29 September 2011

Retired Affairs Office - Bulletin Notes our C-123 Agent Orange Issues

Distributed in the 15 September 2011 Issue of RAO Bulletin, with over 85,000 readers!

Patches, at the Air Force Museum following $57,000 dioxin decontamination
  1. Agent Orange Stateside Use Update 02: In recent complaints to the Air Force Inspector General, the chief of the Air Force Reserve, the Institute of Medicine and other officials, post- Vietnam War era, Wes Carter and Paul Bailey have cited documents showing that the Air Force knew, at least since 1994, of Agent Orange contamination aboard C-123 Provider aircraft flown at Westover and other bases but failed to warn personnel of the health risks. Both men are diagnosed with prostate cancer along with many other in their Air Force Reserve former crewmates in the 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. Carter was stunned when he began checking and found that the first five crewmen he called had prostate cancer or heart disease. The sixth man he tried had died. 

    Since then, he and Bailey have found dozens more former Westover reservists who are sick with prostate cancer, diabetes, heart disease, peripheral neuropathy and other illnesses connected to exposure to Agent Orange [AO]. In just a few months, they have compiled a list of close to 40 of their fellow pilots, medical technicians, maintenance workers and flight engineers who are sick or have died of such illnesses, many of them from Connecticut and Massachusetts.

    Among the documents the veterans cite is a 1994 Air Force report that found one of the airplanes, known as Patches, was ―heavily contaminated‖ with dioxins. Tests on other planes showed similar contamination, records show. In a 2000 legal brief, the General Services Administration argued that the proposed sale of C-123s to a private buyer should be canceled, dubbing the planes extremely hazardous and saying their release would carry the risk of dioxin contamination to the general public.

    In a 1996 internal memo, an official in the Air Force Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, Directorate of Environmental Law, had expressed similar concerns about the possibly contaminated aircraft being sold to third parties, but said: ―I do not believe we should alert anyone outside of official channels of this potential problem until we fully determine its extent. So far, attempts by Westover reservists to claim veterans‘ benefits linked to Agent Orange exposure on C-123s have been stymied.

    One of the veterans who tried was Aaron Olmsted of Ellington, CT, a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel who flew the C-123. Olmsted, 60, was killed in a plane crash in Pennsylvania in May, four years after he had lost a battle with the Board of Veterans Appeals to prove that he was sick from exposure to Agent Orange. While Olmsted had logged hundreds of hours piloting C-123s at Westover, the veterans‘ appeals board in 2007 rejected his claim that his diabetes mellitus was connected to Agent Orange exposure.

Here is the language which dealt Olmstead the VA's final blow:
"―The Board acknowledges that the veteran maintains he was exposed to Agent Orange while flying aircraft from 1979 to 1982 in the Air Force Reserves because the aircraft were used to spray Agent Orange in Vietnam from 1962 to 1971 and that he was thus exposed to Agent Orange residue, Veterans Law Judge Steven L. Cohn wrote in dismissing Olmsted‘s claim. ―[But] 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 contention, standing alone, is not sufficient to show he had actual exposure to Agent Orange."

Judge Cohn has not seen fit to address this apparent injustice, although it was brought to his attention in June 2011.

Olmsted‘s widow, Diane, said she was frustrated that the VA had denied her husband‘s appeal on the grounds that he had not provided specific tail numbers of the C-123s he flew. He flew Patches and other planes that were found to be contaminated with dioxins, flight records and photographs show. ―I don‘t understand why they would put him through this, when it was clear he flew contaminated planes, she said. ―Why would they turn their backs on him after he had served his country so long and so well? I feel like it‘s such an injustice. She said federal aviation officials are now investigating whether her husband had a medical crisis that caused the small plane he was piloting to crash this spring. ―We always joked he could have landed a refrigerator with wings, she said. ―The plane was fine, the weather was good – [the crash] makes no sense.
Odd Smells, Stinging Eyes

Davis-Monthan boneyard team at Davis-Monthan in required hazmat protection - dioxin poisons!

Records show that some C-123 planes were held in quarantine storage in recent years, and then disposed of by shredding and smelting in 2010. In June 2009, an Agent Orange consultant to the Secretary of Defense had lobbied for the ―immediate destruction‖ of the planes, in part to avoid attracting media attention to the health claims of stateside veterans. ―A whole new class of veterans may claim that their exposure was due to the fact they were members of aircrews or mechanics associated with the contaminated aircraft that returned from Vietnam, the consultant, Dr. Alvin L. Young, wrote in the June 26, 2009, memo. Apparently, Young's objective was to prevent veterans' claims from being accepted by the VA regarding this incident of AO exposure.

Carter, Bailey and their fellow reservists want the Air Force to explain why it never warned former crew members of their exposure and the possible health consequences, even as tests confirmed the presence of dioxins in the planes. Work crews that prepared Patches for display in a museum were instructed in a 1994 memo to wear hazardous material suits and respirators—yet Carter, Olmsted and others had flown in the plane often, without protection. Carter and Bailey both recall the strange chemical smell of the C-123s and the stinging in their eyes and mouths at the time, inexplicable sensations. ―I was always pretty sick on the airplanes – I ended up throwing up a lot,‖ said Bailey, 65, who is undergoing radiation treatment for cancer. ―I never knew why. Now it makes sense.‖ [Source: Connecticut Health I Team Lisa Chedekel article 7 Sep 2011 ++] 

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