06 November 2011

Open Letter to US Senate re: MSgt George Gadbois, USAF Ret.

Today, I wrote George's two senators from Georgia. They will have an interest in aiding him, plus the CDC and ATSDR are located in Atlanta.

Honorable Saxby Chambliss
United States Senate
131 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Chambliss,

I am writing on behalf of your constituent, Master Sergeant George Gadbois of Warner-Robins Georgia, who is unable himself to ask your help. Sergeant Gadbois has no family and is gravely ill with cancer throughout his body which is why I am representing him to you and to the Veterans Administration. We seek your immediate assistance regarding his Agent Orange veteran’s benefits which have been denied him by the VA.

Sergeant Gadbois recently retired from the Air Force after a long, distinguished career, and I know him from the days he served as First Sergeant of the 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Westover AFB, MA. He was also an Aeromedical Evacuation Technician, flying the C-130 and C-123 aircraft for many years.

He sought disability benefits from the VA due to his Agent Orange exposure while flying the C-123, an aircraft previously used for spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam. Air Force studies (many of them) show his aircraft remained “heavily contaminated”, “extremely hazardous, extremely dangerous, extremely contaminated” and “a threat to public health.” All words from Air Force studies and reports.

Unfortunately, although the Air Force and the VA acknowledge he flew a contaminated aircraft for years, those agencies content that the aircrews were somehow not exposed therein. I have written both agencies and both say to contact the other. Thus, a perfect Joseph Hiller “Catch 22” leaving Sergeant Gadbois abandoned.

Other agencies such as EPA, CDC, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Protection, have all deferred to the Veterans Administration when approached for help. For whatever reason, none have taken a stand on whether aircrews that flew these airplanes for a decade would have been exposed to the dioxin on them, and thus meet the VA’s requirement for medical care.

Although the government agencies are timid, universities have not been afraid. In particular, the head of the Toxicology Department of Oregon Health Sciences University and also scientists from Columbia University’s School of Public Health have both weighed in, stating that the aircrew’s exposure was “most likely.”

On behalf of Sergeant Gadbois, I ask that you request a more definitive response from the CDC or the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry regarding whether aircrews serving aboard heavily contaminated airplanes for many, many years have or have not likely been exposed to the dioxin on them. A simple request, and one seeking a conclusion they’d have no hesitation making regarding a comparable civilian setting.

I cannot imagine CDC, EPA or ATSDR passively allowing a civilian airplane already tested “heavily contaminated” for dioxin to remain in service were it to be still flying today. The Air Force tests are adequate to make such a determination about our C-123. All we ask that the same logic be applied to the determination of whether or not our crews, in the VA’s words, “were as likely to as not” have been exposed.

The VA leadership, in a teleconference with me on 27 October (arranged by Brooks Tucker of Senator Burr’s office) requires proof of the contamination source. The VA does not dispute the C-123’s contamination in the face of the AF tests. VA also requires proof of exposure, but has already determined that no exposure could take place by dermal contact or inhalation. Along with scientists from the Oregon Health Sciences University and Columbia University, we say otherwise. We also insist that in a parallel civilian setting, the government would be far more forceful in protecting the public.

Can your office help? Sergeant Gadbois last week learned that his soft tissue sarcoma (an Agent Orange illness) has spread to his lungs and his brain. At best, he was told on Friday, he has a year of rapidly declining health.

George is a brave man. I have personally seen his bravery when, in response to a civilian chlorine explosion, he rushed in to aid others without regard for his own safety. There wasn’t time to get personal protective equipment yet he went to the civilian’s aid, faced with a lethal chlorine cloud. He was decorated for this heroism.

His whole military service has been to care for others, as a medic aboard aeromedical evacuation airplanes and as our beloved First Sergeant. He deserves your forceful advocacy and needs it now.

Thank you for supporting the Military Family Month…George has no family other than the men and women he served with, so as his “family,” a family which loves him very much, we ask your immediate help.

The Military Family of Master Sergeant George Gadbois

Wesley T. Carter, Major, USAF Retired
Chair, C-123 Aircrew Association

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