated Air Force Reservist, Aaron Olmsted, a superb aviator with over 15,000 hours including many in Patches and our other C-123s, who sought service connection for Agent Orange-presumptive illnesses. Judge S. Cohn of the BVA cited Olmsted’s inability to provide evidence that he’d been exposed to Agent Orange while flying as a C-123K/UC-123K pilot assigned to the 731st Tactical Airlift Squadron, Westover AFB, MA. In particular, Judge Cohn cited:

“While these planes may be of the type that were used in Vietnam to dispense Agent Orange from 1962 to 1971, there is no evidence that any of the planes on which the veteran flew dispenses Agent Orange in Vietnam or that there was any residual Agent Orange on the aircraft the veteran served on.  Further, the veteran has not submitted any evidence substantiating his contention that there was any residual Agent Orange material on the aircraft he served on. His assertion, standing alone, is not sufficient to show he had actual exposure to Agent Orange, years after it was used in Vietnam.”

I had a heart attack, cancer (dioxin illnesses, along with diabetes and peripheral neuropathy for which I’d already had two surgeries in the ‘70s to stop the intense phantom burning pain by severing the nerves to the sides of both my thighs, a symptom so typical of Agent Orange acute peripheral neuropathy which we'd had yet to learn about, just two years into my C-123 crew duties) and heart surgery this April and thus had the time to look into these illnesses and wonder what may have led them to my doorstep. 

Then from Colonel Dee Holiday, USAFR Ret. and ART nurse of the 74th AES, I learned about their cluster of breast cancers among the nurses and female med-techs. I wondered about the planes which, like Olmsted (whom I don’t believe I met), I myself crewed between 1974-1980. It took ten minutes or so with Google, my laptop and a slow Internet connection to learn that most of these planes were indeed used for spraying Agent Orange, that in particular, Tail Number 362 (Patches) was used for Agent Orange and was tested repeatedly beginning in 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2008 with positive results for presence of dioxin on Patches and the rest of the surplus inventory at DM. Just ten minutes with Google provided everything I was concerned with, and FOIAs offered yet more disturbing materials.

I learned that the Air Force in the person first of Major Urula Moul of the Air Force Office of Environmental Law recommended, with her director’s endorsement, keeping this alarming information “within official channels only.” Further, reports and correspondence regarding these tests and many others conducted by the Air Force itself were surfaced at the Office of the Air Force Surgeon, at Headquarters Air Force Material Command, Office of the Undersecretary of the Army, the Air Staff and at the Office of Secretary of Defense.

Department of Toxicology
In May 2011 I forwarded the results of Air Force tests completed in 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2008 to the Toxicology Department of the Oregon Health Sciences University, asking whether the tests were valid in the Air Force’s conclusion as to the presence of deadly dioxin. The OSHU confirmed that dioxin presence. I also asked whether the C-123K/UC-123K dioxin contamination resulted in aircrew exposure, and they responded “most likely.” The Agent Orange Committee of the Vietnam Veterans of America, made up of scientists and veterans, in June 2011 reached the same conclusion regarding our exposure.

Mine was the profession of arms, not of law nor of government…their rules are confusing and perhaps meant to be so. However, I’m sure every veteran may safely assume that had VA officials known of the withheld documents, no ethical BVA counsel would have failed to provide Judge Cohn that the very documents Olmsted needed to have justice before the BVA...documents kept from him by the service to which he was so dedicated.

Judge Cohn’s reasons cited for denial would have been directly answered with documents withheld by the government, whatever may be the reasons those individual in those government offices had for their actions. No national security was involved at that time. Bad acts and hiding evidence of harmful toxin exposure “within official channels” is certainly an effective way to prevent veterans’ Agent Orange claims, but cannot be an ethical, moral or legal justification for denying Aaron Olmsted a just hearing from Judge Cohn and an effective, ethical and honorable presentation by BVA counsel Stephen Reiss. Perhaps Judge Cohn would have found against Olmsted but it certainly wouldn’t have been for the reasons cited.

Last month I was informed by Colonel Joseph Curley, USAFR Retired, who knew us both from service in the same wing, that Lieutenant Colonel Olmsted, an extremely skilled and experienced aviator with over 15,000 flying hours, recently died in an unexplained, single-person aircraft accident.

