30 September 2012

C-123 Veterans Statement of Finances

I don't know if it is interesting to anyone, but maybe we'd better set forth our financial picture.

There ain't no finances. We have no dues, no fundraising, no collections, no money flow at all. Those of us who've spend some money have spent our own, and we've been pretty agressive about NOT collecting funds, even from each other, but instead as some occasion arises just paying our own way.

What has been spent? I don't know the total, but we have spent our own money, individually, for airfare, travel expenses, printing and postage, some small office equipment such as staplers and binders, a handful of C-123 models (useful to explain the aircraft features), and Internet costs such as our several web sites.

Eventual success with the VA (not against the VA!) will mean that our qualified veterans with Agent Orange illnesses can turn to the VA for medical care. The value of that for those of us already retired from the military or already disabled and covered by the VA, is not a single penny. For those not retired from the military or VA-disability rated, it can mean life itself to get vital medical care, now denied.

For all, it means recognition of having done our duty aboard a particularly uncomfortable, particularly hazardous weapon system despite the dangers. It will mean the injustice of being cast aside for purposes of VA budget control will be made right.

VA C-123 Agent Orange Denial - Physicians' Opinions Only?

The VA's Public Health folks, and especially the Director of Compensation, have aggressively countered every argument we've put forward about our Agent Orange exposure aboard our C-123 aircraft. With their most recent action, denying my own Agent Orange application, the VA dismissed the opinions of noted scientists because these experts weren't physicians.

Interesting. Particularly so, because the VA's position where they've twisted the acknowledged contamination of the C-123 into a hypothesis that exposure to aircrew was unlikely, they turned to a scientist, and not a physician, to develop their position. A recent University of North Carolina grad (where our daughter graduated also!) While very hard to locate in Google Scholar, the VA's toxicologist's specialty seems to be mollusk toxicology and apparently hasn't published much since receiving the doctorate in 2011. 

So the VA assigned their expert to, not as the public would would hope, examine with an open mind the issue of C-123 dioxin contamination and aircrew exposure, but instead construct whatever negative argument that would suffice to deny veterans' their benefits. Science, justice and law notwithstanding! And the VA "expert", with only limited experience, concluded (as directed) aircrew exposure was an "unlikely" situation, a view used immediately by the VA, even in the face of numerous expert toxicologists (both university-based and from other federal agencies including NIH and CDC) with over three decades experience who have all concluded veterans were indeed exposed. Thus, the VA has denied medical care to Agent Orange-exposed veterans based solely on the selective list of publications reviewed - and no publications were permitted to be reviewed except for very old ones or ones which in some way had a negative perspective. This kind of science would never be accepted in a peer-reviewed journal!

I sure hope we can trust the VA's staffer to have gained a comprehensive grasp of dioxin-related health issues in this first year with the VA. 

But amazing that the VA denies the expertise of ten other PdDs whose research confirms aircrew exposure...denies the exposure because these PhDs aren't physicians. 

But neither was the VA toxicologist! Clearly, then, the VA accepts VA PhD judgements only if the PdD works for the VA and opposes veterans issues!

Please try Google Scholar for a search on (sorry, name deleted to be polite) who is barely a blip on the toxicology radar. Then,  compare it to a search for Dr. Jeanne Stellman, for whom Scholar reports hundreds upon hundreds of publications, references, authorities. Dr. Stellman, who has for decades been the go-to expert scholar sought out by the National Academy of Sciences, the US Congress, the Federal courts, government agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Academy of Sciences, the Canadian government and even the USAF.

Dr. Jeanne Stellman, Professor Emerita Columbia
University Mailman School of Public Health
It is interesting to note that VA's toxicologist, in preparing the poster presentation at the 2011 Society of Toxicology conference, improperly cited authors who had asked that their studies not be used regarding aircrew exposure. Interesting that VA ignored the already published findings by Dr. Stellman, Dr. Fred Berman at Oregon Health Sciences University, and Dr. Tom Sinks, deputy director of the CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry...ignored them because only materials supporting the VA's position were to be used! One wonders why the SOT accepted such a poster presentation!

