---our letter to JSRRC-----
Dear Mr. Baldini,
Thank you again for your wake-up call this morning…nice to know we are on your list. Our little group of veterans is grateful for the opportunity to detail our issues before the JSRRC.
The fundamentals of our issue are simple. The C-123 aircraft we flew included many ships which previously sprayed Agent Orange in Vietnam. These airplanes remained contaminated through their destruction as toxic waste in 2010. The airplanes’ contamination resulted in exposure to dioxin (TCDD) of the aircrews, maintenance and aerial port personnel assigned to them.
In an earlier conversation with you, we discussed the fact that a wing’s flying squadrons had assigned to them their own crews, and attached to them for flying duties were other wing personnel such as flight surgeons, flying crew chiefs, aeromedical evacuation crews – these personnel would show formal assignment to their units with attachment to the flying squadron for flying duties. If this needs clarification please contact any Air Force unit. We need JSRRC not to contest a situation where, perhaps, a flight surgeon assigned to the 439th Tactical Hospital, will also claim to be attached to the 731st TAS for flying duties and thus part of the population we address. Let the veteran’s own official documentation, such as flight orders, address that peculiarity.
As to an individual veteran’s claims, we can leave it to the individual to establish duties with the aircraft using flight orders, Form 5s, or other documentation. Our concern here is to make clear that the aircraft were contaminated and the veterans exposed, in order that JSRRC might more completely advise the VA when queried.
The first element of the issue is the history of the C-123 aircraft which were used for Ranch Hand. In general, this is established by the 2011 report from Ms. Betty Kennedy, AFRC/HO who explained “The C-123 aircraft in the 731st TAS fleet had been used to dispense chemical defoliants over Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.” Further details of specific aircraft are provided by the AMARC list of C-123 aircraft tested and eventually destroyed and other commonly available lists of C-123 aircraft that flew in Vietnam.
The second element is to establish the contamination by military herbicides of C-123 aircraft flown in Vietnam and also flown by post-Vietnam squadrons. Only one aircraft had extensive documentation of such testing, Tail #362, and detailed in two toxicological exams performed by the USAF Armstrong Labs in 1979 and 1994.
Both tests confirmed “military herbicides” with the 1994 test characterizing the airplane as “heavily contaminated on all test surfaces” utilizing standard test techniques. It confirmed contamination by dioxin, but dioxin was not tested for in the 1979 test. The aircraft was subsequently decontaminated to permit restoration.
This aircraft is identified in the HA AFRC/HO report as assigned to the 731st TAS during the period 1972-1982. Six to eleven other former spray aircraft were also assigned.
Other C-123 aircraft assigned to the 731st were not tested for contamination until many years later, after long years of storage at Davis-Monthan AFB AZ, and all still reported between trace and low levels of dioxin contamination. All were quarantined in HAZMAT storage in 1997. Testing was accomplished many times between the 1982 date most entered AMARC storage and their 2010 destruction, with either trace or low levels of contamination remaining on about half of the aircraft. 42% of the C-123 aircraft remaining in USAF inventory in 1982, upon their retirement, were Ranch Hand aircraft.
The remaining issue is actual exposure to “military herbicides.” No mention is made in law nor C.F.R.s regarding the amount of exposure, the duration of exposure, the type of exposure, nor any other qualification…only the word “exposure.” In every other instance, the US Government has treated contamination issues to have also been exposure issues, but in this instance the VA has merely allowed that some contamination might have remained on the airplanes but that no exposure could have occurred. Again, there is no qualification in the law regarding how much contamination. VA seems fixated on the "years after their service" before the planes were tested, and "sophisticated testing" - yet only standard tests were performed, nothing special required.
