30 June 2012

VA & AF Reports - A Sucker Punch to Institute on Medicine!

In a completely unscientific and unprofessional series of recent reports, both the Veterans Administration and the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine sucker-punched the Institute on Medicine! This sneak attack was their attempt to deny any dermal or ingestion route of exposure, and then to claim that C-123 air samples, though proof of dioxin contamination, disproved veterans exposure. I know...it gets complicated. They even cited a publication from Hill AFB in which the Air Force researcher identifies dioxin on the aircraft, but ignore the researcher's claim that his report should not be used to infer anything about aircrew dioxin exposure.

Amazing that for decades these C-123s have always been "the Agent Orange airplanes" in every government memo, publication, court case, email...everything. The airplanes were destroyed, as approved by the Air Staff, specifically because everyone agreed they were toxic. Government memos (Davis-Monthan AFB and Hill AFB) specified the destruction be conducted with low visibility in case veterans learned about the problem and sought medical care. Officials from the Office of Secretary of Defense, key decision makers in this process, referred to the veteran aircrews as "trash-haulers, freeloaders looking for a tax-free dollar from a sympathetic congressman." I thought we were veteran flyers who'd earned the Country's respect...we certainly don't have OSD's.

Decades of "The Agent Orange Airplanes!" That is, until the first veteran's claim was filed! Then, by magic or other process, suddenly no Agent Orange at all!

Ignoring well-founded military investigations completed over a period of four decades, and completely ignoring the professional input from acknowledged experts whose work the IOM has depended upon for over a decade, IOM caved to these two agencies and opted out of a promised special study. This study was promised to the veterans by officials of the VA's Public Health at our meeting with Senator Burr's staff this April.

Riding on the back of the Air Force report issued in late May, VA on 20 June amended their Internet description of the C-123 Agent Orange issue. They incorporated the three basic (and erroneous) findings of the AF report, and used that to pressure IOM into dropping our issue.

Last year, the VA merely conducted a survey of the sparse literature and, by ignoring all positive evidence such as the Air Force's own finding of "heavily contaminated" and "a danger to public health," and ignoring the many universities and toxicologists who've challenged the VA position,  the Department of Veterans Affairs used weak assumptions to construct their barrier to veterans' claims for exposure. To date, only the Air Force and the VA defend the position that contaminated C-123 aircraft didn't expose crews to dioxin. To date, every other government agency and outside expert have claimed crews were exposed.
CDC Agency Reports Aircrews Exposed!

The AF and VA both blatantly ignored the finding of the deputy director of the CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry which concluded aircrews and maintenance personnel were exposed to harmful levels of dioxin. The VA and AF even ignored the gold-standard Army technical manual! After agreeing to place great weight on whatever the Air Force study revealed, the VA's 20 June release was immediately propagated throughout the professional literature in an attempt to construct a general belief in the field that their view is the correct one. It will take a peer-reviewed article to challenge this and we understand it is on the way!

Veterans do agree with each report's conclusion that passengers and others with occasional, non-professional involvement with the C-123 were extremely unlikely to have had any exposure to dioxin.

More Support for C-123 Veterans' Agent Orange Claims

We learned this week that another major university (not to be specified but it sits along the Charles River in Boston) has brought its expertise to bear on our claims for Agent Orange exposure. Experts from that university in Boston fully endorsed Dr. Jeannie Stellman's perspective - C-123 veterans WERE exposed to deadly TCDD (the toxic element of Agent Orange) in the years 1972-1982. Further, their professional opinion is that our veterans were exposed at a greater rate than ground troops of the Vietnam War.

And they have a great faculty club!

Like Dr. Stellman, this university's experts have previously been acknowledged by the National Academy of Sciences as the go-to source for Agent Orange research.

