12 July 2012

AF Surgeon's Office Briefs Sen. Burr's Staff & C-123 Veterans

Yesterday, a very well prepared team from the AF Surgeon's Office briefed Senator Burr's staff  about their 27 April 2012 report dealing with C-123 aircrew dioxin exposure. A lot of effort went into their participation and the C-123 Veterans Association extends thanks to the Air Force Surgeon General as well as Senator Burr's staff.

Joining the teleconference were Dr. Richard Clapp (Professor Emeritus Boston University School of Public Health) and Dr. Jeanie Stellman (Professor Emerita Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health). These dedicated scientists, so familiar with Agent Orange issues, helped C-123 veterans better understand both the Air Force report and the earlier VA report.

During this meeting, the Air Force briefers explained:
  • the report was prepared by "tens" of experts from various health professions assigned to the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. Released over the signature of USAFSAM's commander, the report correctly reflects the professional opinion of each of the various experts who contributed to it. Drafts of earlier versions or of the final staff report submitted to USAFSAM/CC prior to the published version will not be made available
  • USAFSAM undertook the project partly to gather all relevant information, provide an analysis, and make it all available to the public
  • complete and thorough release of materials from all Air Force sources was provided; no documents were withheld from USAFSAM researchers by any source, including Davis-Monthan and Hill.
  • USAFSAM was unable to determine any particular individual or group exposure, lacking an adequate population for an epidemiological study and having to rely on reports done over the decades since concerns first surfaced about C-123 Agent Orange contamination (the aircraft having been since destroyed)
  • the briefers twice stressed their report was unable to make a finding about whether or not individual or occupational groups were exposed. Yet in very stark contrast to that claim of indecision or neutrality, the report reads "At this time, we conclude that the discernible information suggests the potential Agent Orange exposures...were unlikely to have exceeded acceptable regulatory standards or to have predisposed persons in either group to experience future adverse outcomes."
  • the executive summary's finding of "unlikely" exposure contrasts with the report's conclusion in 4(d), "is is reasonable to conclude that it is not possible to derive quantitative estimates of any increased health risks for those individuals". If that is the case, why did the report earlier deny any likelihood of such exposure? Shouldn't any such indecision result in the benefit of the doubt given the veterans?
  • the pivotal 1994 Weisman/Porter survey of Patches for the Air Force Museum concluded the aircraft was "heavily contaminated" but from the perspective of extensive restoration (grinding, ripping out insulation, fabric, etc.)
  • the Air Force briefers suggest the report was not written for guidance of other agencies, such as the Veterans Administration, and that the VA would likely evaluate C-123 veterans' claims "on an individual basis." We explained that VA has already cited the AF report as decisive evidence against C-123 veterans' exposure to dioxin and as justification for denying service connection.
Dr. Clapp stressed that the VA and AF need to discuss the issue in a manner similar to the effort he assists at Camp Lejeune, and find an avenue for individual claims to be evaluated more effectively. Dr. Stellman stressed the importance of remembering the tests' confirmation of "military herbicides" and the need to treat C-123 veterans with the same logic, the same fairness, as the VA has treated Vietnam veterans.

Mr. Tucker of Senator Brook's staff stressed that federal agencies need to find a more compassionate approach to evaluation of individual C-123 veterans' dioxin exposure, and that a reasonable benefit of the doubt be applied to the situation.

For C-123 veterans, the day did not go well. Air Force briefers were enthusiastic in presentation of the report and defensive about its conclusions. Although the briefing began with a general statement that their report was unable to reach a conclusion regarding "occupational" exposure, no retreat was made from the actual wording of the report's Executive Summary which states exposure was "unlikely."
Air Force leadership should know that C-123 veterans are respectful of their authority, and we are absolutely dedicated to the Air Force mission and core values. Given our age, these values have been part of our lives longer than with those currently serving.

We differ in our opinions regarding aircrew dioxin exposure and trust that future peer-reviewed articles in professional journals will better articulate the basis for our actual and harmful exposure and qualification for VA service connection. We also hope for continued support from universities and federal agencies such as the ATSDR.

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