12 October 2011

Our complaint to VA Congressional Liaison Office re: Misleading Senator Burr

The VA's Congressional Liaison Office is the interface between that Department and both Houses of Congress. They recently sent representatives to meet with the staff of North Carolina's Senator Burr, ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Unfortunately, these folks totally twisted facts and figures in their effort to insure veterans who flew and maintain the C-123K are kept from receiving Agent Orange exposure benefits. C-123 veterans' position is that there is a preponderance of evidence confirming our dioxin exposure, certainly well past any threshold the VA might have in affording us the benefit of the doubt. Thus this letter to the CLO Assistant Director: (Oct 26 note--we've been corrected in that it was NOT the CLO meeting with Sen. Burr's staff but rather other VA officials. The CLO has, however, very kindly arranged a teleconference with their experts so we may learn more. Thanks, Carter and Adam!)

12 October 2011
Mr. Adam Anicich
Assistant Director
Congressional Liaison Service
United States Department of Veterans Affairs
189 Russell – Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Mr. Anicich,

Members of your staff recently discussed with Senator Burr’s staff the Agent Orange contamination of airplanes my Air Force squadron flew between 1972-1982. This plane was the C-123K, used for spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam until 1971. Our crewmembers’ concern is that the aircraft remained contaminated with dioxin after the war and exposed us to the typical Agent Orange presumptive illnesses.

The VA having denied all claims from our veterans on this issue, I asked my Senator and his staff to evaluate the materials explaining our position and to bring them to the VA’s attention. Your staff responded, in a meeting with Mr. Brooks Tucker, with information I believe was misleading and structured not to be truthful but rather to deny any Agent Orange contamination, constructing whatever argument that might be necessary, however inaccurate. I acknowledge that the details provided Senator Burr by your staff may have originated from the Air Force but the VA has adequate expertise in this subject to have more correctly informed the Senator.

In particular, I object to your representatives characterizing the Agent Orange contamination of the C-123K, saying:
“The scientific analyses of the dioxin TCDD in Agent Orange indicates that it has a very short lifespan once it dries or binds on a surface like metal. In VA’s opinion, it is highly unlikely that TCDD would remain present in a harmful form for a duration of time that would allow it to be persistently present on metal surfaces for years after it dried on that surface. 
Given the lack of testing done on the C-123s in the years following the Vietnam War, it is impossible to determine if TCDD was present in a harmful state during the years you and others were flying and maintaining those aircraft. VA views the Air Force actions relative to the clean-up of Patches and the decision to not sell mothballed C-123s as indicators of an overly cautious mindset within Air Force legal circles that desired to avoid any potential for liability if the aircraft were placed in a museum or sold to a private entity.”

What the heck does a 2000 decision not to sell contaminated C-123 airplanes, already tested as positive for dioxin and labeled by the experts as “heavily contaminated, extremely dangerous, extremely hazardous, extremely contaminated” have to do with our exposure back in 1972-1982 when we flew them? It would have aided us to know of the contamination back during our duty days, but times were more innocent then regarding dioxin. But not now…the airplanes have been repeatedly and expertly tested past any court’s requirement of proof of having been contaminated with dioxin. Multiple expert sources have established that the aircrews aboard them for hundreds and thousands of hours were exposed. 

The suggestion that bare steel does not retain dioxin contamination over the years does not trump the fact that there were very few bare steel surfaces inside or outside the C-123. Instead, nearly every surface was painted and paint absorbs Agent Orange readily. Although the distillates would evaporate over the years, not the dioxin. And we began service on those airplanes the very year after their last spray missions, and without any decontamination, just broom swept and hosed out. The various fabrics and insulation, tons of it, absorbed Agent Orange. Agent Orange built up in residue in nooks and crannies everywhere, to the point that the depot maintenance experts said the floors and wings would have to be removed to get it all out.

How many tests does it take (and the Air Force did so many of them) to convince the VA that the airplane was contaminated? How many words do I have to type to make the argument perfectly clear? Are the Air Force’s own test results not adequate to move you?

How could the public servants in the Congressional Liaison Office mislead public officials with such intensity and firm dedication in trying to prevent veterans from receiving earned benefits and protections? Can you locate the many toxicologists who tested these airplanes and labeled them “extremely contaminated” so they can help you understand the obvious conflict with the VA’s characterization of the Air Force as having “an overly cautious mindset”? Does anyone, anywhere, use “extremely dangerous”(Air Force words) to mean “overly cautious” (VA characterization of Air Force position)?

Can you locate an ethical person in the VA to explain the Department’s position to me and to the veterans I flew with? We are not presenting a hypothetical situation of water containing dioxin somehow reaching our ship out at sea, but instead the PROVEN contamination of an airplane we were ordered to fly for a decade. And made sick thereby.

Wesley T. Carter, Major, USAF, Retired
Medical Service Corps   http://www.c123kcancer.blogspot.com

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