31 August 2012

Surprise - I've learned my most recent disease is Agent Orange related!

Bone death caused by failed blood supply
Not good news. I was diagnosed with avascular necrosis (AVN) last October, and yesterday learned that it frequently is associated with Agent Orange exposure. It is not on the list of illnesses automatically associated with AO by the Veterans Administration but medical experts connect the two.

AVN is bone death. Usually with AVN the blood supply fails for a major joint such as the hip, leading to bone death and eventual collapse of the structure. It can affect more than one joint and in my case, it has claimed two hips thus far but it seems my knees are okay. These are problems that can be addressed by hip replacements and the results are usually excellent. The new hip I got last Monday is working just fine!

I previously was treated with prednisone for two years by the VA, and prednisone is associated with about a third of AVN cases. There's a link there, but there is a link also made by medical experts to dioxin exposure. Dioxin can cause problems with blood supply to large bones - impaired blood supply to bones can cause AVN, and thus the necessary nexus.

It wasn't until yesterday that I discovered many cases where veterans had claims for AVN Agent Orange denied by the VA but approved when they appealed to the VA's Board of Veterans Appeals! These veterans were successful in their claims by providing several doctor's statements that dioxin exposure can result in impaired blood supply. In the BVA's finding, they summarize the doctors' letters:

 H. R., M.D., wrote the
following year that one of the etiologies of avascular
necrosis was ischemia to the femoral head due to
angiendotheliomatosis, which is one of the causes listed on
Table 1 of the NVLSP guide.  It was noted that Agent Orange
and its component dioxin could affect the blood vessels in
this particular pathophysiological manner.  The author
specifically concurred with Dr. S. F. B., opining that the
veteran's exposure to Agent Orange is most likely what led to
development of the avascular necrosis of the hips
What does this mean for our C-123 veterans? Many of us have hip and knee problems. For our vets who are Vietnam veterans and diagnosed with AVN, I'd suggest filing an application to have your condition recognized and service-connected. For non-Vietnam veterans who flew the dixon-contaminated Provider, it means one more illness for which we can thank Agent Orange and the Air Force failure to properly decontaminate the airplanes before ordering us to fly them. If you're already diagnosed with AVN as I was, I suggest that you amend your application for benefits to include AVN and support it with your physician's letter!

Note: you may see AVN described as osteonecrosis, aseptic necrosis, ischemic necrosis or bone infarction. Pretty much all the same. Besides Agent Orange, it is also associated with heavy smoking, heavy drinking, steroids, diving, and sickle cell. Victims experience increasing pain and decreasing range of motion, eventually to the point where even resting in the prone position is painful.

24 August 2012

Out of the Hospital - one issue resolved

Monday I had a total hip replacement at Oregon Health Sciences University, which thankfully was arranged just two weeks after I sought their opinion on another surgeon's diagnosis. Great care, great food. They even call their meal service "room service"...24/7.

Having several inches of my femur cut off and the opposing socket reamed out strikes me as a fairly invasive procedure, and it was. What's amazing, however, is the ability to walk the next day and the hope of walking pain-free in the near future. And I'm worth about $1940 more in the metal they put in!

As I still lay in bed Wednesday, tubes stuck everywhere I didn't want them, I noticed my jaw starting to swell and hurt. As soon as I was able to be transported in a wheelchair, I asked the ward volunteers to wheel me over to the Portland VA Hospital, separated from OSHU by only a sky bridge. I rolled up to the VA's dental clinic, explained my problem, and within 90 minutes they'd finished a root canal on me!

I had no appointment. The clinic was busy and I certainly presented a complicated medical package for them to care for...but they had their department chair and his assistant, plus an OSHU resident, work on me immediately because of the risk of infection and my new hip. I've described my previous encounters with the VA and their refusal to treat our C-123 Agent Orange veterans, but I cannot avoid thanking the Portland VAMC Dental Service for outstanding care of me. Thank you.

So, overall a miserable week. Weird to be laid up with a total hip replacement and while still hospitalized "blessed" with news that I needed a root canal before discharge!  How unlucky can a guy be? However, it was wonderful that care was there for me on both issues! Thank you. OHSU and Portland VAMC.

20 August 2012

Scaled Back "Questions" about C-123 Agent Orange Exposure

On our August 14 blog entry I posted a list of thirty questions we veterans have about the C-123 Agent Orange contamination saga. In preparing the more detailed materials to be posted to President Obama, I've reconsidered a few of the issues. I'll drop them. I don't want to seem vindictive or malign the Air Force.

