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.

Chronology of Supporting Documents: note: C-123K/UC-123K returned to Air Force Reserve inventory throughout 1971-1972. Flown until some date in 1982 when all were flown to Davis-Monthan AFB AZ for storage with some diverted to museum use throughout the US.  Official Air Force documents agree with the confusion regarding which aircraft were or were not used for Agent Orange spray, and treat them all as UC-123. At this point, the designations C-123K and UC-123K are meaningless, although the UC-123K designation formally applied to the aircraft with spray apparatus installed and the C-123K that aircraft without such apparatus, at an airplane once its spray apparatus had been removed.

-1982: Patches; aircraft data sheet published by the Air Force Museum. Notes prior use as a spray aircraft.
-19 Dec 94. Memo from AL/OEMH to 645 Med Grp/SGB. Reviews dioxin testing of Patches, concluded all swipe test results (interior and exterior) reported positive for dioxin congeners. Directed Museum staff to secure aircraft to prevent further entry. Recommended personnel maintain lowest possible exposure levels via hazmat clothing, full faced high efficiency particulate air filters, limited work time, followed by decontamination. Concluded “interior of the C-123 aircraft under discussion is heavily contaminated with PCDDs.”
-6 Jun 96. Memorandum for GSA from AMARC, Mr Ralph Schoneman, Executive Director, informs GSA investigation by AMARC safety office and base bioenvironmental office determined the aircraft could contain hazardous chemicals.
-11 Oct 96. Memo from AMARC/CD to HQ/AFMC/CV Attn LtGen Farrell. States “dioxin contaminated C-123 aircraft have been sold to general public. Dioxins have been identified as carcinogens…contamination represents a health hazard which must be corrected prior to releasing the aircraft.”
-30 Oct 96: Memo from HQ AFMC/LOG/JAV to ESOH C&C: JAG attorney Major Ursula Moul, endorsed by Colonel John Abbott, recommends “I do not believe we should alert anyone outside official channels of this potential problem.”
-31 Oct 96. Memorandum for HG AFMC/LtGen Farrell from Mr. R. Schoneman, Executive Director AMARC, regarding “disposal of dioxin contaminated C-123 aircraft” “Dioxin contaminated C-123K aircraft have been sold by GSA to general public. Dioxins have been identified as carcinogens with no known threshold limits, no decontamination methods identified. Contamination represents a health hazard which must be corrected. Requests authority to destroy aircraft. Attached talking paper notes all test samples taken from stored aircraft tested positive for dioxin contamination.
-31 Oct 96. Memorandum from Major S. Gempote, Office of the Command Surgeon AFMC. Addresses contaminated C-123K at AMARC, potential dioxin contamination.
-26 Dec 96. Memo to BG Hanes, AFMC/LG from BG Todd Stewart, AFMC/CE, discussed implications of releasing potentially contaminated aircraft, double standards. Attached was listing titled “UC123 Aircraft Suspected of Dioxin Contamination”, but dated 4/1/97; suggests memo stapled to listing at later date.
-30 Dec 96. Memorandum for Brigadier General Harris from Brigadier General Olan Waldroff, Staff Judge Advocate, citing “the political risks, cost of litigation, and potential for tort liability from third parties make FMS disposal of contaminated aircraft imprudent.”
-08 Jan 07. Memorandum from Ms. Peggy Lowndes, Director Property Management Division of the General Services Administraton to Major M. Moul, Staff Judge Advocate, Air Force Office of Environmental Law; describes GSA sales of dioxin , contaminated aircraft to Disney Company, concerns about health and environmental threats from that sale, and informs Major Moul that four C-123s donated or loaned to aviation museums were also contaminated with dioxin. Suggests Air Force place such display aircraft “off limits” to public. At least two remain completely accessable to the public as of 1 July 11 (Robins AFB Museum of Aviation, Pima Air Museum)
-05 Aug 97. Memorandum for Secretary of the Air Force/IA from Vice Commander, Air Force Security Assistance Center, WPAFB, Ohio. Informs SEC AF dioxin contaminated C-123K aircraft have been provided allied military forces under Military Assistance Program. Details location of sold aircraft with some confusion regarding aircraft designated for Cambodia which were redirected to Royal Thai Air Force. Makes note that recipient countries should be informed but that, to date, “this information has not been shared with either country or SAO personnel.”
-10 Mar 97: Memo for CEVC from AFMC/LG-EV Mr Lorman). Point paper re: aircraft contamination, recommendation not to sell surplus, expectation that all are contaminated. Prior sale of two UC-123K spray aircraft to Walt Disney Films is noted. Prior sale of unknown UC-123K spray aircraft to foreign governments is noted.
-12 Mar 97. Letter to Mr Floyd Stillwell, President Western Aviation Maintenance, Inc, from Major Ursula Moul, Assistant Staff Judge Advocate, Directorate of Environmental Law, notifying Stillwell of cancelled sale of surplus C-123K aircraft under GSA Sales 96FBE2013, 2012, 2008, 2005, due to laboratory tests indicating dioxin contamination of aircraft. “The potential for human harm from dioxin contamination from these airplanes can be great…we are confident you understand our overriding concern for safety and our inability to risk endangering human lives.”