We still hope for a peer-reviewed article addressing the inadequacies of the VA and AF reports about the C-123, likely focusing on the unscientific assumptions made, the obvious predetermined conclusion, and the fact...the fact...that aircrews and maintenance personnel assigned to this aircraft are due fair consideration by the VA for our Agent Orange exposure claims. Several researchers have utilized our blog's extensive data collection, but we need to get more of the materials gathered by the Air Force during their investigation of the C-123 contamination. Personally, I'd like to know who exactly wrote the report because it was signed by Colonel Benjamin, commander of the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, and I can't see that a physician or major unit commander did this work himself. Typically, such reports are released oner the signatures of the researchers involved. And typically, Air Force reports such as this can be relied upon but in this case it has failed the sniff test.

Jeanne Mager Stellman 
Professor and Director of Environmental Health Sciences, SUNY-Downstate

"Agent Orange was an important tool that could be used to save the lives of thousands of soldiers who could fight in the jungle more clearly. But at the same time it introduced serious toxic chemicals into the environment and one could also say caused huge ecological disaster by this massive deforestation of a jungle area.
So, fellow veterans, keep calm and await developments. We expect the Air Force to brief Senator Burr on July 11, and our Association's leadership has been invited to attend or participate via teleconference.

Make sure your own VA claims for Agent Orange-type illness are submitted, and thus far the best advice from the American Legion's National Service Officers is to address individual medical issues with specific, expert medical opinions that the issue is "as likely to as not" have been caused by exposure to Agent Orange while an aircrew member (or maintainer, or aerial port) of the C-123.

29 June 2012

Only Safe Way to Fly the C-123

MANDATED Hazmat Protection for C-123 Personnel
Davis-Monthan AFB (AF photo)
 (note: airplanes still poisoned 29 years after last spray missions!)
According to the Air Force in 2000, this shows the only safe way to fly the C-123 following determination that the planes remained contaminated with dioxin and their years spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Please remember that the Air Force considered the C-123 fleet "extremely dangerous" and "a danger to public health" and "heavily contaminated" right up to the point that the first veteran's VA claim was filed...suddenly, perhaps by VA magic wand or by clicking our little red heels together and making a wish, all the poison went away. We can trust the VA, right?

Here is our own design of the follow-on flight suit for C-123 aircrew:

28 June 2012

VA Releases Newest C-123 Exposure Denials

In their most recent Internet posting, the VA's Public Health Division incorporates the results of the Air Force C-123 Agent Orange Report. In it they construct a false argument that crews weren't exposed when in fact, all scientific opinion is that we were! Three AF conclusions are cited by VA in their post and both the VA and AF have twisted scientific FACTS 180 degrees to deny the truth - aircrews WERE indeed exposed! (see their points below):
1. There indeed wasn't enough information or data to conclude how much any individual was exposed, but that cannot truthfully be used to deny that any of us were actually exposed. The lack of abundant data cannot be used to disprove a hypothesis when there is ample data indicating the certainty of exposure
2. Exposure in these aircraft was certainly more intense during Vietnam, and Ranch Hand aircrews were more greatly exposed, but this point cannot be used to create the false impression that post-Vietnam aircrews weren't also exposed - according to experts and testing data over the years, crews were exposed at a level greatly exceeding exposure by ground forces during the war
3. All evidence points to the fact that aircrews and maintenance personnel were indeed exposed to Agent Orange (TCDD) at an unsafe level, according to the CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Conclusion: VA Public Health is dedicated to preventing C-123 veterans' Agent Orange exposure claims, and to preventing any vet's case-by-case evaluation which may introduce the truth!