The questions which will be dropped reflect on individual DOD civilian employee actions and are genuine concerns. DOD civilians stole certain items from the various C-123 aircraft stored at Davis-Monthan before the airplanes were destroyed. Further, DOD civilians falsified certain certificates - important certificates!

And there were other events which could bear exposure. But in doing so, nothing would be resolved to advance our goal of VA acceptance of our Agent Orange exposure claims. We'd only bring the actions of individuals to the light of day and I don't see the point of it. These individuals made mistakes but probably none which affect our veterans' claims before the VA. I don't see how what they did causes any further harm to us or the Air Force itself.

Contaminated C-123 Quarantine Area, Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ
Instead, we'll focus very tightly throughout September in our address to President Obama, dealing with those issues which make our case that the C-123 fleet was contaminated to the point that aircrews, maintenance personnel and aerial port personnel were exposed. We'll tear into the VA's construction - a false construction - of "dry dioxin transfer." We'll show how the VA spent 2011 and most of 2012 preventing our veterans' legitimate claims for service connection.

19 August 2012

A Little Vacation - Blog will be off-line for a couple days

This is sort of a personal entry in our C-123 veterans blog...hope you don't mind the editorial privilege after 226 earlier posts.

We will be off-line for a couple days beginning Monday. I'm in for another round of surgery at Oregon Health Sciences University...great place, great docs, and a great cafeteria. The reason is a problem called Avascular Necrosis (AVN) which will force replacement of my hips, and perhaps my knees also. This will be my 12th surgery since the end of the Gulf War. And AVN is now associated with Agent Orange. Oh, the joy!

OSHU...first university to identify C-123 dioxin exposure!
And my AVN, like our Agent Orange exposure,  also has a VA connection. Last year, in significant pain, I sought care in my local VA emergency room. The ER x-rays showed AVN, and the next month I was seen by a VA orthopedic surgeon. He dismissed the AVN diagnosis made in the ER, according to the notes he entered, because I had no history of being on a specific medicine which causes about a third of AVN cases. Patients who have joint pain, and who have a history of using that medicine, are supposed to have AVN considered during their doctor's examination.

And if this doctor had read a few pages back in my VA medical records...which were right before him on the same computer he was entering his notes with, he'd have seen I had been on that medicine for two years...two years of treatment by the VA.

I didn't learn of his error until later this year at the VA when I was having a procedure guided by fluoroscopic imaging, and the doctor mentioned the AVN that he observed, and mentioned also that my hip was fractured.

Ten months had passed since the ER visit in the same VA facility...ten months of increasing discomfort, and ten months of progress of the AVN disease which might have been halted, or at least slowed, by medicine. Maybe even tomorrow's surgery prevented.

The VA couldn't get me reviewed for the necessary surgery for a couple months which would have meant waiting even more months until the surgery itself. So off to a civilian facility where I was seen and surgery arranged within two weeks by an outstanding professor of medicine. Tomorrow I'll wake up with a new steel hip and a tray of hospital jello for dinner...yuck. Four weeks of rehab - double yuck.

Comrades, we've had a miserable year struggling through this C-123 contamination issue trying to get the VA to care for our Agent Orange illnesses. We're not there yet although a tremendous amount of information has been collected to support our position, and we have also gained the support of outstanding scholars in this field, journalists, legislators and veterans organizations. We'll prevail. But the problem is that there will be fewer of us to prevail than when we began...because the VA continues to refuse recognition that our decade of flying the dioxin-contaminated C-123 exposed us to that dioxin. The VA says "contamination-yes, exposure-no."

Even though the VA sometimes misses the mark as seems to be the case with my AVN disease, the VA are the go-to guys for Agent Orange presumptive illnesses, and the VA is where veterans must go when they lack other insurance. So it is a problem when the VA pretends that we haven't been exposed to dioxin.

Speaking for myself, I wish the VA would spend more time and effort properly caring for me and the guys I flew with than in preventing C-123 aircrews from being eligible for VA care!

I want to shout out my sincere appreciation for my VA dental service, for my primary care provider, for my prostate cancer team, the ER, and the imaging services. I'm blessed with the freedom to bitch and moan about the VA and still turn to the VA for treatment by people who truly care about me.