We are also left wondering why the VA develops a toxicology-based argument against aircrew exposure, and then twists it to rule invalid the opinions of the best scientists in the field of toxicology and accepts instead a literature by a recent graduate just settling into the responsibilities of the new VA job...as a toxicologist!  

Ya gotta laugh or start crying!

28 September 2012

One in Five Spine Surgery Patients Face PTSD!

Study: One-fifth of spine surgery patients develop PTSD symptoms

09/27/12  Portland, Ore.
Nearly 20 percent of people who underwent low back fusion surgery developed post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms associated with that surgery, according to a recent Oregon Health & Science University study published in the journal Spine.
Past studies have noted PTSD symptoms in some trauma, cancer and organ transplant patients. But this is the first study, its authors believe, to monitor for PTSD symptoms in patients undergoing an elective medical procedure.
"It is maybe not surprising that significant surgical interventions have psychological as well as physical impacts," said Robert Hart, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon, professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation at OHSU and senior author of the study. "I think it means that we in the medical community need to monitor for these effects in our patients and to manage them when they occur.”
The study found that the strongest factor in determining whether a spine surgery patient suffered PTSD symptoms after the surgery was whether the patient had a psychiatric disturbance — depression or anxiety disorders, for example — before the surgery. But some patients who had no such pre-surgery diagnoses also suffered PTSD symptoms after the spine surgery, the study found.
The OHSU study involved 73 of Hart’s surgical patients who underwent lumbar spinal fusion surgery, a procedure in which two or more lumbar vertebrae in the back are fused together, usually including implantation of metal screws and rods as part of the procedure.
Surgeons at the OHSU Spine Center always look for other ways to deal with back pain before surgery. But sometimes, surgery is the only option. And spinal fusion is often major surgery that may involve complications and often involves a long recuperation period. The majority of patients in the study reported a good experience and had substantial relief of their pre-operative pain.
Hart said the study results might offer guidance to doctors and surgeons in advising potential spine surgery patients about the surgery. For patients at higher risk, the results suggest doctors and surgeons might offer treatment for them prior to surgery, Hart said.
"At the end of the day, I hope this will make changes in the way we prepare people for surgery, to reduce these psychological impacts. This is analogous to how we currently optimize patients’ physical condition before major surgery," Hart said.
Hart said he wants to study that issue next — and measure which pre-surgery interventions might work best to reduce or eliminate any PTSD effects.

VA Reevaluates Peripheral Neuropathy & Agent Orange Links

VA to Re-characterize Chronic Peripheral Neuropathy as Presumptive to Agent Orange Exposure (from NSN Today)

Posted August 24th, 2012 by LtCol Eugene B Richardson, USA (Retired) BA, MDiv, EdM, MS (from 

Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy
By Eugene B. Richardson, M.Div., EdM, MS
President of the Network for Neuropathy Support, Inc.

The Federal Register dated August 10, 2012, notes that the Veterans Affairs Administration (VA) proposed substituting early-onset peripheral neuropathy for acute and subacute neuropathy (est. 2004) on its list of diseases presumed to be related to Agent Orange (AO) exposure.  The public comment period on the proposal is open until October 9th.

I encourage and plead with everyone reading this article to PLEASE go to the Federal Register link and comment for the government record.

This means that the veteran exposed to Agent Orange, who can prove that they were stationed in Vietnam or Korea, who had symptoms at least 10% disabling as defined by the VA within one year after exposure, would be approved for service connected compensation and treatment without having to prove the connection between Agent Orange and Chronic Peripheral Neuropathy.

27 September 2012

9/24: VA Rejects C-123 Veteran's Agent Orange Claims!

The Big VA Smack-Down!

In one of the first formal rejections of a C-123 veteran's Agent Orange exposure claim, the VA's Director VA Compensation Service (C&P) himself authored a four-page, detailed denial of each expert cited in the veteran's application. The director brings his extensive business background, including several years at Home Depot and 21 years of Reserve service in making his conclusions about the toxicological, medical, environmental sciences and other issues at hand.