Here is the VA Internet post of 20 June which incorporates mistakes from the AF Report:
Some Veterans who were crew members on C-123 Provider aircraft, formerly used to spray Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, have raised health concerns about exposure to residual amounts of herbicides on the plane surfaces.
VA’s Office of Public Health thoroughly reviewed all available scientific information regarding the exposure potential. We concluded that the potential of long-term health effects for the post-Vietnam crews that flew or maintained these planes was extremely low and therefore, the risk of long-term health effects is minimal.
Testing for Agent Orange residue on planes used in Vietnam
The U.S. Air Force (USAF) collected and analyzed numerous samples from C-123 aircraft to test for Agent Orange. USAF's recent risk assessment report (April 27, 2012) (2.3 MB, PDF) found that potential exposures to Agent Orange in C-123 planes used after the Vietnam War were unlikely to have put aircrew or passengers at risk for future health problems. The report’s three conclusions:
1. There was not enough information and data to conclude how much individual persons would have been exposed to Agent Orange.
2.   It is expected that exposure to Agent Orange in these aircraft after the Vietnam War was lower than exposure during the spraying missions in Vietnam.
3.  Potential Agent Orange exposures were unlikely to have exceeded standards set by regulators or to have put people at risk for future health problems.
How Veterans may have been exposed
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Air Force used C-123 aircraft to spray Agent Orange to clear jungles that provided enemy cover in Vietnam. At the end of the spraying campaign in 1971, the remaining C-123 planes were reassigned to reserve units in the U.S. for routine cargo and medical evacuation missions spanning the next 10 years.
Crew members aboard one of these post-Vietnam C-123 planes reported smelling strong odors, which raised concerns about Agent Orange exposure – but Agent Orange is odorless. These odors may have come from various chemicals associated with aircraft.
Health effects of Agent Orange residue
The health effects of exposure to Agent Orange residue on airplanes differ from direct contact with liquid Agent Orange. In liquid or spray form, Agent Orange can enter the body through inhalation or ingestion (such as hand-to-mouth contact or getting into food). But in the dry form – for example, adhered to a surface – Agent Orange residue cannot be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, and would be difficult to ingest.
The potential for health effects depends on the amount of Agent Orange present, as well as its ability to enter the body. After reviewing available scientific reports, VA has concluded that the exposure potential in these planes was extremely low and therefore, the risk of long-term health effects is minimal. Even if crew exposure did occur, it is unlikely that sufficient amounts of dried Agent Orange residue could have entered the body to have caused harm.
Research studies on Agent Orange
Research on the health effects of Agent Orange has been extensive and it continues. Diverse populations have been studied, including herbicide sprayers and manufacturers, other Vietnam-era Veterans, and those exposed during industrial accidents. This information helps us to determine what potential health effects may be related to different levels of exposure.
VA benefits
If you have health concerns about Agent Orange, talk to your health care provider or local VA Environmental Health Coordinator.
Veterans not enrolled in the VA health care system, find out if you qualify for VA health care.
Although the risk of long-term health problems from exposure to Agent Orange residue on post-Vietnam C-123 airplanes is minimal, Veterans who believe they have exposure-related health problems may file a claim for disability compensation. These claims will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

27 June 2012

General Mike Passes

The world became less wonderful, but Heaven rejoiced, on Saturday as retired Brigadier General Mike Walker lifted off to attend his next and most important Commander's Call. Diagnosed with prostate cancer just before Desert Shield, General Mike fought a long battle with the illness that finally claimed his life.

He was one of the best men ever to wear a blue uniform, and the Air Force was blessed to have his lifetime of dedicated service. We were blessed to know and serve with this good man. He commanded the 439th Airlift Wing during tough times, and was the kind of man we all wanted to be like if we ever grew up.

God bless.

26 June 2012

Agent Orange & USAF Operaton Ranch Hand Net Resources

Here's a fairly complete collection of USAF Internet resources - hope it helps with your own research

