28 November 2012

A Possible Opening? Newest VA C-123 Agent Orange Bulletin!

In their most recent Agent Orange bulletin on 21 November 2012, the VA included a remarkable statement affecting all C-123 veterans. The inference is that we need only show the same level of evidence or proof as Thailand and other veterans to be considered.
Aerial photo of ship in ocean
"Eligibility for Veterans outside of Vietnam or Korea
Veterans who do not meet the criteria for presumed exposure to Agent Orange may be eligible for service-connection for related disabilities. This includes:

These Veterans must show that they were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service to be eligible for service-connection for presumptive diseases related to Agent Orange exposure."
Could this be the shining light we've been looking for?  This is the first time the VA has actually stated that C-123 veterans can be eligible if we show our exposure to Agent Orange, and in which they have included us with certain Blue Water Navy and Thailand veterans.

24 November 2012

Veterans Last to know! Timeline of the C-123 Agent Orange Deception

1972-1982...C-123 warplanes' continued service after Vietnam Agent Orange spray missions (1961-1971).

1978...First known C-123 veteran's Agent Orange illnesses surfaced (peripheral neuropathy) but not understood to be caused by Agent Orange at the time.

1979...Military herbicide residue was first confirmed to contaminate C-123 aircraft.

1983...First C-123 Agent Orange death (MSgt Robert Boyd, ischemic heart disease).

Smelting C-123 (USAF photo)
1994...Agent Orange contamination of C-123 warplanes became known to officials in the Air Force. Decision made not to inform exposed C-123 veterans.

1996...Air Force JAG directed all Agent Orange contamination in the C-123 be "kept in official channels only."

2010...All remaining C-123 warplanes destroyed as "toxic waste" with special measures to minimize publicity.

2011...Using Freedom of Information Act veterans uncover details confirming C-123 Agent Orange contamination.

2011...Office of Secretary of Defense privately slurs C-123 veterans as "trash haulers, freeloaders looking for a tax-free dollar from sympathetic congressmen."

2012...Veterans Administration official notifies C-123 veterans Agent Orange isn't actually harmful, so there was no exposure to any C-123 veteran, and VA will bar all C-123 veterans from all medical care for Agent Orange illnesses.

17 November 2012

Another Federal Agency Endorses ATSDR C-123 Dioxin Report

Earlier this year the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health was asked to investigate the C-123 aircrew dioxin exposure issue, specifically to conduct their NIOSH health hazard evaluation. Their response was received yesterday.

Dr. Allison Tepper, Chief of the Health Hazard Evaluations and Technical Assistance Branch, concluded that her agency "defers to Dr. Sinks and the expertise within the NCEH/ATSDR." She is referring to the finding offered earlier in 2012 by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in which Dr. Sinks, Deputy Director, concluded that the C-123 aircraft were contaminated and that aircrews were most likely exposed.

As with every other dioxin exposure situation, especially individuals whose exposure is addressed decades after contact with dioxin, the ATSDR reminds "The information available is insufficient to establish with accuracy the degree of exposure (high or low) or the risk of adverse health effects." This reservation in Dr. Sinks' conclusion in no way minimizes the conclusion that veterans were exposed but merely states that even once exposed as we were, too much time has passed and all the aircraft have since been destroyed, so there is no opportunity to "fine tune" the veterans' exposure assessment for those years we flew the C-123.

Only the VA has come to dispute the ATSDR finding. Only the VA has come to dispute law, reason and justice in their mindless opposition to our veterans' claims for Agent Orange exposure medical care.  Only the VA wants to prevent veterans access to medical care. Only the VA ignores scientific input when even the Agent Orange Act of 1991 requires the Secretary to evaluate both medical AND scientific evidence. Only the VA, in their effort to twist logic and science, has concluded "There is no conclusive evidence that TCDD exposure causes any adverse health effects." Boy, that one sentence says it all about the VA attitude!

We are grateful that NIOSH is behind ATSDR in helping make the case for service connection for our veterans!

On another issue, we submitted a fairly comprehensive Freedom of Information Act request to the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine regarding their C-123 exposure assessment. It was approved to be fee-free, but yesterday we learned it is delayed because of difficulty gathering all the materials requested. The anticipated release date is now 8 Jan 2013.

16 November 2012

Thanks, Portland VA Medical Center

Typical VA Doctor
Two Sundays ago I was ill after church and went directly to the ER at Portland's VA hospital. I was quickly seen by a resident, X-rays taken and then I was quickly admitted. The problem was a massive infection of a total hip replacement I'd received in August. I went to the VA after waiting two hours at another hospital ER without being seen, but the Portland VA hospital had me in an examining room within 20 minutes!