Of course, C&P had to reach deep. Very deep, in structuring his denial. He had to flat-out deny professional toxicologists and epidemiologists who'd supported our veterans. He even had to deny the professional qualifications of Dr. Tom Sinks, Deputy Director of the CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Regisry! Dr. Sinks is the government expert who opined who told the AF and the VA"Given the available information, I believe that aircrews operating in this, and similar, environments were exposed to TCDD." C&P somehow concludes his review of Dr. Sinks' comments with the amazing, bewildering, fantastic, statement:

In summary, there is no conclusive evidence that TCDD exposure causes any adverse health effects.

Veterans should draw comfort from C&P's reassurances. The director's basic objection to the multitude of experts who weighed in to support C-123 veterans was that they were not physicians. He feels only physicians could offer reasonably informed expert opinions. Of course, one is left certain that if instead four gallant physicians had investigated the situation and provided their input, it would be rejected because they're physicians and not scientists.

Amazing, because what the VA initially argued was a scientific question, not a medical one. VA argued that no aircrew exposure to dioxin in our contaminated airplanes could occur. Congress and the IOM already resolved the question about a medical nexus between exposure and Agent Orange-associated illnesses, yet here VA twists logic into an enigma wrapped in confusion and surrounded by mystery and obfuscation. Anything to deny a veteran's claim, right, C&P?

Oh, well. This just means more work ahead. More windmills at which to tilt until, in that Great Glory Day Coming, someone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or at 810 Vermont Avenue can see both justice and common sense with the same pair of eyes! The application which C&P trashed is my own, submitted early-on in our struggle. I'm saddened that this means the VA's rubber stamp is ready to smash DENIED on all our veterans' applications.

As for you, dear reader: Know any physicians who will weigh in on this? We could sure use their help1

VA & USAF Ignore Leading Agent Orange Expert on C-123 Exposure!

Hard to believe! Both the VA and the USAF opted to completely ignore the expert testimony of Dr. Jeanne Stellman, Professor Emerita at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. Why...because it was her firm, expert opinion that our C-123 aircrews definitely were exposed to the deadly TCDD contaminants in Agent Orange when we flew those airplanes 1972-1982. She had to be ignored for the USAF and VA to reach contrary decisions...unless she was ignored her opinion would be emphatic
Professor Stellman

Why is it of concern? Because Dr. Stellman is the "go-to" expert who was relied on by the National Academies in their previous investigations...if her world-renowned expertise was so respected and authoritative in the IOM 2003 and other official reports, what is the excuse used by the VA and the USAF in ignoring her detailed explanation of our exposure aboard the C-123?

Answer: It is the only way to prevent our veterans gaining service-connection and recognition for our exposure. If the authorities were to fairly evaluate Professor Stellman's findings their barrier against allowing us to receive VA medical care disappears!

Background: Because of continuing uncertainty about the long-term health effects of the sprayed herbicides on Vietnam veterans, Congress passed the Agent Orange Act of 1991. The legislation directed the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to request the IOM to perform a comprehensive evaluation of scientific and medical information regarding the health effects of exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides used in Vietnam. Congress had grown tired of the VA's posturing and delaying tactics, so legislation was passed to get them moving.

The IOM formed their Committee on Agent Orange. That committee of medical and scientific experts searched for the most outstanding scientific advice and quickly identified Professor Jeanne Stellman as their trusted  researcher to make appropriate findings and recommendations. In the Committee's 2003 report, Professor Stellman detailed the problems with dioxin, the means of exposure and the best ways to perform epidemiological studies to advance understanding of that toxin's impact on veterans.

