To: Doctor Richard Fenske, Chair and (in turn) Dr Erin Bell, Dr Scott Burchiel, Dr Janice Chambers, Dr Naihua Duan, Dr Peter Gann, Dr Mark Goldberg, Dr Nancy Kerkvliet, Dr Stephen Kritchevsky, Dr Michele Marcus, Dr Linda McCauley, Dr Alvaro Puga, Dr Jeremy Shefner and Dr Hollie Swanson
Dear Members of the Committee,
Please forgive me for submitting another such public letter so soon after first appealing to the Committee for special assistance. The facts of my first appeal remain as I submitted them, but this week I have learned of two additional issues which mean we can turn only to your Committee to respond on our behalf, or to Congress for a time-wasting multi-year effort for new law.
Yesterday I received responses from the Air Force for two Freedom of Information Act requests submitted earlier to the Air Force Material Command. Attached here is another copy of the Air Force Office of Environmental Law memo wherein the Judge Advocate General attorney representing the Air Force Material Command recommended keeping the information about C-123K dioxin toxicity “within official channels”, following multiple Air Force tests establishing that contamination.
What is here newly brought to your attention is correspondence from the Air Force Material Command prepared by the OSD Consultant on Agent Orange to the Office of Secretary of Defense. In discussing with AFMC officials the disposal of the toxic C-123K/UC-123K aircraft we flew back in 1972-1982, this retired colonel stressed the need for speed of the planes’ destruction because of media attention which might come like a “storm” and which might also inspire more veterans, this time, he specifies, the very veterans who flew the airplanes, to submit claims to the VA for Agent Orange exposure. That’s us.
The consultant, a senior executive in the Federal service with the highest possible impact on Agent Orange issues in the Department of Defense, wanted steps taken to prevent veterans’ awareness through the media which might attend to the shredding and smelting of the airplanes…a unique, once-ever step taken to prevent the impact of EPA regulations and various fines attending to the dioxin remaining on the aircraft. The consultant even helped craft the press release about the destruction of the airplanes by making sure words like “Agent Orange, dioxin, poison, toxin, contamination” were removed to help reduce the possibility of critical media attention. And prevent veterans learning about us having flown contaminated aircraft between 1972-1982.
Consider: How can we have both our rights and our health protected with this kind of active effort to keep us in the dark, away from sources of information concerning our health and our rights as veterans? I suggest…this can be made right only by special attention brought to officials by your Committee.
Can we ask your Committee to make the obvious conclusion that the Air Force and the Department of Defense have taken active measures to prevent our small group of aviators and maintenance folks from discovering we’d been exposed to dioxin?
Finally, in this second appeal to your Committee, I submit the copy of the late Lieutenant Colonel Aaron Olmstead’s 2007 decision from the Board of Veterans Appeals wherein his claim for service connection for diabetes was refused. Refused because Aaron was unable to provide essential, conclusive proof that he’d flown the contaminated C-123K/UC-123K aircraft in our squadron for which we now have the documents from the Air Force, released only via FOIA pressure many years after their creation. Aaron’s claim for diabetes (and now his widow’s concerns about that claim) was an appeal to protect his rights by having his case reconsidered by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Judge Stephen Cohn, hearing the case, rejected Aaron’s appeal specifically citing:
"while these planes may be of the type that were used in Vietnam to dispense Agent Orange from 192 to 1971, there is no evidence that any of the airplanes 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 substantiating his contention that there was any Agent Orange material on the aircraft he served on. His assertion, standing along, is not sufficient to show he had actual exposure to Agent Orange years after it was used in Vietnam."
Aaron’s assertion could not be made effectively because the Air Force and DOD effectively prevented him and his Veterans Service Officer from the Disabled American Veterans of America from knowing about the evidence he needed. It should be obvious what Judge Cohn would decide if Arron had had the hidden information to submit in support of his claim!
I respectfully submit that the Committee should consider special action on your part, outside the scope of your established procedures, due to the consistent and completely effective efforts on the part of the Air Force and the Department of Defense (or at least, efforts by certain officials within those organizations) in taking active measures to prevent veterans from having the proofs and materials to establish Agent Orange exposure claims.
Please. Write both the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the Secretary of Defense to draw their attention to this injustice done Lieutenant Colonel Olmstead and our other crewmates. Thank you.
Wesley T. Carter, Major, USAF Retired
Chair, C-123K/UC123K Cancer Veterans
Chair, C-123K/UC123K Cancer Veterans