A. Ranch Hand

  • Operation Ranch Hand (Air Ops site)
  • AF & Herbicides in SEA (Buckingham, excerpt)
       • Full Book (downloadable)
  • Herbicidal Warfare in SEA (Cecil, pdf)
       • Part 2  • Part 3
  • Herbiide Ops in SEA 61-67 (CHECO, 1967-pdf)
  • Ranch Hand Bibliography (AU ASBC)
  • Operation Ranch Hand History (AFHSO)  • Alt
       • Ranch Hand: Down in the Weeds (NMUSA)
       • Air Commando: 1950-1975 (USAF, excerpt)  • Alt
       • Ranch Hand (AF Mag)  • pdf
       • Global Security
       • Ranch Hand History
       • Herbicidal Warfare Prgm in Vietnam (Arison)
       • Mission: Ranch Hand (AU Review, 1970)
       • US History.com
       • Ranch Hand Spray Mission Video (0:18)
  • Fast Movers & Herbicidal Spray in SEA
  • Ranch Hand ROE (Guilmartin, pdf)
       • Abstract  • More
       • Ranch Hand History (ROE)
       • Mission: Ranch Hand (ROE; AU Review, 1970)
       • Herbicide Use in Thailand (herbicide ROE in SEA)  • pdf
  • RH: History & Legal Issues (cached)
  • Spray Activity (animated-Media Player)
  • Air Commando Association
  • Traildust Statistics
  • C-123 Agent Orange Contamination - 1972 to 1982
  • UC-123 (AF Museum)  • Photos
       • Ranch Hand & C-123 (Jeff Duford, NMUSAF lecture)
       • Pt. 2 (Patches)
  • C/UC-123 Aircraft Survivors
  • Herbicide Patterns in Vn (Traildust, pdf)
       • Cached HTML
  • Assessing Exposure of Grnd Troops (Guilmartin)  • pdf
       • Paper: Ginevan, Ross & Watkins, 2007
  • Ranch Hand Mission (discussion)
  • Operation Flyswatter (insect spray mission)
       • Full article  • Another
       • Discussion (scroll down)
  • C-123 Insect Spray Msn (photo)  • More
  • Operation Pink Rose (Global Security)
       • Oprn Inferno/Banish Beach
  • Oprn Pink Rose (final report, pdf)
  • Technology in Vietnam: Firestorm Projrct
  • Use of Helicopters in Defoliation  • More

  • B. Agent Orange
  • Agent Orange (Dept. of Vet Affairs)
       • About Agent Orange  • Exposure in Vietnam
       • What Do You Know About Agent Orange? (video)
  • Statistics on Agent Orange Use
       • More: By Location
       • Herbicide Use in Vietnam (stats)  • Details
       • Chemical Details  • Declassified Documents
  • Agent Orange FAQ
  • Agent Orange Talking Paper
  • Johnston Island & Agent Orange Storage
  • Agent Orange Case Study
  • Agent Orange Links & Studies (Hatfield Gp)  • Alt
       • Studying Effects of AO in Vietnam
       • Environmental Impact of AO
       • AO Mitigation in ALuoi (A Shau) Valley
  • Characterizing Vet Exposure (e-book)
  • AF Health Study: Ranch Hand Study
       • Study Overview (2MB pdf)
  • Disposition of AF Health Study
  • AF AO Study Commentary
  • Animated Map of Spray Ops ('63-'70)
  • Flight Records Show Contamination
  • Agent Orange Exposure in Vn (pdf)
  • Extent & Patterns of AO Use (pdf)
  • Notes on Herbicide Use in Vietnam
  • Herbicide Use in II Corps
  • Adm Zumwalt on Agent Orange
  • Residual Dioxin in Vietnam
  • Agent White
  • Alvin Young Collection on AO
  • US-PRVN Conf: Effects of AO  • pdf
  • Jt US-Vietnam Agent Orange Study
  • International Studies
  • Evaluating Works on Agent Orange (Buckingham, 1982)
  • Spraying Locations, 1963-70 (video)
  • Documentary: Ranch Hand
  • Battle's Poison Cloud (video review)
  • Spectre Orange (Guardian, 2003)
  • AO: Collateral Damage in Vn (book rvw)
  • AO: Linger Effects (Vanity Fair)
  • Children of Vietnam Vets Health Study (Australian)
       • COVVHS Homepage 
  • 2012 Veterans Benefits Handbook Available

    The Department of Veterans Affairs has released its 2012 VA Health Benefits Handbook. To download a copy, click here.  The handbook is designed to provide veterans and their families with the information needed to understand VA’s health-care system, including eligibility requirements, health benefits and services available to help veterans, and copays that certain veterans may be charged.
    Any veterans who have questions related to their health-care benefits can contact The American Legion Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division by email.

    23 June 2012

    New VA Update Denies C-123 Dioxin Exposure

    In their most recent Internet posting, the VA jumps onboard with the Air Force in reasserting the claims they've made that flying contaminated airplanes did not result in our exposure to the dioxin inside those airplanes!