Olmsted was a Vietnam-era veteran who also served during the Persian Gulf War, Somalia, Grenada and Panama. He died before becoming eligible for TriCare, and though a combat veteran, was denied VA benefits for Agent Orange illnesses as well.

General Stenner, may I trust that it continues to be of interest to you, our service, and to the Board of Veteran’s Appeals, that veterans such as Aaron Olmsted benefit from the necessity for everyone’s commitment to accuracy and truth in presentation before the Board of Veteran’s Appeals? And that if facts such as these are withheld from you and the BVA by other government agencies, you will make right those wrongs dealt him.

Today we learned about Colonel Paul Huffman, our wing vice commander. His wife is respecting his wishes to leave their Connecticut hospital ICU to go home to Florida and die. Colonel Huffman had many C-123 hours in his AFRES career.

General, there are other veterans, such as myself and a too great a number of others crew, maintainers and airevac folks from our units, ill from Agent Orange-presumptive illnesses, and all denied service connection from the VA. This is because, although the Air Force and the General Services Administration tested these airplanes two decades after we flew them and found them still “extremely hazardous, extremely dangerous, extremely contaminated” with dioxin. Somehow our flying them for a decade, spending hundreds of hours aloft and thousands more on the ground with intense exposure to the Agent Orange residue, their policy is that this exposure doesn’t equal VA exposure. Or some such double-speak as that.

I point out that once the stored C-123K/UC-123K contamination was known at Davis-Monthan and at the Museum on Patches, base personnel immediately had to observe protective measures, including full-face respirators, Tyvek coveralls and decontamination after work. Civilian staff which had worked on the C-123K/UC-123K at DM before it was announced that the fleet was contaminated filed an IG complaint which surfaced at the office of the Air Force Surgeon General.

But we flew the Provider in our issue Nomex flight suits. If we were good aviators, we had our gloves on and sleeves rolled down and we wore issue boots...no more hazmat protection than that! We worked on that Dumpster (aka Thunder Pig or Ponderous Polly or Patches), repaired it, loaded it, configured it, took it to air shows, ate our flight lunches, cared for patients, did all our airlift functions throughout the Americas and Europe. We even slept in it overnight on many tactical deployments. Right on the floor, right down where the Agent Orange residue dried after it sloshed around during the Vietnam years.

In late 2010, unable to dispose of the aircraft in any other way due to contamination and the various laws involving hazardous waste, the remaining UC-123s were shredded and smelted.  Shredding was selected because an oblique clause was found in EPA regulations that shredded metal might technically not be considered hazardous…if such waste was “described one way and not another”. On the last reported test, 50% of the aircraft tested bordered on “unsafe” levels of dioxin, and the remaining 50% also showed significant traces…EPA says any measurable amount of dioxin is unsafe, and certainly makes a dangerous work site. Speed was of the essence in disposal of the remaining aircraft due to a looming $3,300,000,000 EPA fine regarding hazardous waste…the plane we flew for ten years was “hazardous waste”.

A “hazardous waste” work site being the weapon system we volunteered to serve aboard, but we didn’t know of the poison at the time. We should have been told once the tests started revealing the danger…why weren’t we? Testing in 2009/2010 was ordered stopped just before the final destruction because it was expensive, because initial testing had proved 100% positive for dioxin, because testing was cited as certain to increase public awareness, and because leadership directed that the entire fleet be treated as dioxin-contaminated.

Like other officers (I was commissioned in 1980 after thirteen years enlisted service in the Army and Air Force) I was selected by the President of the United States who held special trust in my valor, patriotism, abilities and fidelity and who later commended me to the Senate of the United States for promotion to the rank and public office of Major, United States Air Force. The country entrusted me with the lives of the enlisted personnel I led during the Persian Gulf War. I had a security clearance, I earned many rows of ribbons and I earned silver wings with a toilet lid over them. I was a Stan/Eval flight examiner. 

So why the heck wasn’t I “official channels” enough to help keep my aircrews from becoming sick? Why did even our flight surgeon die of ALS without knowing he’d been exposed to Agent Orange while flying on our planes? Why didn’t our squadron commanders know? Why didn’t our Air Force Advisor know?

23 July 2011

731st Reunion - demo videos of C-123K at DM Boneyard

They had to borrow a bird from Dickie-Goober which is why there's no cammmo paint. Presented for your amusement...the 731st reunion shot from 1982!
Heartbreaker, ain't it? Part of the demo derby at Davis-Monthan, smashing up the last of the C-123s, Fall 2010 Click for Video download

"Air Truck"? Like that better than "Dumpster," Andy?