When VA promulgated its herbicide presumption in 2001, the issue of herbicide exposure outside Vietnam was also addressed. 66 Fed. Reg. 23166 (May 8, 2001). VA explained if a veteran did not serve in Vietnam but was exposed to an herbicide agent defined in 38 C.F.R. §3.307(a)(6) during active military service and has a disease on the list of presumptive service connection (which includes diabetes mellitus type II and ischemic heart disease), VA will presume that the disease is due to the exposure of herbicides. See 66 Fed. Reg. 23166; 38 C.F.R. §3.309(e).
When asked, an executive of the EPA reminded me of the simple definition, both scientific and generic, of “exposure” which is “the contact between a chemical or biological agent and the outer boundary of an organism.” Thus, we prove our claim to exposure…our skin came into contact with what even the VA suggests is “dry dioxin” and thus led to contamination. Experts other than the VA, experts who do not have a mindset to automatically deny veterans’ claims, dispute the VA’s literature review which led to the VA opting to refuse service connection and decry it as “unscientific.”
Mr. Baldini, the veterans of the C-123 Veterans Association have done as asked of us this morning: we have identified official government documents detailing our C-123 aircraft fleet’s Vietnam service. We have identified official government documents detailing the contamination of the C-123 fleet, based on the only aircraft extensively tested over a long period of time and which remains existent at the USAF Museum, while nearly all others were destroyed as toxic waste. And finally, we have identified numerous government documents from a variety of federal agencies that confirm specifically that C-123 veterans were exposed to military herbicides aboard the contaminated C-123 fleet. Not detailed here are numerous independent scientific opinions submitted to JSRRC earlier from reputable institutions such as Columbia University and University of Texas Medical School reaching the same conclusion.
I trust we have fulfilled your assignment given me this morning. The many gigabytes of official USAF, EPA, CDC, NIH and GSA information in the DVDs submitted to you last month and in print since 2011 go into this with even far greater detail, with numerous additional supporting official documents all reaching the same conclusion. Many of these experts are members of the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, well-qualified to address this issue even though not perhaps part of your examining of the issue. Still, you can see there is a general agreement in science and medicine regarding our claims.
If JSRRC for some reason, despite these official documents and the others submitted to you over the years, remains unconvinced that the VA should be informed that our veterans were exposed aboard the contaminated C-123 aircraft, I can only suggest you contact the following federal or state officials, each of whom has already provided their agency’s conclusion in confirmation of our exposure claims:
a. Dr. Linda Birnbaum, Director, National Toxicology Program and Director, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences “According to the narrative [the 1979 & 1994 USAF tests], exposure is assumed based on wipe-tests demonstrating high dioxin concentrations in the C-123K’s.”
b. Dr. Tom Sinks, Deputy Director, CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry “I believe aircrews operating in this, and similar, environments were exposed to TCDD.”
c. Dr. Fred Berman, Director Toxicology Program. Oregon Health Sciences University (State of Oregon), “It is my professional opinion that Major Wesley Carter (and likely, other aircrew veterans who flew these aircraft in the same time period) was exposed to harmful levels of dioxin the course of his aircrew duties.”
I cannot imagine if there was this volume of evidence that somehow existed to argue against our claim, how we could possibly persuade. That’s not the situation however. Instead, we submit gigabytes of confirming evidence. Official government historical record and agency opinions and qualified independent expert opinion…and lots of it.
How much additional confirming proof could JSRRC possibly require? How much additional evidence should any veteran be required to research himself to provide to JSRRC and the Department of Veterans Affairs to receive medical care for the hazards of military service long-ago concluded? The airplane was contaminated. We were exposed. We call upon JSRRC to say so.
The VA can make its call on whether we meet their requirements, but they should not do so based on an inaccurate or misinformed JSRRC response.
I trust that JSRRC will consider that the twenty years of official USAF descriptions by staff officers, general officers, heads of agency, GSA, the Air Staff and Judge Advocates General attorneys of these C-123s as “the Agent Orange airplanes” did not change until 2011 with the first C-123 veteran’s Agent Orange exposure claim.
/s/ Wesley T. Carter, Major, USAF Retired