    Folks, this is not new science or new research. Instead, both the VA and the AF have merely reviewed earlier documents which themselves confirmed the "heavily contaminated" dioxin-laden C-123 fleet. Caving to political and financial pressure, the report writers labored hard to wordsmith away veterans' ability to claim Agent Orange exposure. However, every university that has investigated the situation confirms our exposure to Agent Orange. The deputy director of the CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry also confirms our exposure, opining that we flew aircraft which were 200-times more toxic than safe standards!

    1. I believe the Air Force is sensitive to the fact that they failed to protect aircrews, and failed inform veterans who'd flown the C-123 once the danger was known.
    2. I believe the Air Force and State Department are sensitive to the fact that the AF sold dioxin-contaminated aircraft to Thailand and South Korea before the range was known.
    3. I believe the AF is sensitive to the fact that several aircraft were sold as surplus, including some to Walt Disney films, which were contaminated with dioxin.
    4. I believe the VA and USAF are sensitive to the potential cost of medical care for Agent Orange-exposed aircrew and maintenance veterans.
    5. I believe the AF report is flawed in many ways, including its failure to properly assess exposure via dioxin-laden dust, failure to properly assess the level of contamination and crew exposure in the years before the first tests were conducted,  and is flawed in their obvious effort to downplay the possibility of veterans' exposure below the "as likely to as not" VA threshold. This report, not even signed by the researchers, tries to whitewash the damning description made by earlier AF scientists who themselves conducted the original dioxin test on the aircraft, and under oath described the C-123 "a danger to public health."

    Having trouble viewing this email? View it as a Web page.
    Veterans Health Administration Update:
    Doctor smiling at Veteran
    Agent Orange residue on C-123 planes post-Vietnam
    The U.S. Air Force’s recent risk assessment report (April 27, 2012) found that potential exposures to Agent Orange in C-123 airplanes used after the Vietnam War were unlikely to have put aircrew or passengers at risk for future health problems. Download the report for the full findings. (PDF)
    VA’s Office of Public Health also concluded in its review of all related scientific information, including the Air Force report, that the risk of herbicide exposure was very low and therefore, the risk of health problems is minimal. We will review any new scientific information that becomes available.

    19 June 2012

    Senator Burr (NC) to Receive AF Briefing re: C-123K Study

    Thanks to the continuing interest by North Carolina's Senator Burr and his staff, leadership of the C-123 Veterans Association has been invited to participate in a teleconference next week as the Air Force briefs the Senator on their recent C-123 Agent Orange study. That report, much to the surprise of aircrews as well as scientists in this field, generally dismissed the likelihood that aircrew, maintenance and aerial port personnel were exposed to dioxin remaining in the aircraft following Vietnam for the decade in which we flew them.
    Senator Richard Burr (D-NC) Ranking Member
    Senate Veterans Committee

    This will be interesting. Questions abound! Questions such as:
    1. Who wrote the report? It was signed by Colonel Benjamin, USAFSAM/CC but he is a physician, not the scientists who first contacted us for our input
    2. Does the AF repudiate the 1979, 1994, 1996 and 2009 reports in which dioxin was identified as present aboard the C-123?
    3. Does the AF admit even a possibility of aircrew exposure, such a possibility being enough to suggest that the VA gives the benefit of the doubt to our claims?
    4. What role did the VA have in the report (preparation, editing, approval cycles)?
    5. Why did Dr. Ron Porter, co-author of the 1996 survey of Patches, testify as an AF employee in a federal court case that the C-123 "are a danger to public health", a case in which he was called as an expert witness on behalf of the AF and the GSA?
    6. Phrases in the AF report and the GSA report explain that dioxin aboard the aircraft was detected by "advanced scientific procedures many years after use." This phrasing suggests that only such advanced procedures were able to identify the TCDD, yet the initial Conway report identified "military herbicides" with standard testing procedures and equipment in 1979 and Porter/Weisman did the same in 1996. In fact, no special, advanced scientific procedures or equipment were necessary to identify the TCDD, so why the evasive wording when standard procedures were all that were needed?Why did the GSA and AF further misdirect public understanding by not allowing that TCDD concentration was likely even more intense in 1972 as we began flying the Provider than it was in later years after decades of storage in desert conditions?