On a more formal note, on Friday a complaint was filed with HQ USAF Public Affairs regarding the twisted wording used for the final obituary of the C-123K, prepared as a press release at the 75 Air Base Wing. Although literally decades of hand-wringing oner the dioxin contamination had led to the unique method of smelting to dispose of the fleet, 75ABW simply mentioned that the "herbicide" spray aircraft, being from the "Vietnam era", "were no longer flown" and thus being demolished. True enough, but a complete mistruth, evasion of the facts of the matter and a deception. Read more....

18 July 2011

VA Denies C-123 Agent Orange Exposure Argument

letter rec'd 17 July 2011)
Mr. Carter: Senator's staff met with VA staff last week to gather information on the status of veterans who claim exposure from service in C-123s. VA acknowledged that C-123 crews flew missions in Vietnam where they sprayed Agent Orange. All crewmembers involved in what was termed “Operation Ranch Hand” have presumptive exposure to Agent Orange, not only because of their duties spraying Agent Orange, but rather, because they were all based out of Vietnam for spraying missions.  

As you may know, anyone who ever set foot in Vietnam during the conflict has presumptive exposure to Agent Orange and in the case of these crewmen, I would surmise that a former crewman’s claim would be viewed as stronger than that of someone with far less proximity to the chemical.  VA experts said they have received hundreds, if not thousands, of claims for “secondary” exposure over the years and that the available science does not support the link between health issues and flying on an aircraft which was previously exposed to Agent Orange.  

They stated that Agent Orange “sticks” to soil and organic material very well, but on metallic surfaces in an aircraft, the Dioxin (ingredient of primary concern) evaporates very quickly posing no discernible health risks to those who flew the aircraft later. The VA has issued “many training letters” to their field staff regarding this issue. VA experts said VA has awarded disability ratings to crewmen who flew the “Ranch Hand” missions over Vietnam during the conflict, but has no scientifically based criteria for “secondary” exposure. 

According to the VA, they will help any others who flew on wartime missions with their particular claims. I understand your concerns are specifically related to post-war exposure and the Air Force documents regarding an aircraft that was also used during the war, so please contact me so we can discuss this matter further.
TO MY AIR FORCE FRIENDS READING THIS: The VA wonks met with my Super Southern Senator's Senior Superb Staff which went to bat for us. VA took the position that none of the Air Force's tests, and none of the AF-contracted commercial testing labs' tests which the Air Force arranged, all scientifically proving the C-123K aircraft's toxicity, are acceptable to the VA. Let's pretend...Never happened.

 Instead, for reasons of budget and policy, the VA will pretend that the C-123K were not contaminated and the Air Force and all those testing labs and all those universities and all those generals and all those major commands and all those bioenvironmental engineers and all those medical experts simply must have been mistaken! As well as the infrequent decisions where they have awarded service connection to some of our personnel due to their C-123 dioxin exposure.

The AF must not have been in the last VA policy meeting where all the heads nodded in agreement..."yup, let's pretend all tests and evidence are inadequate and the AF was mistaken, or [apply preferred raison d'etre], and the AF had its head up its cargo bay. Those silly Air Force generals (two brigadier generals, one major general, one lieutenant general...seven stars right there, plus the AFMC/CC and the Air Force Surgeon General...maybe fourteen stars altogether)...what were they thinking to be writing foolish memos (AF Surgeon General, HQ AFMC, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army, Secretary of Defense, AF Office of Environmental Law) about those contaminated Providers? Those generals must have missed the memo from the Air Force Office of Environmental Law, which told them to keep the dioxin information within 
"official channels only". Guys...I think we read the reports the same way...DIOXIN CONTAMINATION, despite what the VA says.

It seems the VA has taken a position somewhat outside their published rules and guidelines so that in our case, a new implied position applies, to wit: Even if the VA rules state a veteran outside Vietnam must prove and does prove actual physical exposure to Agent Orange to be considered for AO-presumptive illnesses, in the case of our C-123 crews, additional proof will be required (beyond proving our actual laboratory test results and beyond the recommendations of the National Institute on Medicine) that establishes links between dioxin in the Agent Orange residue of the "extremely hazardous, extremely dangerous" airplanes we flew, and the illnesses recognized by the VA as AO-presumptive. Although Air Force labs have proven for 30 years that dioxin has been present, there is no "VA" scientific proof (just stuff from AF scientists, state toxicology labs, state health departments and guys like that) that nice, tasty dioxin on airplanes impacts C-123 crew health. That's not why we're dying, perhaps? Musta been those lousy flight lunches from Patrick AFB!