After 20 years of being 100% disabled, this happened to be my first overnight experience as a VA in-patient. Everyone was extremely kind and highly skilled.  Because I was going to face surgery at some point, I wasn't able to eat or drink so I can't comment on the food service, but it probably was quite good also.

My sincere thanks to the VA ER staff, Imaging Services, Orthopedics and the kind docs and nurses on the 5th floor in Portland. My operation to address the deep hip infection, done later at Oregon Health Sciences University Hospital, went well, I was released after eight days, and I'm now "enjoying" my third hip, with 40 days of IV therapy still to follow.

14 November 2012

USAF C-123 Report Disputed! Key Evidence Reexamined!

USAFSAM C-123 Report
The May 2012 USAF School of Aerospace Medicine (USAFSAM) C-123 report, completed after several months of C-123 literature review and focused on the Agent Orange contamination so much of concern to veterans, has several fatal flaws.

Basically the report failed to confirm whether the C-123 contamination left veterans exposed. For some reason and without further foundation, the report then went on to state veterans were very unlikely to have been exposed.

Veterans who've been insisting we were exposed aboard the C-123 were quick to note that the report tried to focus on the 1994 Porter/Weisman toxicological survey of Tail #362 (Patches) at the Air Force Museum which the veterans had held up as proof of our exposure. That survey seemed quite clear - "heavily contaminated on all surfaces." The survey also directed that all personnel wear HAZMAT protection, so severe was the threat of dioxin exposure. These points and others seemed, to the veterans, adequate proof that Patches and the other C-123s were contaminated. These points were adequate proof that, since we flew in NOMEX flight suits and not HAZMAT protection from the dioxin,  we were in fact exposed.

Not so, said the report. In a twisted effort to prevent allowing the veterans to claim exposure, the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine insisted that Weisman/Porter applied to museum restoration workers only. USAFSAM insisted that the tasks of museum restoration workers could lead to dioxin exposure but somehow - the work of aerial port, maintenance and aircrew wouldn't.

So, the veterans looked at the kind of work done by restoration workers, and even sought advice about such activities from experts at the Museum of the United States Air Force and restoration workers at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville Oregon, home of the famous Spruce Goose and dozens of other aircraft.

But the tasks are virtually identical! Grinding, loading, unloading, painting, welding, scraping, corrosion control. assembly, disassembly, and so forth. The veterans did many more activities, all of which further exposed them to the C-123 dioxin residue. In fact, the Porter/Weisman report clearly proves that veterans were exposed! And remember - veterans were exposed much longer than restoration workers who finished their tasks quickly, and veterans were exposed to dioxin which was far "fresher" during our decade of flight than in 1994 when Porter/Weisman was completed. Several senior NCOs and officers provided sworn statements that effect.

The questions must arise - why was the USAFSAM report seemingly so thorough, yet so flawed?
 1. The first obvious answer is that the Air Force, having discovered a situation in 1994 concerning exposure of veterans 1972-1982, had failed to inform the veterans we'd been exposed. Instead, in 1996 and just two years after the Museum survey, the Air Force Office of Environmental Law directed all information about C-123 Agent Orange contamination be kept "in official channels only
2. The second answer is that some C-123s had already been sold to Walt Disney Films, and the Air Force would have been embarrassed with that becoming widely known. 
3. The third answer is that many contaminated C-123s had been sold by the Air Force Security Assistance Center to Thailand and South Korea, thus potential embarrassment  to the USAF and the State Department.  Contemporary memos stressed the political implications and the need to minimize publicity about the contamination.
4. The USAF and Office of Secretary of Defense were sensitive to the public concern raised by an article by Prof Ben Quick which addressed the C-123 contamination.  The USAF and Office of Secretary of Defense corresponded frequently about the need to destroy the stored C-123s and do do so quietly, with carefully worded press releases in the event the destruction became known, because C-123 veterans might learn about their exposure and seek VA benefits. It is highly inappropriate for the government to take any such action which would in any way keep veterans from seeking VA service-connected medical care. The words "cover up" come to mind but clumsy would be a better description of the secret C-123 destruction issue.
 5.  Learning of the C-123 dioxin contamination, the USAF acted to cancel private sales but already planes had been sold. Dr. Ron Porter, a USAF toxicology expert had to testify in a federal court to confirm the "hazardous" surfaces and the need for personnel to wear HAZMAT protection in the USAF Museum. Dr. Ron Porter testified under oath confirming the dioxin contamination of the C-123 was, as per his Porter/Weisman survey, hazardous to the public. He made no reference as to his survey applying only to USAF museum staff.
6.  The USAFSAM C-123 report report failed to reference many current documents and opinions, such as from Dr. Jeanie Stellman, Dr. Ron Porter, Dr. Joe Goeppner and others. The  USAFSAM report cited, in several cases, research reports over thirty years old.
7. In an incredulous statement, USAFSAM reported that, even if the C-123 was contaminated, veterans weren't likely to be exposed. That statement is doubly-flawed. In all previous situations government agencies have basically concluded that measurable contamination equals exposure via one or more of the exposure pathways (ingestion, inhalation, dermal contact). In this report, however, USAF implies a point above which exposure occurs and at that point and below, no harm results from that exposure. The statement is further flawed in concluding veterans weren't exposed, and fails to weigh properly the Army TG312 and the CDC/ATSDR findings that the aircraft contamination of dioxin exceeded both US domestic as well as international standards. The C-123 was also contaminated past the safe reentry standards set by the State of New York, relied on throughout all levels of government as a "gold standard."