    Questions abound. But will the answers?

    17 June 2012

    Bad VA Decision - Now a "Notice of Disagreement"

    Here is the mechanism of this particular claim going forward (from the Vietnam Veterans of America web site). In this particular case, representation will be sought from the American Legion, given their national support and the local VSO's strengths.
    How To Respond To The VA's Decision:
    You do not help yourself if you simply dump a pile of loose records on the VA. Organize the records and explain their significance in a letter you and your representative prepare together. Once the VA regional office makes a decision with respect to your claim, you (and your service representative) will receive a notice of that decision which explains the reasons for the VA’s determination. Read the notice carefully and discuss it with your representative. Your appeal should address the specific reasons why the VA denied the claim or awarded a rating that is too low or an effective date that is too late.

    The first step in appealing a claim is to send the VA regional office a "Notice of Disagreement " (NOD). There is no official NOD form. Generally, the NOD can be a written statement on VA Form 21-4138 (Statement in Support of Claim) or a letter that states that you disagree with the decision. Be sure to include in your NOD the date of the decision that you disagree with, which issues you disagree with and that you intend to appeal those issues. You have one year from the date of the VA’s notice of its decision to file your NOD with the VA regional office. If you miss this deadline, you can only reopen your claim based on new and material evidence or establishing that the VA denial was the product of clear and unmistakable error (which is very difficult to prove).

    After the VA receives your NOD, you should receive a letter that acknowledges your NOD. You will be asked whether you wish to have your appeal sent to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) in Washington, D.C., or whether you wish to have your claim reviewed on a de novo basis. The latter refers to the VA’s Decision Review Officer (DRO) program. This is an informal appellate process within the regional office. The DRO has the authority to reverse or modify a VA rating board decision. We recommend that you seek DRO review before you request a BVA appeal. The DRO process is frequently successful and is generally faster than going straight to the BVA. If you do not receive a better decision from the DRO, you can still appeal to the BVA.

    Once the DRO has made a decision or has received your request for BVA consideration, the VA will issue a “Statement of the Case” (SOC). This document will explain the VA’s decision(s) in detail. You have 60 days from the date of the SOC to file your substantive appeal to the BVA on VA Form 9. (VA forms can be downloaded from the VA’s “Compensation” website. You can even apply for benefits online under “Vonapp” (Veterans Online Application)). Your appeal will then be certified and forwarded to the BVA.

    13 June 2012

    Oregon Director of Veterans Affairs - Avoids Helping Veterans??

    In a letter from the Administrator of Oregon's Department of Veterans Affairs, Director Jim Willis reports that scientific proofs of C-123 Agent Orange exposure somehow have not moved him to add his voice to our support. I guess the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Columbia University, Oregon's own Oregon Health Sciences University and others lack the veracity he seeks to be swayed.

    He refers us to others such as the VA itself which obviously cuts us off from his otherwise very effective assistance in bringing the issue before Congress, the Department of Defense, and Secretary Shinseki.

    I don't know about other C-123 veterans, but I'm weary of political or administrative wonks sloughing us off to the next useless, bored and disinterested wonk. His not getting involved in our support certainly saves Director Willis (himself a Vietnam veteran) several precious minutes writing a letter or phoning someone on our behalf - I guess those minutes are more important to him than our health and welfare, but as an Oregon veteran I thought it was part of his job! I better read his department's mission statement once more.
       Wes Carter

    Mission Statement

    Where EVERY DAY Is Veterans Day!

    The Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs (ODVA), with the support of our citizens, recognizes and honors Oregon’s veterans and their families by providing the highest quality programs, service and benefits.
    "We take great pride in our role as advocates for Oregon’s veterans, their families and survivors. Oregon has a long and well-established history of respect for those who have served our state and nation with courage, dedication and honor." --Director Jim Willis