Ever catch that weird movie "Snakes on an Airplane"? Neither did I. However the title sorta suggests snakes crawling around an airplane, right? Well, if the VA were to evaluate the rattlesnakes you found slithering your cockpit and you're holding up for them to see while snake fangs stick through your arm, the VA would tell you (1) that's not a snake and (2) even if it is, its still not a snake and it evaporated much earlier and (3) once again, that rattlesnake you just had examined by a university as well as a government lab all of which certified it as a snake, is not a snake (aren't you listening?? Get with the program), plus where's the proof that rattlesnake venom is bad for you and (4) we don't got no rattlesnake budget for guys in flight suits like you (5) please don't leave that damn poisonous 8-foot rattlesnake (which its not!) monster here! Thank  you for your service.

Smelting Dioxin-Contaminated C-123 Aircraft
So the conclusion to my disappointment and sarcasm is that the contaminated C-123K will not soon be recognized as contaminated with the Agent Orange with which the planes were contaminated. That's "VA-speak". That's VA policy, regardless of the well-proven fact of the contamination. For budget reasons, the VA has reached this conclusion in opposition to the Air Force's own view (and without bothering to examine the aircraft or even read the AF test results...but hey...our planes were already destroyed because of the dioxin contamination). All because the VA field training memos specifies Agent Orange claims are to be denied except for Vietnam "boots on the ground".

My note to my patient Senator's patient and dedicated staff:

Sorry for the sarcasm...nothing personal and I imagine on some days of the year those VA wonks you met with are decent types, but only with great effort and while nobody from the VA itself is watching.

Swinging back in print is my only outlet as those VA wonks are too far away to shake some sense into. You tried and I know you'll keep trying. Thank you for your folks' meeting with the VA. As expected, regardless of toxicology reports from the Air Force and the toxicology analysis by Oregon Health Sciences University, the VA reps maintained, without reviewing the documents but required by VA pretend policy, there was no dioxin remaining on the C-123 fleet. Foolish of the Air Force to simply not correct their reports in the first place so that the VA and AF would agree. Somehow, beginning in 1994 but also in 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2008, as per the Air Force reports I sent you, the Air Force Material Command has tested the C-123s and found them "heavily contaminated, extremely contaminated, extremely dangerous" and "extremely hazardous." That's why the silly photos of the base employees in their cute hazmat suits (as required by base safety officials, due to the "extremely hazardous" toxicity) to keep them from being exposed in 2010, almost 30 years after our last missions.

Dioxin does not "evaporate"...the carrier such as diesel fuel will. In fact it does linger very long in moist soil, but its half-life on dry surfaces is significant and was still present when the Air Force smelted the last such aircraft in 2010 due specifically to the remaining dioxin. Dioxin failed to evaporate (which it doesn't do...wrong term) in "Patches" at the Air Force Museum, so $53,000 had to be spent to decontaminate it enough to allow at least very restricted, very brief entrances. The VA suggests that the aircraft were toxic enough to be shredded and smelted due to their dioxin contamination but we'll all pretend that the aircrews were isolated from such contamination.

I suggest a mind game, similar to Einstein's famous day-dreaming as he developed both the Special and the General Theories of Relativity: Imagine working in an airplane with all its vibrations and imagine the airplane flying flower cargos full of pollen. You fly the airplane for ten years. You sleep in it overnight. Eat your meals, work your sorry butt off for years. Do you think you'll have pollen on you? In your hair? In your lungs? In your body fat? The VA says "no." Not if it is dioxin pollen!

