21 February 2012

Blue Water Navy & C-123 Veterans - what are the differences?

I have been asked to explain, as best I can, some differences between our effort to have the VA recognize Agent Orange exposure by C-123 veterans, and similar claims by veterans who served aboard ships during the Vietnam War - well-known as the "Blue Water Navy". Another group are the children of Vietnam veterans with birth defects, and I do not know how to address their claims - my heart is torn apart when considering their suffering. Men like Ben Quick are the best voice for justice for these folks.

First, in no way do I argue with or disparage claims made by Blue Water Veterans, nor seek to make our claim more or less legitimate than theirs. We should all expect that justice and science treat both groups equally.

The fundamental differences in our situations are:
1. The Blue Water Navy group is huge...over 200,000 veterans, compared to C-123 post-Vietnam flyers, AME and maintenance folks totaling only about 1,500; Blue Water Navy has tremendous political support, membership support, and media visibility. Large size means huge financial impact on the VA if benefits are approved. C-123 veterans have had their requests to Congress and the Senate answered by exactly one staffer...Mr. Brooks Tucker of Senator Burr's staff, who has carried the burden for us in Washington for nearly a year now! Other politicians have simply ignored us
2. The C-123 has detailed, scientific USAF testing establishing the contamination by TCDD (dioxin) on many aircraft, with exact tail numbers identified in many instances. There are also AF tests done before and after decontamination of Tail #362. There have been no similar scientific tests on Blue Water Navy vessels although a convincing report was just released about decontamination of carriers!
3. There is a huge paper trail of official documents within Air Force Material Command and the Air Staff concerning the "Agent Orange" airplanes, from 1994 through final destruction of the remaining aircraft in 2010. AF Office of Environmental Science recommended test information "be kept in official channels only," prompting questions about a possible cover-up
4. The recent Institute of Medicine report about Blue Water Navy concerns said the possibility of dioxin contamination via desalination procedures out at sea "could not be disproved." This gives some low degree of probability to the argument, rather than the VA's requisite "as likely to as not" level of proof. In the case of C-123s, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (part of the CDC with responsibility for this issue) has determined C-123 aircrews likely were exposed and stated our exposure was at a high level of cancer threat. This language is far above the VA's threshold requiring the benefit of the doubt resting in favor of a veteran's claim for disability
5. TCDD contamination of the C-123 was established by AF testing, and the testing procedures and results challenged by the VA in November 2011. However, the AF testing was specifically cited as proper procedure with valid results by the ATSDR, as well as by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in their Independent Scientific Opinion. Columbia labeled the VA review of C-123 Agent Orange issues as "unscientific"
6. Columbia further classified C-123 veterans' exposure as on a par with or greater than ground personnel serving in-country during the Vietnam War
7. C-123 veterans, in some cases, served a full decade aboard the contaminated aircraft. Service was in direct contact with contaminated surfaces, providing inhalation, ingestion and dermal contact routes of contamination
8. Blue Water Navy has successfully had many ships identified by hull number for presumptive connection for veterans who served aboard. No C-123 veteran (other than those who previously served in Vietnam during the war) has had a claim approved by the VA or by the BVA upon appeal

I feel that both groups have valid claims deserving of scientific and legislative evaluation and, if well-founded, recognition by the Department of Veterans Affairs for treatment of our veterans' Agent Orange-presumptive illnesses. That's all we ask...if TCDD contamination and exposure can be established and a veteran suffers from an AO-related disease, the veteran should be given treatment for that disease. 

Our claim  - "Boots on the Airplane" = Recognition for Agent Orange Illnesses

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