The Westover club overflowed with fellowship and affection Friday night, as crew members from the early '70s to today's folks met to honor retired Master Sergeant Gabby Gadbois, our former first sergeant. Gabby is a bit lame these days but fighting as he always has, only this time for himself and not us.
A First Shirt always puts the troops first, as Gabby has, but these days we are putting him first. First in our prayers, first in our hearts as well. Gabby has fought long and hard against soft tissue sarcoma, lung problems, chemo troubles and now brain cancer. We saw bravery in action Friday night as we gathered around him, and this time it is our chance to sustain and protect him! And, I confess, some of us there did a bit of moaning and whining about our own boo-boos, gifts of the Agent Orange debacle.
As you know, the VA has refused to recognize Gabby's Agent Orange illnesses as related to Agent Orange, despite his hundreds of hours flying the contaminated C-123s at Westover. The VA's policy is to insure that the number of Agent Orange victims receiving care is kept to a minimum, and this is done by constructing arguments against our exposure regardless of any proofs we offer.
And that's what they've done to this distinguished veteran of nearly 30 years service. Gabby's illnesses, according to the VA, cannot result from his years flying airplanes the Air Force certified as "heavily contaminated," "a threat to public health," "extremely hazardous, extremely dangerous, extremely contaminated."! Even decades after the airplanes' last Agent Orange spray missions in Vietnam, the C-123s tested over eight times the safe building reentry standards for dioxin contamination as recognized by every agency. The contamination had to have been much more intense back in 1972-1982.
Building the case against us was the November 17 VA press release. An amazing piece of work, best called "Bull!" by the Vietnam Veterans of America, and the only time anyone can recall that the VA took preventative strikes against veterans' claims. Still...it was completely amazing.
Amazing because it has holes in it big enough for a Mac truck. The VA says we weren't exposed because the heavy contamination in the aircraft couldn't transfer to humans. They cite the fact that the dioxin was measured by the AF toxicologists in 1994 using chemical wipes. Well, duh??
It turns out that there are two measurements taken to establish dioxin contamination: the first is an air sample, which the Air Force opted not to due as per many 2008 memos. In them, an Army expert opines that the air samples need not be taken, perhaps because of political issues. Mr. Charles Sarafini, an engineer with CBRN Decontamination Systems, stated that the aircraft were contaminated with dioxin in his memos to Major Carol McCrady, Operations Officer for the Proven Aircraft Squadron at Hill. Memos go back and forth, with an eventual decision to do chemical wipe samples because that was the gold standard for tests.
So what does our favorite Veterans Administration do? It turns and twists the facts in response to their orders from above, and reaches the amazing conclusion that because chemical wipes were taken on Patches and other aircraft, somehow the VA has managed to prove no dermal exposure could result. Instead of trying to find a way (you know...they benefit of the doubt which is supposed to be given every veteran submitting a disability claim!) that helps us qualify for the care we need, they proceeded with a mindset, and a determination, to prevent us from coming to them for medical care.
The press release is also amazing other toxicologists, chemists, public health officials and the press. Itshe pushes their opinion over the ledge of credibility by stating that even if exposure did occur, it wouldn't be enough to cause long term health. What about the industry standard regarding dioxin that "contamination equals exposure." VA ignores that one!
So, I guess our current cancers, heart disease, and other troubles are from our imagination! So much for the completely ignored VA requirement to give the veteran every benefit of the doubt. The hard, cold facts are that the VA can't handle any more disabled veterans on their current budget, and the best way to prevent further overload is to convince themselves that we're not eligible...that we're not disabled because of our decades of flying tainted airplanes...that our exposure to dioxin wasn't enough to have the VA give us the benefit of the doubt. The VA gives itself the benefit of the doubt and strikes out against us veterans with their November 17 statement.
So let's fight back! Let's get all the documents like flight orders, Form 5s, signed personal statements, photographs of any C-123 crud we might have documented, maintenance info...anything you feel will help establish the condition of the aircraft once they were assigned to us. The USAF School of Aerospace Medicine has been tasked with looking into our problem and trying to make a statement about it...the statement may not be one establishing the exposure to a certainty, but at least the AF should reach a conclusion, in VA-speak, that the aircrews "more likely than not" have been exposed. It is called the benefit of the doubt, which the VA has forgotten was to be extended to us.
Let me know if you have documents we can use!