Conclusion: So you cannot avoid seeing the conundrum. Stellman...expert enough for Congress. Stellman...expert enough for the Institute on Medicine. Stellman...expert enough for the Committee on Agent Orange. Stellman...one of the top two or three published scientists in this field. But magically...only in Stellman's finding that our aircrews were exposed does her expertise seem to fall short of the threshold necessary for the VA to accept our exposure to have been"as likely to as not". Further, it is impossible to ignore the VA's broken promise, made in our face-to-face meeting with their representatives (VA Public Health) hosted by Senator Burr (NC) in which the issue of our exposure was to be put to the IOM as a special project.

Ever-eager to prevent even a single veteran's access to essential medical care for Agent Orange illnesses, the VA leaped on the Air Force's faulty C-123 literature review, in which the AF said they were unable to reach a definite conclusion about exposure, so the VA took that piece of confused and twisted double-talk to use against us and canceled their promised IOM study. That move was to keep IOM from turning to their trusted expert, Dr. Stellman, who had already voiced her opinion about our exposure in her pivotal 2011 letter.

So let's look at a balance sheet of evidence regarding C-123 aircrew dioxin exposure: On the left, those who weigh in on our having been exposed, and on the right. those who weigh in on an opinion that we haven't been exposed. Judge for yourself! And consider why the opponents of our claim for AO exposure are so dedicated to saving money by preventing access to medical care, and not to fairly considering our situation!

18 September 2012

Eglin AFB Veteran Wins Domestic Agent Orange VA Claim!

Just received from an AF veteran who served at Eglin AFB, Florida. Eglin was the principal field test facility for Agent Orange, and this veteran finally won VA recognition for his Agent Orange exposure. Eglin AFB still has 400 acres of dioxin-laden, fenced-off area due to this severe contamination. Congratulations...and note his emphasis on being persistent! Get your claim in, even if only via a general letter, and get your Agent Orange exam scheduled by contacting the Agent Orange Hotline - call 800-749-8387.

Just got the award letter today, saying that I got 20% for Diabetes II, 20% for radial nerve damage from removal of tumor left arm and 20% for the painful swelling and edema left arm. It only took 9 years, but Brothers and Sisters, you got to be vigilant and persistent in your fight to get the rights you deserve and were promised.I've a few other symptoms that are secondary, but now that they're recognized we can go on from there, as they're still in the exploratory stage right now.I wish to thank those on this site in helping me get the recognition, by providing advice, documents and direction. 
Dan CallaghanRecognized Victim - Eglin AFB AO Exposure 
click: CDC - Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry Eglin AFB Contamination Study 

13 September 2012

Debunking VA View of USAF C-123 Agent Orange Report

from the VA's page on C-123 Agent Orange - the VA's interpretation of the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine C-123 Exposure Report (May 2012)

Testing for Agent Orange Residue on C-123 Aircraft Used in Vietnam

  1. 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:
  2. VA Claims Denial Excuse Expert
  • First: There was not enough information and data to conclude how much individual persons would have been exposed to Agent Orange 
  • Second: 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.  
  • Third: Potential Agent Orange exposures were unlikely to have exceeded standards set by regulators or to have put people at risk for future health problems. (bold emphasis in the original)
Bogus! phony voodoo "science", carefully selecting some materials (and ignoring others)  from over three decades constructing a money-saving argument to prevent veterans seeking medical care for Agent Orange illnesses. No wonder that the Air Force report, once drafted by the research team, was actually rewritten by the JAG at Wright-Patterson AFB to insure it met leadership's predetermined objective of denying exposure. Now, let's look into these three points used by the Air Force and cited by the VA in this slap-down of war veterans.

First, "not enough information re: individual persons". Who cares if the data can be brought down to an individual's exposure rather than that of an entire group? The entire fault rests with the Air Force...the contamination was known in 1994 and AFMC and the School of Aerospace Medicine did NOTHING to care for aircrews and maintenance personnel once the contamination data was in-hand. Rather, AFMC's Environmental Law Office recommended the damning reports be "kept in official channels only." So decades pass by, with more tests confirming the C-123 toxicity but no tests made on individuals or even our entire small group of veterans...so in May of 2012 the Air Force and VA suddently conclude we were not individually exposed because they can't find the data to evaluate? Amazing that they are blaming us for their error, punishing for their delay in informing us of our exposure, punishing us with their decision forbidding access to medical care because the USAF kept the information confidential.