07 November 2012

Back in for ANOTHER new hip

I got a new right hip in August and was scheduled for the left next week. On Sunday after church, however, I ended up back in the hospital again when the first hip suddenly became infected. So, in a couple  hours in I go for the hip to be drained and cleaned, and the first components replaced.

Bummer! Double-bummer as it sets back the second hip replacement by months, and that means months more of pretty intense discomfort.

Hey...it is what it is. so I'll just weather this somehow.

06 November 2012

VA Announces Agent Orange Now Harmless! Truly A Miracle!

That's right, boys and girls. Harmless! A VA Miracle! Faced with otherwise convincing proof that the Air Force C-123 transport was certainly contaminated with dioxin, the Veterans Administration Compensation Service resolved the health problems of the exposed aircrew veterans (and kept the VA budget in close check) in a perfectly simple maneouver - dioxin has been redefined by VA as harmless to human health, effective 25 September 2012 and all it took was a simple letter.  Why didn't they think of this earlier?

Still, I'm concerned that this VA miracle managerial decision in the face of science, logic, law and justice will somehow not relieve the worries of 1560 aircrew, maintenance and aerial port veterans who flew the C-123 between the years 1972-1982. The C-123 was the transport used for spraying Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and in April 2011 veterans learned that the airplanes remained "heavily contaminated" and "a danger to public health" after the war while flown by the Air Force Reserve.

The C-123 veterans' struggle with the VA began in April 2011. The VA quickly hit back with official arguments that, although the airplanes were contaminated, veterans couldn't have been exposed therein. VA also created a new concept called "dry dioxin transfer" to help prevent all valid claims, using that unscientific idea to explain away how veterans could have worked in close contact with the toxin without any harm.

But their 25 September announcement about TCDD being harmless does an even more perfect job and completes the full-circle argument of preventing dioxin-exposed veterans access to medical care:
1. veterans couldn't have been exposed aboard the C-123, because the VA says so.
2. even if veterans were exposed, "dry dioxin transfer" meant that kind of exposure wouldn't have harmed them. In the C-123, dioxin was somehow safe to be around for the decade we flew it.
3. and finally, even if veterans were exposed via the typical paths of exposure (dermal, ingestion, inhalation) no harm could come to them because, quoting the new rule...dioxin is harmless anyway! 

Don't worry....be happy! VA has decided that science and medicine had it wrong all along, especially those pesky independent scientists who helped prepare the Institute on Medicine reports on Agent Orange. 

Golly, the Department of Veterans Affairs should have saved a lot of money from the very beginning by simply creating their "harmless" statement at the beginning of American's concern about this, the most toxic of all substances and a known human carcinogen. The Department of Veterans Affairs should have kept veterans from a lot of worry about our exposure by posting their simple decree which explained "In summary, there is no conclusive evidence that TCDD exposure causes any adverse health effects."

The source of this marvelous news about Agent Orange not being responsible for our cancers, diabetes, perhiperial neuropathy, and other diseases is the VA's Director, Compensation and Pension (C&P). C&P simply applied businessman's common sense approach which requires budget considerations above all others, The Director of Compensation Services announced his "harmless" decision via his denial of a C-123 veteran's claim for Agent Orange exposure illnesses.to the Agent Orange controversy with his denial of a veteran's Agent Orange claim, stating TCDD isn't known to cause harm.  

Fellow veterans - do you draw comfort from C&P's Amazing Miracle Show?

04 November 2012

Veterans MUST Personally Review "C" File!

Your "C" file is the complete set of documents regarding your claim. This isn't your VA medical records although many or all of those records may be in the "C" file as evidence. Instead, the VA maintains at each Regional Office the veteran's initial claim, supporting documents, VA records relative to that claim, awards, denials...everything. Pretty much a complete legal gathering of your case.

The problem is, as I have found out in two recent incidents, you can't count on the accuracy of that "C" file unless YOU spend a couple hours turning pages and taking notes.

Yesterday I reviewed my notes from checking out my "C" file a week ago. Back then I thought I'd caught the significant mistakes made by the VA (failure to obtain correct information from the JSRRC, and other errors). But I missed a big one! A game changer that should have been working for me from the get-go.