My points again:
-we flew Patches and numerous other C-123s identified by AF as Agent Orange spray aircraft
-Patches and other C-123s always tested positive for dioxin to the point of the labs calling the spray fleet "heavily contaminated". "Extremely dangerous, extremely hazardous" characterization of the dioxin contamination reports does not equate to questionable VA double-speak as "secondary exposure"!
- Oregon Health Sciences University's Toxicology Department director's analysis of the Air Force tests showed aircrews would have "most likely" been exposed, especially so recently after Vietnam and for such an intense period of aircrew duties (thousands of hours aloft and on the ground as well). State of Oregon Health Department concurs with results of OHSU's toxicology report
-tests even up to 2008 reported the fleet contaminated to the point of requiring hazmat protection for workers at Davis-Monthan
-Office of Secretary of Defense, reporting to HQ AFMC and other Air Force organizations and describing the aircraft as "Agent Orange" "Contaminated" and other phrases, directed decontamination by destruction, the only time such a thing has been done in the history of the Air Force. This is because the aircraft were contaminated with dioxin. Full DVDs of FOIA information released from Hill, Brooks, and other facilities detail the "dioxin C-123s".  Poor Charles Serafini of the 649AESS was tasked with coming up with the plan to address the decontamination of the remaining aircraft, with Major Carold McGrady, and their sole focus was the dioxin problem presented by the aircraft's contamination...and keeping visibility very, very low.
-numerous general officers, JAG officers, medical officers and representatives from the General Services Administration in their reports and memoranda agree that the C-123K/UC-123K fleet was contaminated with dioxin, and have insisted as to this contamination before federal judges to prevent sale of toxic airplanes

Obviously, thanks to President Rowan at the Vietnam Veterans of America and his Agent Chairman, Mr. Oates, the issue will continue to be addressed. Certainly, with their meeting with the VA Secretary during the meeting at the end of this month in Reno.

It would be sarcastic to suggest, but it actually seems the VA thought process, their people should contact the Air Force Surgeon and the Air Force Material Command, as well as Armstrong Labs at Brooks AFB as well as the various contracted certified commercial testing labs which also offered reports, to suggest that their twenty year collection of positive dioxin tests on the C-123K fleet be changed to properly reflect approved current VA policy and doctrine. Those military testing labs must have been wrong. The Toxicology Department of the Oregon Health Sciences University must have been wrong. State of Oregon Department of Health was wrong. The Air Force Health Institute Armstrong Labs was wrong. Even the Agent Orange Senior Consultant to the Office of Secretary of Defense must have been wrong in all his reports and memos discussing the need to destroy the "contaminated", "dioxin", "Agent Orange" aircraft that we flew for ten years. And yes, all those generals, too!

Dear VA: You're not our enemy...there is no conspiracy against us, just rules which are senseless and unjust. Our concerns are post-Vietnam. Ours were other wars, other times, but amazing how 50-year old problems linger. Our claim is not for secondary, but for primary exposure to dioxin residue proven to be throughout the C-123K/UC-123K fleet in such a high degree of contamination that the entire fleet was destroyed because it was too toxic even for a land fill. We had "boots on the airplane"...the airplane the Air Force Surgeon General directed workers at Davis-Monthan AFB's Boneyard to work in hazmat clothing with full face filter masks, followed by decontamination. That is because AFMC's tests were POSITIVE and deadly for dioxin, and still positive after decades of degrading in the desert.

Please tell the bigwigs at VA that our crews started flying this toxic airplane the year after its last spray mission. Don't measure us by the test results 30 to 40 years after...our exposure from 1972-1982 was far more intense as the dioxin hadn't "evaporated" (to use the wording of one VA staffer). And neither had its half-life had time to affect its deadliness.

VA folks mentioned "training letters" sent to the field to help guide rating officers in denying Agent Orange claims effectively. Those VA letters work. An appeal I was made aware of recently involved the late Lieutenant Colonel Aaron Olmsted of Hartford, Connecticut. Judge S. Cohn of the BVA denied Aaron's claim because Olmsted offered no proof that the C-123s he flew had been used for Operation Ranch Hand, and Olmsted offered no proof that the aircraft remained contaminated. That proof was kept from Olmsted, from Stephen Reiss who represented the BVA in opposing Olmsted's claim, and from Judge Cohn.

The missing proofs were the two reasons cited in Judge Cohn's denial yet these proofs were readily available from the Air Force. Multiple professional Air Force lab tests, conducted by commercial testing firms as well as the respected Armstrong Labs at Brooks, confirmed (not speculated, or other such vague term) the presence of dioxin in exactly the words any normal person would find convincing..."heavily contaminated" reads the test report signed by the Air Force's own bioenvironmental engineer endorsing the lab's results. But until recently, the Air Force Office of Environmental Law recommended these reports be kept "in official channels only", the better to aid the VA in denying veterans' claims.