I wish that all our C-123 maintenance personnel, aerial port guys and aircrew could get the VA care they deserve!

I wish that all our C-123 maintenance personnel, aerial port guys and aircrew would shout at their elected officials, demanding that the VA grant service connection to our Agent Orange veterans! We need people like Senator Patty Murray of Washington to be beating on the VA for us...as has her ranking member Richard Burr.

15 August 2012

Why Are We Getting Screwed on C-123 Agent Orange Benefits?

C-123 Veteran
Why? We were exposed - no question among reputable scientists about that. We were good soldiers - in fact, we were the "go-to guys" for decades, fighting in two or three wars along the way, recognized by our service for outstanding achievement. Why have we been shafted on this Agent Orange exposure issue by the Air Force which we love so much?

Disinterest. We've been dumped. There aren't enough C-123 veterans (only about 1500) to interest the average Senator or Congressman - to motivate them to motivate the Air Force.

Mostly, that's because our own members haven't been vocal enough to bring the message to their elected representatives. And partly, there is little "sizzle" left in the Agent Orange story and the public wearies of the issue. After all, who wants to keep hearing about a problem for four decades?

Unfortunately, we as C-123 veterans do indeed keep hearing about the problem of Agent Orange contamination of the C-123. We hear about it from our doctors! We keep seeing the problem evidenced in painful clarity in beloved friends from our flying days in the Dumpster.


 There are 100 United States Senators. Thus far, we have had interest in our cause expressed by only three (from Connecticut, Oregon and North Carolina.) 

There are 435 United States Congressmen. Thus far, we have had interest in our cause expressed by NONE. Not one. Nada. Not even an answer to the hundreds of letters our association has written asking for Congress to help.

We need C-123 veterans, particularly those in New York, North Carolina, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Washington to contact their representative and loudly, loudly, ask for their help!

Get off your tired, old, worn-out butts and get your Congressmen and Senators involved - PLEASE!

A summary:
1. As for veterans' organizations, I count at least eleven of significant size and importance, yet we have only had assistance from the American Legion and the Vietnam Veterans of America. I have personally approached the leadership of the Disabled American Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, the Military Officers Association of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Air Force Sergeants Association (I'm a member of all) without even the courtesy of a response! Also...the Fleet Reserve Association of which I'm not a member.

2. We did receive tremendous support from Dr. Linda Schwartz, Director of Veterans Affairs of the State of Connecticut, who at the time was National President of the State Directors of Veterans Affairs! Dr, Schwartz is also a retired Air Force flight nurse who flew C-123s!

3. As for professional associations other than Linda's, we have approached the Air Force Association, the Army Aviation Association, the Marine Corps Aviation Association, the Airline Pilots Association, the Society of Toxicology, and perhaps a dozen others...also without a single response even though our group of veterans belong to most of these groups.

4. Regarding government agencies: none has offered any opinions or support other than the tremendously important opinion rendered by Dr. Sinks of CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry - Dr. Sinks came out HARD and FIRM in confirming our dioxin exposure aboard the C-123. Every other agency declined involvement or referred us to another agency which they already knew wouldn't get involved, even if their mission statement did touch on concerns such as ours.

5. The Veterans Administration looked into the issue of C-123 contamination and conducted their investigation with the objective given their representatives of preventing all support regarding aircrew dioxin exposure. "How to keep the veterans from becoming qualified for service connection" was their position from start to finish. No effort was made to find an avenue, an "as likely to as not" possibility of our having been exposed, because that would have left us eligible for VA medical care.

6. The Air Force conducted a more formal investigation, done at the School of Aerospace Medicine (USAFSAM). After five months their report generally stated the AF was unable to determine any degree of aircrew Agent Orange exposure. This was because of the years which have passed since the last spray missions, the years the aircraft were stored in harsh conditions and the methods used when first tests were performed. Somehow, unable to make a determination, they therefore concluded aircrews most likely were NOT exposed. Is that  twist of logic or what? Further, the AF report was cited by the VA as their reason for canceling a promised investigation by the Institute of Medicine's Agent Orange Subcommittee. We've already been told (most privately) by previous members that the IOM would have a hard time NOT finding our aircrews, maintenance and aerial port to have been exposed!

7. We have had good support from the media. The Gannett chain, CBS, PBS, Mr. Bill Kurtis, New England Public Radio, the Springfield Republican, the Hartford Courant, Air Force & Army Times have covered our issue with both accuracy and compassion. Various Internet resources have also given us their backing.