The local office forwarded my case with a recommendation for approval by the DC folks, where my claim was denied, in part, for lack of medical nexus between Agent Orange and my Agent Orange-presumptive illnesses. Problem: The local office failed to forward my cardiac surgeon's letter establishing exactly that nexus!

I didn't catch this on my visit and only noticed it in passing looking over my notes and some of the VA's documents. This missing document can be critical to my claim and I'll notify my VARO to correct their oversight.

C-123 Veterans DUMPED by DAV, PVA Veterans Organizations!

VFW - thanks for your Nov 6 offer to help!!
We started asking for help last April, when the founders of our Association began uncovering Air Force documents establishing the dioxin contamination of the C-123 fleet. We wrote executives of the American Legion and Vietnam Veterans of America (correction - offer of help received 6 Nov), and received their powerful and encouraging support in our effort to get VA recognition of exposure.

But we were totally ignored by the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Disabled American Veterans. Despite helping us, and our individual members, being part of their Congressional charter and for which they work hard raising funds from the public, these three well-known veterans' organizations ignored every phone call, every visit by us to them, every request for a meeting, every email, every letter to their headquarters staff!

I belong to each of these veterans' organizations, paying dues or having already paid for lifetime memberships as with the DAV and PVA. Why are they content to focus on fund raising but not able to take a moment to write to the VA with a statement of support?

I have life-threatening diseases which numerous scientists and my cardiologist conclude are due from Agent Orange exposure. But veterans groups aren't persuaded to help? What is your personal threshold for doing something...do you require ten PhD statements rather than the eight already put forward? What scientific evidence do you need to persuade you when I have already won the help from Portland's Veterans Affairs Regional Office which recommended my claim be approved? You weren't persuaded?

02 November 2012

Senators Demand VA Briefing re: C-123 Agent Orange

Sen. Jeff Merkley, Oregon
Senator Jeff Merkley (Oregon) yesterday joined with Senator Richard Burr (North Carolina) extending a bipartisan invitation to the VA to once again brief Congress on why the VA is so adamant on preventing legitimate C-123 veterans' Agent Orange exposure claims. (late note 12/12/12: the meeting was fruitless with the VA continuing to insist no C-123 veterans will be cared for. A letter from ten scientists and five physicians supporting C-123 veterans' claims was dismissed by VA on the basis that no claims will ever be approved regardless of justification.)

Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina
They'll need your help to make it clear this important veterans issue isn't going away. Mr. William White of Senator Merkley's DC office works veterans affairs, and he's asked each of us C-123 veterans to contact our own senator's veterans affairs staffer to ask that they join the meeting.

Easy. Just call your senators' and congressman's local offices, ask for the veterans affairs staffer, and pass along the invitation from Will White...tell them to contact Mr. White in DC for the meeting time and place, and you're done. Of course, you might want to follow up after the meeting to "encourage" your senator to continue pressing the VA for action! It would also be superb if you were to "educate" your senator's staff about the C-123 exposure issue, and I've prepared the C-123 Agent Orange briefing for them which you can download by clicking HERE.

The 1994 Air Force testing on Patches labeled it "heavily contaminated" on all test surfaces, and "extremely dangerous." Alarming words certainly bad enough to get our attention, and they did! And that's what the inspectors meant so the aircraft was immediately quarantined from all personnel access...not just restoration workers.We correctly understood that if Patches was extremely dangerous when the tests were done in 1994, Patches and her sister C-123s were certainly extremely dangerous when we flew them 1972-1982! And, of course, tests over the next many years continued to confirm these as "a danger to public health" until they were all destroyed in 2010 as toxic waste. So the Air Force's 2012 report was supposed to set the record straight.

Ah, but enter politics, replacing science! The Air Force's 2012 reexamination of C-123 records led them to dismiss the recommendations of the toxicologists who examined Patches, using as an excuse the pretense that the recommendations must have been meant for AF Museum restoration workers only, not to personnel in general. They listed the types of chores the museum restoration workers were likely to perform and disturb Agent Orange residue and implied those tasks were different than what we did, so we couldn't have been affected by disturbing Agent Orange residue.

And the base chief of safety even required the aircraft be opened and aired out for two full days to vent dioxin in the air before personnel entry...anybody remember us doing that at Westover? I don't!

Horse feathers! We did those restoration workers' chores and much more. We did them, not for the days or weeks a restoration effort might require, but for years upon years, and we certainly were exposed thereby to the deadly TCDD component of Agent Orange. Several of our veterans have submitted sworn statements to that fact, and we need more...especially from squadron commanders and NCOICs! Download the statement here and, if you are in agreement, sign and return to me by scanning it (if possible) or snail mail.