I'm sure the VA doesn't expect us to be passive about this. Even old warriors are still warriors, and we persist, however we are kicking the bucket, one after the other. Eventually VA wins. Especially here when the opposing pretense of "no dioxin" is established for VA policy and not scientific reasons. Amazing how we have located volumes establishing the dioxin contamination of the entire fleet of aircraft, yet the VA says the airplanes have no dioxin...without even testing them or evaluating the military's own reports. Just relying on their field memos which offer effective excuses for rejecting veterans claims...even when we've had ten years exposure to the stuff.

Dear Senator...may I have the names of the representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs with whom you met in order to provide my collection of materials for their consideration.? At least, they'll want to prepare reasons for each of these reports to be disqualified and termed inappropriate, and to arrange to have the conclusions changed to ones the VA will support. 

The VA reports to you that for reasons of policy, their field training memos trump the Air Force tests, the Air Force Surgeon General, the Air Force Material Command civil engineer, the Air Force Material Command Surgeon, the base safety office at Davis-Monthan AFB, the base biomedical engineer, Air Force maintenance officers expert on the C-123K and familiar with its use for Ranch Hand, general officer's memos, JAG officers memos, commercial testing labs and the Office of Secretary of Defense's expert on Agent Orange. What a powerful field training memo.

And my ranting aside, please know how completely I appreciate your assistance. Numerous written and telephone attempts to seek help from other members of the Senate and House simply went unanswered...totally ignored by every single official other than you. Your kindness is noted. How do we proceed to correct this situation?

Hang in there, please! 


Wesley T. Carter, Major, USAF

Here is the three-page chronology of documentation dismissed by the VA without even considering it. Test results, reviews by universities, Air Force documents...all trumped by the handy field VA training memo showing how to ignore valid proofs.

17 July 2011

Letter to BVA Attorney Who Opposed Aaron Olmsted's VA Claims

Submitted today to Mr. Stephen Reiss, attorney with the Board of Veterans Appeals through the Veterans Law Review, the only email address I could find for him:

Mr. Stephen D. Reiss, Esq.
Executive Editor, Veterans Law Review
Room 841 (mail code 01A), Lafayette Bldg.
810 Vermont Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20420
Reference: Docket 06-42 315, C28 107-548

Dear Mister Reiss,

On 23 August 2007 you successfully represented the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in this case, with Judge Cohn denying the veteran’s appeal. Olmstead had claimed Agent Orange exposure while flying Air Force Reserve C-123K aircraft post-Vietnam, aircraft commonly used during that war for spraying Agent Orange.

In particular, Judge Cohn cited:
“While these planes may be of the type that were used in Vietnam to dispense Agent Orange from 1962 to 1971, there is no evidence that any of the planes on which the veteran flew dispensed Agent Orange in Vietnam or that there was any residual Agent Orange on the aircraft the veteran served on. Further, the veteran has not submitted any evidence that any of the planes on which the veteran served on. Further, the veteran has not submitted any evidence substantiating his contention that there was any residual Agent Orange material on the aircraft he served on. His assertion, standing alone, is not sufficient to show he had actual exposure to Agent Orange, years after it was used in Vietnam.”

I had a heart attack, cancer and heart surgery in April and thus had the time to look into these illnesses and what may have led them to my doorstep. I wondered about the planes which, like Olmsted (whom I don’t believe I ever met), I flew between 1972-1982. It took all of five minutes or so with Google to learn that most of these planes were indeed used for spraying Agent Orange, that in particular, Tail Number 362 (Patches) was used for Agent Orange and was tested repeatedly beginning in 1997 with positive results for presence of dioxin. Just ten minutes with Google provided everything I was concerned with, and FOIAs offered yet more interesting materials.

I learned that the Air Force (in the person first of Major Urlula Moul of the Air Force Office of Environmental Law) recommended keeping this type information “within official channels only.” Further, reports and correspondence regarding these tests and others were surfaced at the Office of the Air Force Surgeon, at Headquarters Air Force Material Command and at the Office of Secretary of Defense.

Mine is the profession of arms, not of law…your rules are confusing and perhaps meant to be so. However, I’m sure I may assume that had you known of the attached documents, you would not have presented to Judge Cohn that Olmsted wasn’t eligible for to service connection because the very documents he needed to have justice before the BVA were being withheld from him by the government.

Judge Cohn’s reasons cited for denial were easily able to be answered with documents withheld by the government, whatever may be the reasons individuals in those government offices had for their actions. No national security was involved at that or any other time regarding this issue. 