14 August 2012

Mysteries in the Desert. Upcoming Posts - you'll want to stay tuned

Typical C-123 Veteran
It seems the gloves are off. At least, their gloves are off, because the VA and AF have mercilessly screwed us. We've been slapped around again.

As is appropriate, the US Government has recently begun cleaning up the Agent Orange mess in Vietnam, beginning in Danang. This is right and proper, even if quite late in the game.

What is not right or proper, however, is the continued failure to address the Agent Orange exposure of C-123 aircrews who flew these dioxin- contaminated aircraft 1972-1982. Working hard and in defiance of science and the professional opinions of every outside expert, an illogical VA and USAF construct has been to pretend the situation was harmless where we flew "heavily contaminated" airplanes which were "a danger to public health." But in the view of these agencies, we were somehow not exposed. We're seeing brand new definitions for "exposed."

Thus far in this year-long mess, only the VA and USAF argue that C-123 aircrews weren't exposed...but every outside university expert, every other government agency, every outside private toxicologist has concluded aircrews absolutely were exposed! Careful investigation of the situation by the American Legion and by the Vietnam Veterans of America led these associations to also agree and to demand that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs address the situation.
731st Tactical Airlift Squadron

For the first time in the history of Agent Orange issues, government agencies (in our case, the VA and USAF) have suggested a threshold of dioxin exposure below which one is "safe." For the first time, by cherry-picking their resources as well as misinterpreting various official records and ignoring contrary evidence, these government agencies have constructed a theory whereby dioxin contamination somehow didn't expose us. Their position leaves us veterans denied medical care for our dioxin exposure. Their position defies published state and federal government reports and manuals, such as TG 312.

Why? Care for Agent Orange-exposed veterans costs money. Care for our survivors costs money. In the tragic history of Agent Orange the VA has fought tooth and nail to prevent each and every veterans group from receiving service connection. First they fought the individual Vietnam vet claims. Then Congress legislated "presumptive eligibility" for those vets to stop the VA's delaying tactics. Next, the Blue Water Navy guys sought care, and got nothing from the VA but push-back until once again, Congress stepped in. So our small group of about 1500 flyers and maintenance folks are denied care. The VA, rightfully afraid of any budget drain, doesn't calculate the fact that many of us are retired military and thus covered by Tricare...we'd not need VA medical care. The VA fails to consider that we're nearly all Medicare age and thus can turn to any civilian facility for care. So our potential impact isn't too bad, but for our members who don't have Tricare or Medicare...it is devastating to have to pay for our own Agent Orange illnesses! Remember...the VA will never accept a veteran for Agent Orange-releated illnesses unless in some way Congress dictates they must! So...we need Congress! Or the Courts! Or somebody inside the VA who will treat us with compassion.

We get no sense of the Department of Veterans Affairs or the United States Air  Force approaching the issue of C-123 Agent Orange contamination with a mindset of "how may these veterans be qualified." Rather, barriers began being established the moment we turned to them for help.

In a 30-piece series of reports to the President of the United States...

1. We'll argue in our upcoming posts that VA and USAF are scientifically in error about contaminated aircraft somehow not exposing the crews and maintenance personnel. Supported by Independent Scientific Opinions from experts throughout the country, we'll argue our case with findings by other government agencies which conclude we were exposed.

C-123 Fleet Destruction, April 2010
Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ
2. We'll also reveal theft by DOD civilians of aircraft components from contaminated C-123 aircraft stored at Davis-Monthan AFB's famous Bone Yard.

3. We'll reveal $250,000 of waste and abuse at Davis-Monthan AFB and Hill AFB.

4. We'll reveal false official, signed statements by senior USAF civilian personnel.

5. We'll reveal how federal judges were deceived and how GSA purchase contracts were manipulated after award.

6. We'll reveal press manipulation and deception.

7. We'll reveal how civilian workers at Wright-Patterson AFB and Davis-Monthan AFB were required to work limited hours and wear HAZMAT protection including respirators in order to prevent deadly exposure to Agent Orange left inside the contaminated airplanes, yet the VA and USAF twisted science and logic to erroneously conclude that our aircrews, performing most of the same duties in simple flight suits during ten years aboard even more contaminated airplanes, were somehow not exposed,

8. We'll reveal sale of dioxin-contaminated airplanes to foreign governments by the USAF Security Assistance Center.

9. We'll reveal contract manipulation to deceive a GSA client.

10. We'll reveal sale of dioxin-contaminated airplanes to Walt Disney Films.

11. We'll reveal improper management of DOD civilian union employee health complaints and erroneous release of employee SSAN numbers.

