By Michael Patrick Brewer Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
As is frequently said in my coterie of combat veteran friends, “Agent Orange, the gift that keeps on giving.” Friday, the National President of the Vietnam Veterans of America issued a public letter to the Secretary, endorsing the C-123 veterans' Agent Orange exposure claims and calling for prompt action in the face of convincing scientific proofs.
I will remind the reader, that one of the more elevated functions of blogging is to solicit more truth from a broader base than might be afforded in the dailies. If retired Major Wesley Carter, is on his game, than one could say that this topic is not much different than what the Marines have been dealing with at Camp Lejune with toxic water supplies. Truth is the first, and the last casualty of war.
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary Shinseki:
I chair our small group of veterans who flew and maintained the Fairchild C-123K “Provider” for ten years following the Vietnam War. These aircraft remained poisoned after spraying Agent Orange during the war, with dioxin intense enough to be labeled by Air Force scientists as “heavily contaminated” and “a danger to public health.” These aircraft should be designated Agent Orange Exposure Sites.
When we asked the Air Force and VA to investigate, we were instead given two press releases explaining that, while the aircraft “may” have been contaminated, there wasn’t enough TCDD left to likely cause long-term health problems for our veterans.
VA’s position was quickly challenged, in particular by Dr. Fred Bernam, director of the Toxicology Department of Oregon Health Sciences University and by Dr. J. Stellman of the School of Public Health at Columbia University. Further, on 26 January 2011, the deputy director of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry stated that our veterans were most likely exposed, and over a long time, and at a level about 200 times more likely to cause cancer. He also said our exposure was probably even more intense in the decade we flew, which was as much as 22 years before that first scientific testing. The ATSDR letter was certainly a game changer…how can VA possibly deny the authority of an ATSDR finding?
General, any observer would conclude that the VA’s threshold of probably has been well-met in our case. Our aircrews, maintenance personnel, flight nurses and medics have been exposed to dioxin, our parent service has confirmed this contamination and its danger, and the federal agency responsible for reaching the definitive conclusion about that has voiced their finding quite clearly. Any benefit of the doubt must rest in our favor, but there is little doubt left surrounding this issue.
We must ask that the Department withdraw its statements concerning the lack of TCDD contamination and the unlikelihood of personnel exposure. Outside scientists have called the VA’s preparation of their C-123 position “unscientific.” Some of the authors cited have specifically told VA that their works have no relation to aircrew exposure. Several of the authors cited insist aircrews have been exposed, and yet the inference of the VA reports is that the sum of evidence available speaks against a reasonable possibility of aircrew exposure.
That simply is not so. Yet, these statements discourage veterans from considering Agent Orange claims. The statements discourage VSOs from working on our claims, regardless of our proven legitimate eligibility for claiming TCDD exposure.
Benefit of the doubt is supposed to fall on the veteran’s side. We have exceeded the threshold of any reasonable benefit of the doubt, and indeed quite the opposite – there is very little doubt left about our being exposed.
As we understand it, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs can designate our aircraft (since destroyed by the USAF because of their contamination) as Agent Orange exposure sites. Please do so. If instead, some other action on your part leads to our veterans receiving medical care for their Agent Orange-presumptive illnesses, please bring us relief via that path instead.
As volunteer aircrews we willingly flew these older airplanes and accepted the extra hazards of flight inherent in them. The Army really needed these aircraft and their unique short-field capabilities, as we proved in several REFORGER exercises. Nobody knew about the contamination during the years we flew but certainly everyone knows now! Our duty was to fly, and now the VA’s duty is to address our medical concerns resulting from exposure to dioxin.
We’d be grateful for an opportunity to discuss this with you or a representative, but we’d be better served by your executive action in designating our old airplanes as Agent Orange hotspots so that we can proceed with fair evaluation of our claims.
And our claim, sir, is “Boots on the Airplane.”