Bad acts and hiding evidence of harmful toxin exposure “within official channels” is certainly an effective way to prevent veteran’s Agent Orange claims, but cannot be an ethical, moral or legal justification for denying veteran Olmsted a just hearing from Judge Cohn and an effective and honorable presentation by you yourself. The Judge may have found against Olmsted but it certainly wouldn’t have been for the reasons cited.

(personal portion removed)

May I trust that it continues to be of interest to you, and to the Board of Veterans Appeals, that veterans such as Aaron Olmsted benefit from your commitment to accuracy and truth in all presentations before the BVA, and that if facts such as these are withheld from you by other government agencies, you will make right those wrongs dealt him, Olmsted’s survivors and C-123K/UC-123K veterans who find themselves similarly situated before the BVA?

Sir, help make this wrong right.

Wesley T. Carter, Major, USAF Retired
Medical Service Corps

15 July 2011

Complete Document Set Assembled - but you have to download

We've finally gathered a pretty complete set of all the documents uncovered thus far, adding explanations here and there, highlighting sections on pages where things seem more important...or more ridiculous, depending on your view! The doc set is too large to email as servers reject such big files...you'll have to click to download.

Today I got a call back from the office of Jim Willis, Oregon's Director of Veterans' Affairs, and those folks are going to see what can be done at their level...perhaps miracles?? No word from my senators, other than Sen. Burr's office. My kids haven't written lately, either. What's going on out there?

Let's hope we're all behind the same marching band: Our goal is "boots on the airplane" recognition of the C-123K as an Agent Orange Exposure Site. Seems that's the fastest route for now...certainly faster and cheaper than a lawsuit which other organizations, far bigger and far richer than we, are still struggling with. However...if that's what it takes...

I heard through Dee Holliday from Gabby Gadbois, first shirt of the 74th who wrapped up chemo today, only to have MRIs and CAT scans which showed the cancer spreading so much more than he'd feared.

Thanks to the folks who looked over the amateur "appeal" ...the best I could put together by myself, however, regarding the late Tim Olmstead's obvious injustice at the hands of the Air Force. This time, surprise, NOT the BVA's fault ...the judge ruled correctly in Docket 06-42 315, in that Tim had failed to present proof of his claim that the C-123s we flew were those used in Vietnam and had actually sprayed Agent Orange, and he'd failed to proof that there was Agent Orange residue on the airplane. Why did Tim fail in this? Because the Air Force, beginning with the Office of Environmental Law at HQ AFMC decided to keep this vital information "in official channels only" and that later, when the aircraft were destroyed by smelting in 2010, a misleading press release was crafted to tell a lie by saying otherwise truthful words.

Prevaricate is the word, where here the issue is the decontamination by destruction of valuable aircraft because of dioxin contamination. That's the news here...the destruction of the airplane, and the destruction because of Agent Orange contamination. But here, this kind of Public Affairs dishonesty coming out of the 75th's PA shop... deception, misdirection and frankly stupid issue-dodging (as they were told to do, I agree) should come to the attention of the Air Force PA professionals who care about their profession. 

American citizens and our news media expect and deserve an Air Force PA to eventually, slowly, perhaps regretfully...actually get around to keyboarding something approximating the truth. Not deal from the bottom of the PA deck of cards a crafty, sneaky, evasive, flim-flam handout solely meant to mislead the public. 

A fictional example which best comes to mind is a situation where, say, a crowded 747 crashes on your runway. The PA shop prepares, but does not distribute...they wait in case anybody notices...a press release describing the event as

"a rapid airframe disassembly activity, followed by an unscheduled base-wide mass casualty exercise. 324 body bags were utilized to provide extra realism. Coincidently, the base runway will be closed for the next few weeks for unscheduled repairs. In other news, volunteers of all blood types are invited to visit the base clinic, now accepting donations on a 24-hour a day basis."
 In the case of the C-123s, the Agent Orange Consultant to the Office of Secretary of Defense recommended removing from the draft PA release tainted words like "Agent Orange, toxin, dioxin" in his personal fear of a media "storm", a storm certain to alert, as he points out, aircrews and maintenance folks who'd turn to the VA for treatment of Agent Orange-presumptive illnesses. Gosh, the 505th, AFMC and the PA profession sure don't want that! One specific PS lie was the inference that the aircraft were without value, when in fact, the Air Force and GSA had been forced to go to Federal court to PREVENT the sale of the toxic airframes to eager buyers. Even the "rare and valuable" engines were to be smelted, but not mentioned in the press release. Somehow, I think a little birdie is going to wing its way to a responsible journalist's ear with this news...and the Air Force would be blessed if somehow this joke was corrected by the service itself. Good thing Disney got its airplanes before the well ran dry!