12. We'll reveal improper management of formal Inspector General complaints.

13. We'll reveal how the EPA and Arizona EPA were deceived about hazardous waste, tricked into not seeing a C-123 HAZMAT quarantine area, and how a threatened $3.4 billion EPA fine was avoided by changing a couple words used to describe dioxin-contaminated waste.

14. We'll reveal how one group of veterans has been treated differently than another in similar circumstances because of budget issues and political considerations.

15. We'll reveal failures to respond to formal Freedom of Information Act requests.

16. We'll reveal JAG and leadership manipulation of Air Force technical investigations.

17. We'll reveal detailed Air Force actions taken to prevent C-123 veterans' learning of hazardous exposure, and detailed actions taken specifically to prevent exposed veterans from receiving medical care from the VA.

18. We'll reveal decades of Air Force hiding information about aircraft Agent Orange contamination.

19. We'll reveal prejudice and sarcasm by Air Force officials in respect to airlift aircrews and maintenance personnel as these veterans seek medical care for Agent Orange exposure, including situations where the veterans were publicly categorized as "trash-haulers" and "freeloaders looking for a tax-free dollar from a sympathetic Congress."

20. We'll reveal how agencies take steps to avoid receiving information which might later have to be released via FOIA.

21. We'll reveal how one agency uses another agency's work product to reach a finding, but where that second agency reaches its conclusions by citing the first agency. I know...confusing.

22. We'll reveal USAF and VA manipulation of the Institute of Medicine to prevent the IOM's release of findings in support of veterans' Agent Orange exposure.

23. We'll reveal how the VA prevented widows' claims for earned VA benefits.

24. We'll reveal how the VA prevented a handicapped adult child's claim for his father's earned VA benefits.

C-123 Fleet in HAZMAT Quarantine (before destruction)
25. We'll reveal how C-123 aircraft, if they hadn't all been destroyed in 2010 due to Agent Orange, would be today judged unsafe for flight by regulatory agencies because of the dioxin. Yet, the USAF maintains that these airplanes were somehow safe during the ten years we flew them three decades ago when contamination was even more intense.

26. We'll reveal how the USAF used tests completed in 2009 and 2010 which confirmed  aircraft were contaminated with Agent Orange yet somehow used these tests to to declare the very same airplanes weren't contaminated "enough" in earlier years to expose aircrews.

27. We'll reveal how the VA and USAF ignored science when they suggested contamination levels inside C-123 aircraft as identified in 2009 tests were somehow the same levels in 1972-1982, as though several decades hadn't passed and as though years of exposure in harsh desert conditions hadn't allowed the Agent Orange to degrade.

28. We'll reveal how VA and USAF officials exchanged information during preparation of their recent C-123 reports to insure similar negative results.

29. We'll reveal how the authors of two reports cited by the USAF and VA stated their materials were not relevant to the issue of aircrew dioxin exposure, yet these reports were used anyway to deny aircrew chemical exposure.

30. We'll reveal how the USAF retained a retired AF colonel (whose entire career focused on promoting Agent Orange uses) to support the military's decision to destroy the surplus C-123 aircraft in April 2010, and how this retiree has for decades worked tirelessly preventing veterans benefits for Agent Orange exposure.

31. There are some more revelations which I'll bring up to the AF privately as I do not want to publicize the really bad materials.

I have an awful lot of writing ahead of me. Guess I'd better get busy. Stay tuned!

09 August 2012

US Government Starts Danang Agent Orange Cleanup

US Begins Agent Orange Cleanup in Vietnam - from the BBC

US Air Force planes spray Agent Orange over dense vegetation in South Vietnam, 1966
USAF C-123s sprayed Vietnam's forests to deprive the enemy of places to hide