-18 Mar 97: Memo from AL/OEM to HQ/AFMC/SGC Attn: Maj Gemperle. Evaluation of testing of contaminated UC-123K, indication “some/all tested positive for potential for contaminants associated with residues of past mission activities”. Actual level of contamination unknown, testing possibly done for herbicides rather than dioxin. Noted “dioxin most potent carcinogen known to man”. Recommended involving local government regulating agency.
-20 Jun 97: Memo from CEVE (Mr Kumar) to CEVE, others re: “disposition of dioxin contaminated aircraft.”. Temporary storage of contaminated aircraft in fenced area, restricted access, cost of $160,000. Supporting memo from AMARC/FMW attached stating “.the aircraft are to be relocated in a fenced security area, completely out of view.” Add’l supporting memo adjusting cost to $156,264.
-9 Feb 99. IG Complaint filed by Davis-Monthan AMARG employees re: Agent Orange exposure. Office of Air Force Surgeon general directs Edward Margasian to address employee concerns and inquires whether “Lt Campbell” provided a response to employee. No disposition yet known about this IG complaint but significant that it surfaced the issue of dioxin contamination at level of Office of the Air Force Surgeon General.
-24 Apr 00. Federal court papers in a suit against the Government regarding US Air Force & General Services Administration providing sworn testimony that C-123K/UC-123K fleet remains “heavily contaminated,” “extremely dangerous” and “extremely hazardous” due to dioxin contamination. Confirmed random test samples 17 of 24 tested positive for dioxin contamination. Confirmed base personnel experienced burning skin sensations upon first entering aircraft before contamination was known. Determined “all C-123Ks would be presumed to be contaminated unless records indicate never used for spray missions. Concluded aircraft required “protection of the public from exposure to hazardous dioxin”. Key conclusion: “There is no question that dioxin contaminated aircraft constituted extremely hazardous and/or dangerous personal property.” Finding for the Government.
-31 Jul 03: Memorandum for AOO-ALCD/LCD from AFIOS. Notes contamination of all surfaces tested on Patches at Air Force Museum, contamination of remaining aircraft stored at Davis-Monthan AFB AZ and methods of disposition, costs, contaminated ground soil, etc.
-23 Aug 07. Board of Veterans’ Appeals Docket 06-42 315, veteran Aaron Olmstead, denied Agent Orange service connection for disability, ruled veteran unable to establish the C-123K aircraft he flew 1972-1982 had been used for Agent Orange spray, and unable to establish that Agent Orange residue remained on aircraft veteran flew. Such information withheld by Air Force Office of Environmental Law (Major M. Moul, JAG) but generally available on the Internet and released under FOIA.
Mar/Apr 08. “Agent Orange: A Chapter from History That Just Won’t End,” Orion Magazine, by Prof. Ben Young. Describes personal impact of dioxin and includes reference by Davis-Monthan AFB public affairs host during a tour regarding the “toxic” C-123K storage area.
-26 Jun 09. Decision Memorandum, Dr Alvin Young to Mr. Jim Malmgren, 505th ACSS re: Decision Memorandum for Contaminated UC-123K Aircraft. Discussed disposal of aircraft, stresses need for speed, stresses possible visibility to aircrews and maintenance personnel with earlier work experience on aircraft and possibility such personnel would apply for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Stresses need to avoid “media storm” attendant to such a unique disposal operation, suggests careful wording of press release to characterize operation with such words as “old aircraft, in storage many years, no resale value, no longer flying”. Disregards established commercial value and fact that GSA had been sued to make planes available for resale, and that AMARG personnel recommended the “rare and valuable” engines be resold.
-12 Nov 09. Memorandum for AMARG/CC from Mr. Wm. Boor, requesting “special handling for UC-123K aircraft because of Agent Orange contamination during Vietnam War.”
-1 Apr 10. Press Release from 75th Air Base Wing Hill AFB Utah. Announces destruction of all remaining C-123K/UC-123K by shredding, then melting scraps into ingots. Decontamination via destruction. Avoids, as per Dr. Young, words which might attract media attention such as dioxin, Agent Orange, contaminated. Other memos within the Air Force describe this operation as principally an exercise in decontamination and removal of a dangerous toxin to avoid $3,000,000,000 in EPA fines. Press release word-smiths the event to make it less visible to public and media, fearing the “storm” mentioned by Dr. Young.
-21 May 11. Letter of Findings, to Secretary of the Air Force from Director, Toxicology Lab, Oregon Health Sciences University. Analyzed various Air Force tests 1993-date, concluded aircrew dioxin exposure during the decade the Provider was flown in the Air Force Reserve was “most likely”.
-9 May 11. Submission of IG Complaint to Secretary of the Air Force by Major W. T. Carter.
-9 Jun 11. Dismissal of IG Complaint by Secretary of the Air Force. Complaint refilled with Office of Secretary of Defense, with request that SAF/IG reconsider.
-1 Jun 11. Historical data of C-123K/UC-123K aircraft assigned to -731st TAS, completed by HQ 439AW and HQ AFRC for years 1973-1981. Research remains underway for 1972 and 1982.
-12 Jul 11. Emails from Dr. Alvin Young, Colonel, USAF Retired and Agent Orange Consultant to Office of Secreary of Defense, to Mr. Ken Krieger. Dr Young describes Air Force Reserve aircrews which flew the C-123K during the period in question (1972-1982) as “trash haulers, freeloaders”

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