Oh..and don't forget, this week a member of the senior federal executive service made special mention was made of us "freeloading, trash-hauling Air Force Reservists" looking for a Congressman to feed us tax free dollars. Kind, respectful, Total Force- type welcoming words from the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the person of the Secretary's Agent Orange Consultant.

Guess he didn't feel our F4, AC-130, C-141, B-52, and other combat flyers met his high standard for patriotism and valor.

I imagine OSD feels a C-123 vet like Colonel Charlie Brown, by arranging to be a guest at the Hanoi Hilton after being shot down, was the epitome of the Air Force Reserve freeloader because Charlie even managed to get free meals and tax-free fish heads and rice plus other cool stuff from the North Vietnamese while a POW.

Complete Document Set

14 July 2011

Appeal Readied to Seek Reversal of Aaron Olmsted's VA Claim Denial

Aaron Olmsted's VA claim was submitted and denied, then denied finally in his appeal decided 23 August 2007. Judge Stephen Cohn ruled that Tim had failed to provide evidence that the C-123s he flew were ever used to spray Agent Orange, and failed to provide evidence that there was any residue of Agent Orange in the aircraft. Tim, one of the country's more experienced aviators, died a couple months ago and an unexplained airplane crash.

Recent emails exchanges with Dr Alvin Young and documents provided by Hill AFB seem to give adequate meat to prepare an appeal to have the injustice done Tim reversed. I don't do this for a living...I don't know how such things are done. 

So, my draft of an appeal offered in simple English is attached. Normalspeak. And I've asked for editing from anyone except my wife who has already torn it apart nicely, thank you very much!

What now? Who can I get this to so that somebody will understand that the Air Force withheld documents which Tim's BVA judge cited as the ones missing from his hopeed for appeal for disability compensation? Is there an association of BVA attorneys (on both sides of the isle?) Is there a way to approach one of the judges or even the chairman of the BVA judges to say.."HEY...the government cheated Tim and his family."

Also, some emails and web postings have mentioned that I'm a pilot. Squash that. I am an MSC and therefore, by definition, a gentleman and not a pilot. John's the pilot, poor man.


   Wes Carter

12 July 2011

Office of Secretary of Defense Consultant Comments on Air Force Reservists' Heart Disease and Cancer

In an email exchanged with one of his correspondants today, Dr. Alvin Young, Agent Orange Consultant to the Office of Secretary of Defense and retired AF colonel, offered his views about Air Force Reservists who flew dioxin-contaminated C-123K/UC-123K Providers between 1972-1982. His words:
"A sad commentary for blaming me. The Air Force did the right thing for the right reason in destroying those aircraft. It would have been a benefit to the tax payer to have sold those aircraft, but we all knew in time that the Air Reservists would seek presumptive compensation, and those aircraft would become the center of a social (not scientific) controversy, and never be used.  The link just about says it all. The only reason these men prepared such a story is that they are hoping they can cash in on " tax free money" for health issues that originate from life styles and aging. There was no exposure to Agent Orange or the dioxin, but that does not stop them from concocting exposure stories about Agent Orange hoping that some Congressional member will feel sorry for them and encourage DVA to pay them off. I can respect the men who flew those aircraft in combat and who made the sacrifices, many losing their lives, and almost all of them receiving Purple Hearts, but these men who subsequently flew them as "trash haulers", I have no respect for such free loaders. If not freeloading, what is their motive?"
I'm not sure this sounds like the gentleman we want advising senior Cabinet officials regarding Agent Orange exposure experienced by Air Force Reservists (the "trash haulers" and "free loaders" he refers to). No wonder he's alarmed that after being exposed to a decade of Agent Orange-contaminated aircraft which Air Force tests proved to be "heavily contaminated, extremely dangerous, extremely hazardous, extremely contaminated" and a danger to the public, the unworthy men mentioned above "will cash in on tax free money." Does it sound like a Reservist would get a fair shake here?

Not in a million years.