The work is taking place at the airport in the central city of Danang.
The US sprayed millions of gallons of the toxic defoliant over jungle areas to destroy enemy cover.
Vietnam says several million people have been affected by Agent Orange, including 150,000 children born with severe birth defects.
Agent Orange Victims Association Vice Chairman Tran Xuan Thu told the BBC that although the clean-up activities were "a little late", they were "greatly appreciated".
"They show that the US government now is taking the responsibility to assist us. I hope these efforts will be multiplied in future," he said.
"However we consider that the clean-up is separate from the issue of compensating Vietnamese Agent Orange victims, who are still suffering from injustice. These victims will carry on with their lawsuits, no matter what."
A lawsuit brought by a group of Vietnamese nationals against US manufacturers was dismissed in 2007.
Agent Orange victims are seen at a hospice in Danang
Many believe Agent Orange continues to affect health of
Vietnamese childr
On Thursday, a ceremony was held at the Danang airport where the defoliant was stored before being sprayed over forests hiding fighters from the Viet Cong, guerrillas backed by the Communist government of North Vietnam.
The US has in the past helped fund some social services in Vietnam, but this is its first direct involvement in clean-up work.
The contaminated soil and sediment is to be excavated and then heated to a high temperature to destroy the dioxins, a US embassy statement said.
Frank Donovan of USAID told Radio Australia the project would last until 2016.
"We expect it will be cleaned up to rid the contaminated areas of dioxins down to harmless levels that are accepted both by the government of the US and the government of Vietnam, and so safe for industrial, commercial or residential use," he said.
There are dozens of other contamination hotspots where the defoliant was stored, including two more airports.
The US and Vietnam resumed full diplomatic ties in 1995 and have grown closer in recent years amid concerns over China's assertiveness over disputed territories in the South China Sea.
The US compensates its veterans exposed to the defoliant, but does not compensate Vietnamese nationals.
Nga Pham, of the BBC's Vietnamese service, says Agent Orange is a very bitter legacy of the war, and most Vietnamese think the US should do more to help.

07 August 2012

Camp Lejune Relief Becomes Law - President Signs Bill!

Obama Signs Lejeune Water Bill! courtesy of US Army veteran Charles Harris in Maryland:

Aug 06, 2012              Military.com by Bryant Jordan
President Obama Signs Camp Lejeune Law
Marines and their families assigned to Camp Lejeune, N.C., finally will receive medical care for illnesses caused by exposure to toxins in the base water following years of waiting and a tally of sickness and death that could reach close to one million.

President Barack Obama on Monday signed a law to extend medical care to people sickened by what has been called the largest episode of military base water contamination. The president said at the White House ceremony the country has a “moral and sacred duty” to care for those sickened by the contaminated drinking water.

Under the new law, those who served at or lived on Camp Lejeune at least 30 days between Jan. 1, 1957, and Dec. 31, 1987, will be able to receive medical care for cancer of the esophagus, lung, breast, bladder and kidney, as well as for leukemia, multiple myeloma, myleodysplasic syndromes, renal toxicity, hepatic steatosis, female infertility, miscarriage, scleroderma, neurobehavioral effects and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Sen. Richard Burr of NC, ranking member of Senate
Veterans Affairs Committee
“This has been a long time coming, and unfortunately, many who were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune over the years have died as a result and are not with us to receive the care this bill will provide,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., in a statement in July after the Senate passed the bill.

Reports have put the number of people exposed to the contaminated water anywhere from 750,000 to one million. Chemicals found in the water included trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, benzene and vinyl chloride.

Burr said the base water contamination “is the largest recorded environmental incident on a domestic Department of Defense installation.”
Parents like retired Marine Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, whose 9-year-old daughter died from a rare form of leukemia in 1985, have fought for years to draw attention to the contaminated drinking water at Lejeune. He has vowed to continue his fight to hold Marine leaders accountable even after the bill passed the Senate.

Before Burr’s bill reached the House -- where it also passed overwhelmingly -- he first had to press fellow Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina to release the bill for a Senate vote.

DeMint used a Senate privilege to block a vote on the law because he was afraid people who were never assigned or lived at Lejeune would get care fraudulently.

The conservative senator’s hold on the bill was roundly criticized by veterans.
“Senator DeMint's concern for some insignificant, possible, future fraud stands in stark contrast to the tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of current, proven suffering of persons already exposed to these poisonous chemicals. The senator needs to re-evaluate his priorities!” wrote one commenter on the Military.com forums, who identified himself as a Navy retiree.

“Maybe Mr. DeMint should be required to drink & use the same water that these Marine victims and their families suffered from,” wrote Bob Bousquet, who also identified himself as a Navy veteran.