Second, "exposure after Vietnam was lower than exposure during wartime spray missions." Who cares? A little poison leading to Agent Orange illnesses is just as bad as more poison leading to the same Agent Orange illnesses. Stupid conclusion but seemingly logical on its face because obviously, Ranch Hand veterans were indeed much more exposed than those of us after the war. The AF fails to note, however, the fact that the CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry concluded our aircrews and maintenance personnel were exposed to a 200-fold greater cancer risk than the standard Army screening value...that the Air Force own tests of our aircraft showed our aircrews were exposed to 182 times the Army's safety standards for dioxin exposure. ATSDR concluded aircrews operating the C-123 were indeed exposed to TCDD! Additionally, many CDC and other government agencies' reports detail that long-term exposure to low density dioxin is perhaps even more dangerous than short-term exposure to high density! And Dr. Jeanne Stellman, who has conducted more research into military herbicides than any other scientist, concluded our aircrews were exposed to more military herbicides than most ground troops during the Vietnam War.

A major mistake of the VA and USAF is reliance on the 1994 and later studies of C-123 contamination. Their conclusions were guided by these studies but were reached totally without consideration of the fact that dioxin has a half-life of about seven years. The tests were not done until over 23 years has passed since the last Agent Orange spray missions and decades into the deterioration of the dioxin! ? They said we were not "exposed" but to keep us from medical care they used contamination data far, far lower than we actually had in the airplane 1972-1982.

Third, they say "exposures were unlikely to have exceeded standards." Here is the most artful deception. Obviously all the Air Force's own reports detail the "heavily contaminated C-123s, and USAF toxicologists have testified under oath that the aircraft were "a danger to public health." Just as obviously, the Army, CDC/ATSDR, Columbia University, Oregon Health Sciences University and so many others have officially stated that our aircraft were indeed contaminated. So...the VA and USAF took the position that the tests which were done establishing the airplanes' toxicity were themselves accurate regarding the contamination but were not appropriate to determine exposure. Here, for the first time, a government agency separates the issues of contamination from the issues of exposure! Here, the VA invented without foundation a position that the industry standard tests performed which determined C-123 contamination were unable to measure the dioxin to which veterans were exposed. And remember, they used 1994 tests of contamination to mislead about our 1972 exposure, when the dioxin was far more intense!

Do you see what they did? Do you see the lies, half-truths and outright vicious twisting of decades of C-123 tests to prevent aircrews from turning to the VA for our cancers, diabetes, heart disease, and other Agent Orange diseases?

These clumsy deceptions required the invention, new to toxicology, of a concept of "dry dioxin transfer" whereby the VA asserts all the dioxin remaining in the post-Vietnam airplanes was dry, and that somehow dry dioxin couldn't expose anyone. The ignored gold standard toxicology protocol that holds dermal exposure has no standard measurement.
-They also had to invent the pretense that the dioxin wasn't released by rain water which penetrated the C-123 both on the ground and aloft. 
-They had to invent the pretense that the dioxin wasn't released when we kicked up contaminated dust and inhaled it.
-They had to invent the pretense that the dioxin wasn't ingested when contaminated water and dust settled on our flight lunches, or when we had constant skin contact with the leather, canvas, wood, plastic, glass and painted metal of the C-123.
- They had to invent the pretense that we were not exposed because they were rabidly dedicated to save the VA the cost of treating our Agent Orange illnesses and the expense of burying the friends we've lost over the years since the C-123 fleet was retired. 
-They had to invent a false argument denying our exposure in order to counter established government findings that NO LEVEL OF DIOXIN POISON is considered "safe' - decisions reached by the National Institute of Environment Health Sciences as well as the US EPA! Following this logic, one would expect the VA and USAF to argue that any industrial situation where the dust had settled after an event (such as the first World Trade Center bombing or the State University of New York fire), somehow magically no further exposure to dioxin is possible. Science, logic, justice, law - all disagree with this deception!

It is clear that the present mission statement of the Department of Veterans Affairs requires an amendment...to it must be added "to prevent eligible veterans from receiving medical care".

Remember, comrades: the findings of the VA were political, not scientific. There was adequate evidence from the multitude of Air Force scientific studies and their interpretation in the light of TG312 and other standards, adequate evidence which greatly exceeded the VA's "more likely to than not" threshold for medical benefits. Forgotten in their stumbling effort to twist conclusions their way, AF and VA authorities seem to have ignored the fact that the EPA considers "excess" deaths risk to be above 1 per 100,000 and the point at which regulations must be triggered for most environmental toxins!

Forgotten in their efforts to keep us from receiving VA medical care was their moral obligation of honesty, of honor.

12 September 2012

USAF Agent Orange Consultant Confirms C-123 Dioxin Contamination WAS Greater When First Flown in 1972-1982

In his 24 February 2009 recommendation "Decision Memorandum for Contaminated UC-123K Aircraft" that dioxin-contaminated C-123s stored at Davis-Monthan AFB be destroyed, the DoD consultant commented that the aircraft were less contaminated when tests were conducted in 1994, 1996, 2000 and 2009, than when aircrews flew and maintained them in the years 1973-1982!

OSD'S consultant is the gentleman so familiar with Agent Orange. At first, in the Air Force, he helped develop the military herbicide for use in Vietnam.

One must read his memo of February 2009 carefully! His memo is the most direct smack-down any war veteran could fear! Here is urged the prompt destruction of contaminated surplus C-123 transports stored at Davis-Monthan. He specifically urges the Air Force to attend to likely publicity the event would cause, stating "carefully-worded statements for the media" should be prepared. In other documents, OSD directs that instead of alarming words such as Agent Orange or dioxin in such statements, more benign descriptors of "aged Vietnam-era" aircraft, and that destruction was done because "this action is selected on the basis that these are old aircraft and have been in storage for many years" with little resale potential. Of course, on behalf of the Air Force, William Boor, Director of the 505th ACSS at Hill AFB, UT in November 2009 arranged the prohibition of any further sale of these valuable aircraft specifically "Because of Agent Orange contamination during the Vietnam War"!

This smack-down of C-123 veterans, aircrews whom this OSD consultant and retired USAF colonel publicly labeled "trash-haulers, freeloaders looking for a tax-free dollar from sympathetic congressmen", escalated to the point he recommended destruction of the contaminated C-123s to prevent veterans from learning about their exposure and subsequently approaching the VA for Agent Orange illness treatment. His February 2009 memo detailed the protection which the VA allows for other Agent Orange veterans and stressed media coverage of the destruction he recommended would alert C-123 veterans who did not know of their exposure, and might lead them to seek VA "presumptive compensation."

Does he believe veterans should be barred from such treatment of their exposures? Apparently, both the USAF and the VA eagerly received Young's guidance with the C-123 veterans. In response,  a grateful Major General Busch (the officer who approved destruction of the contaminated C-123s in 2010) promptly labeled Dr. Al Young "one of America's Best." Busch's letters even carried the subject line "Agent Orange airplanes".

Seems the C-123s were no longer Agent Orange airplanes once our veterans started worrying about our illnesses and deaths!

New Agent Orange Exposure Studies Requested

In addition to the request filed with the US Army's Directorate for Risk Assessment , similar applications have been filed for investigations by the National Industrial Occupational Health Administration (part of the CDC) and an independent scientific agency, the Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA). TERA has been asked to evaluate the USAF report on C-123 contamination and its relevance to aircrew exposure to Agent Orange. Our veterans can only hope that TERA accepts this challenging responsibility!

The Army Directorate for Risk Assessment earlier published the famous TG312, the technical guide to assessment of worker contaminants exposure. TG312 has been cited by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in their letter confirming the likely exposure of aircrews and maintenance personnel assigned to the C-123 to dioxin remaining from the aircraft's Vietnam War missions. Further, TG312 was cited by each of the university-based experts who weighed in to support the veterans' claims of having been exposed to the deadly herbicide. Such experts have further claimed that C-123 aircrews (1970 to 1980) were even more severely exposed than nearly all Vietnam War veterans!