DeMint was holding out to amend the bill to include specific language addressing fraud. He relented, satisfied that Department of Veterans Affairs already has in place provisions for dealing with fraudulent claims.

Though the bill signed Monday had widespread support in both houses of Congress, it took many years to win approval and represents only the latest example of the Pentagon and VA's history of ignoring or delaying health care for collaterally sickened servicemembers.

As with post-traumatic stress disorder and Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War, officials initially denied any links to the psychological and health problems to combat or exposure to defoliants sprayed widely over Vietnam.

The same pattern played out in the decade following Operation Desert Storm as veterans of the war began turning up with chronic headache, widespread pain, cognitive difficulties, debilitating fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory symptoms and more. It was only in 2010 that the VA began encouraging Gulf War vets to reapply for compensation after having been turned down previously.

Even with the bill to address health problems arising from contaminated water at Lejeune, the government is not actually blaming the chemical-tainted water.

What the new law says is that veterans and family members who were at the base longer than 30 days between Jan. 1, 1957, and Dec. 31, 1987, are “eligible for hospital care and medical services [for certain illnesses or conditions] notwithstanding that there is insufficient medical evidence to conclude that such illnesses or conditions are attributable to” being at Lejeune.

06 August 2012

C-123 Returns to Westover! Great New England Air Show

Thunder Pig at Westover 5 Aug 2012 (photo David Henry)
This weekend's Great New England Air Show brought out over 100,000 visitors each day, thanks to great Westover hospitality, warm weather and a host of wonderful airplanes.

And especially, thanks to the return to Westover of Thunder Pig, perhaps the only remaining original-configuration C-123 still flying in CONUS. Gail French (who earned a DFC for landing 707 in flames and saving his crew) stopped by to admire the old ship and thank the volunteers who keep her flying.

Thanks to AF veteran David Henry, a treasure trove of documentary photographs were gathered to help describe the interior and exterior of this historic aircraft. Although not an Agent Orange spray bird, Thunder Pig's configuration is the same as the aircraft stationed at Westover 1972-1982, and the photos show the complexity of surfaces and different materials which, on spray aircraft, remained contaminated with dioxin and allowed aircrew, aerial port and maintainers to be exposed.

The dioxin on the former spray birds couldn't be removed - it took three decontamination efforts on Patches in 1995 for the AF Museum to get it safe enough to position inside their Vietnam-era display, yet we flew them immediately after the Providers left Vietnam and were so very much more contaminated in those earlier years!
cables, wood, canvas, rubber, cotton, painted surfaces - all contaminated and unable to be decontaminated on Agent Orange spray C-123 aircraft (photo David Henry)

01 August 2012

House Approves Sen. Burr Legislation re: Camp Lejeune!

House approves care for those sickened by Lejeune water - Senator Burr's leadership recognized!

RALEIGH, N.C. — Marines and family members sickened by contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune will medical care for their illnesses under legislation approved Tuesday by the U.S. House.
"The Marines who have championed this legislation served our democracy when they wore our nation's uniform and they served our democracy by their determination to obtain justice for the people harmed by the toxic drinking water at Camp Lejeune," 13th District Congressman Brad Miller said. Miller spoke Tuesday before the House voted on the Janey Ensminger Act, named after a girl who died of leukemia at the age of 9. Her father, Jerry Ensminger of Elizabethtown, has led the fight to get health care for the victims and to get information about the contamination released.
The U.S. Senate already approved the bill, which now goes to President Obama to be signed into law.
The legislation covers Marines and family members who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune from 1957 to 1987. They drank and used water contaminated with toxins linked to cancers and organ damage.
Documents show Marine leaders were slow to respond when tests first found evidence of contaminated ground water in the early 1980s. Some drinking water wells were closed in 1984 and 1985, after further testing confirmed contamination from leaking fuel tanks and an off-base dry cleaner.
“There should have been as much loyalty up the chain of command as there was down the chain of command, and there wasn’t,” Miller said.
Ensminger and others "took on their own government, including the Marine Corps that they had served and to which they are still loyal, but which has been shamefully reluctant to accept responsibility for the water contamination," the congressman said.
Miller and U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan sponsored the bill.
“Our hope is that, with this help, these families can finally start to heal from this tragedy,” Alex Rindler, policy associate at the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement. “Today, we celebrate an America that came together to take care of its own, but we are also reminded of those still in need of treatment.”
·  Web Editor: Matthew Burns