Davis-Monthan DAF Employees in Required C-123 HAZMAT Protection
The VA and USAF have disagreed. Faced with the alternative of admitting that they'd sold these dioxin-contaminated aircraft to Walt Disney for movies, and to Thailand and South Vietnam for their militaries, the USAF took a middle-of-the-road approach in their evaluation of the C-123 risks, opining that they could not confirm or deny exposure, but then somehow concluded that aircrew exposure was "unlikely." Of course, having destroyed all the contaminated aircraft in 2010, they've made their limpid position difficult to challenge. All the aircraft were very quietly destroyed on order of the Air Force Material Command and approved by the Air Staff...that is, all were destroyed except for the souvenirs kept by the inspectors themselves (who certified the complete destruction of the airplanes...so destruction complete except for their private, personal and improperly kept souvenirs?)

The VA, faced with the costs of providing medical care for the exposed veterans, quickly prepared their opinion denying veterans' exposure, and did so in the face of toxicology tests completed by the Air Force's Armstrong Labs in which the airplanes were tested as "heavily contaminated" and about which the USAF scientists testified were "a danger to public health." The VA even challenged the industry-standard method by which the Air Force tests were conducted, and concluded the aircraft were not contaminated "enough" to affect veterans' health. This position staggered professional toxicologists - was the VA suggesting a threshold of dioxin exposure, or describing a situation where workers could perform their duties in a dioxin-contaminated aircraft and somehow not be exposed?? Is VA unaware of decisions that NO LEVEL OF DIOXIN is considered "safe" - decisions reached by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) as well as the US Environmental Protection Agency?

Any such "ignorance" seems highly unlikely since these agencies' documents were cited by both the AF and the VA! Any attempt to now claim that the C-123 didn't have enough dioxin to potentially cause harm to aircrews is clearly an equivocation - an attempt to worm their way out of having to care for our veterans' Agent Orange-caused illnesses!

Why can't we get Senator Gillibrand to stand up for us as has Senator Burr?

10 September 2012

VA Claims Brief - Application Process 101 (for beginners)

Nothing is automatic. Every veteran has to take the step of applying for benefits if you seek medical care or disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The process generally takes over a year...far longer with complicated issues, appeals, etc. In recent years (thank God) the VA and DOD manage a servicemember's separation so as to smoothly transfer medical records and partly automate the initial claim steps. 

During the return of forces from the first Gulf War, veterans seeking care from the VA were turned away until a service connection for the disability was proven...it took some time for the logical step of "presumptive service connection" to be implemented and many of us had to pay for private medical care because of the gap in coverage between military medical care and the VA. Bummer!

The VA Claims Process
After VA receives your Application for Compensation, it sends you a letter. The letter explains what VA needs in order to help grant your claim. It states how VA assists in getting records to support your claim. The letter may include forms for you to complete, such as medical releases. They help VA obtain pertinent medical records from your doctor or hospital. You should try to complete and return all forms VA sends within a month. Your claim can often be processed more quickly if you send a copy of your own medical records. This letter is often referred to as the Duty to Assist lette . Read More

Win Your Veterans Affairs Disability Claim - You finally decided to file a VA claim for disability, so now what do you do? Maybe you already have started the paperwork yourself or (far better!!) have been helped by a veterans service officer (VSO) filling out the required VA Forms and are now one of many waiting to hear from the VA about your claims status.

A Veterans Benefits Raters View

Definitions, Terms, Abbreviations

We can not stress enough how important it is to:
  1. View your VA claims folder at the Veterans Affairs regional office. Call the VA at 1-800-827-1000 and request an appointment to view your VA c-file (claims folder).
  2. Ensure that all the records in your Veterans Affairs C-File are yours. 
  3. Check that everything you have sent to the VA is included in your C-File.
  4. After viewing your VA claims folder (c-file) and correcting any mistakes you may find. Then request a hard copy of your claims folder (c-file)

01 September 2012

Recovery from VA Malpractice - Sue the Government??

Recovering from a VA misdiagnosis, failure to treat or malpractice is quite complicated. The federal government is sovereign, meaning usually immune from the threat of lawsuits. In the interest of justice, the government allows damages to citizens to be evaluated under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).

FTCA allows a citizen to claim compensation from the US government when damage is caused by the negligence of an employee or agency (such as VA hospital malpractice) of the US government, including the Veterans Administration. VA medical malpractice law falls within negligence law, which is applicable to all lawsuits by attorneys against medical professionals, from VA hospitals to doctors and dentists to podiatrists and chiropractors. 

Increasingly, more medical negligence claims have been directed toward VA medical malpractice claims. According to the VA itself, the "environment of care" needs to be improved at most of its facilities.
Recovering damages under the FTCA is complicated and often can require help from experts experienced in the requirements for filing medical negligence lawsuits. For instance, before you sue, an administrative claim (an §1151, filed on Standard Form 95) has to be made against the VA for the full amount of damages you have suffered, and that is difficult and risky to determine. Once you have filed your administrative claim, you won't be able to ask for more damages—ever again--unless you have evidence that proves additional damages are warranted and you didn't have knowledge of them prior to filing your claim. One shot, and you'd better be on-target!

Either a veterans service representative from one of the larger veterans organizations (DAV, VFW, American Legion) or a VA-experienced attorney can help determine how much in damages you are entitled to receive and will make sure you don't "short change" yourself during this, the VA's investigation stage. The VA's regional lawyers have the authority to settle claims with awards up to $100,000, and the VA's General Counsel can make awards up to $200,000 when appropriate. The VA often has about 1000 malpractice lawsuits a year and annually loses about $125,000,000 in awards. About twice as many administrative awards are made than lawsuit awards, and only about a quarter of all claims (administrative as well as lawsuits) are awarded any damages. The VA often has as many as 4,000 administrative claims presented with awards per year totaling around $75,000,000 with about one in four claims succeeding with some amount of an award.

After your administrative claim is filed with the FTCA, the VA is entitled to six months for investigation and review of your claim. The VA can then do the following:
  • Accept the claim and pay it out in full
  • Settle the claim for less
  • Reject the claim outright.
If your claim is rejected, your next step is to file a lawsuit in federal court. If the VA does nothing within six months, this means that your claim has been rejected. You can sue in federal court under the FTCA, which allows you to file a lawsuit within 2 years of discovering your injury and what caused it. But keep in mind that this timeframe includes the 6-month time period needed to file and complete your administrative claim. It is imperative that you meet these legal deadlines; if not you may lose your claim forever...thus the suggestion to be guided by experts in this field and not fly solo on your first flight!

My advice? Talk it over with your primary care provider and the specialist involved. Mistakes happen and if they don't cost you life or limb, often all we want to hear is an explanation and an apology, and an idea that such things will be prevented in the future. One of the monster problems within the VA, as I've found, is that you can't simply call the doc and discuss the problem...it seems when you ask to talk about the concern, you're referred to Patient Affairs. There, a general explanation might be offered but usually you're encouraged to write to the medical center's chief of staff and detail your issues. Once that letter arrives the VA generally refers the issue to an expert outside that particular facility for examination and response. Wow...what a procedure and what a public discussion of something you only wanted to discuss with your doc to complain and hear his/her response and perhaps even explanation as to why you might be mistaken! Actually...that would be good news, of course.

Often the VA at this point will suggest a settlement if it seems to be clearly malpractice, misdiagnosis or failure to treat. Experts advise that the amount of this initial offer can be six to eight times less than their offer against a lawyer-prepared administrative claim, but sometimes all we seek is a modest $1.00 and apology. Your call, but there is no reason to sit on your backside if you believe harm has been done you at the VA...they offer a pathway to recovery via the FTCA.