28 February 2013

JSRRC Visit Successful!

On February 27, I visited with the Army's Joint Service Records Research Center, positioned at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Met by their chief, Mr. Domenic Baldini, we reviewed the concerns of C-123 veterans over a cup of coffee, and Mr. Baldini graciously let me bend his ear as long as I felt it a good exchange.

My key objective was to review with Mr. Baldini the extensive set of official documents...Air Force, GSA, NEA, CDC and so many other sources...pointing to the dioxin contamination of the C-123 transport we flew between 1972-1982. So long ago!

Mr. Baldini took special pains to detail his mission: it is to serve as the archivist of the military services regarding Agent Orange and PTSD. He is not a scientist to evaluate data, he is not even an historian who can review two documents and reach a third (and logical) conclusion from contemporary data (A plus B equals C...he might understand that but cannot report such a thought process, however logical.) He only reports what official US government documents describe. As Joe Friday on Dragnet says, "Just the facts, Sir."

Of note here is our insistence that JSRRC understand no mention was made back in 1972-1982 in unit histories of the 439th TAW or its subordinate units because (1) we were told the 1979 survey of Patches was proof nothing was wrong and (2) nobody worried about Agent Orange, especially once we were told none was on the airplanes, and thus no mention was made in official unit histories. I know...I supervised the unit historian for the 439th Tactical Airlift Wing (MSgt Marshall Hathaway) and spent hours getting the history into a format General Haugan would accept! Still, even with the absence in this particular document of record,

Further suppressing the paperwork needed by JSRRC was the mysterious step taken by the Air Force Office of Environmental Law in 1996, directing that "all information be kept in official channels only." That wrapped up information about C-123 contamination until 2011 when it was finally released via FOIA to the veterans. Too late to help avoid health issues. And remember - this was somehow, NOT a coverup! Right! Roger that!

I stressed JSRRC should include other contemporary and subsequent documents to conclude whether or not the C-123 fleet was contaminated, and if possible, reach a conclusion about the veterans' exposure. In particular, we reviewed the 1979 Conway and 1994 Porter/Weisman reports, each of which was positive for contamination by military herbicide. Further proof was in the many USAF toxicological studies of the stored surplus C-123 fleet, the January 2000 GSA court case where the USAF toxicologist testified under oath before a federal judge that the C-123 fleet was "heavily contaminated and a danger to public health."

Mr. Baldini repeated his duty as an archivist, able to address only official USAF documents, so I laid them on the table (having earlier provided hard copy as well as a DVD).

The result: Mr. Badlin expects that JSRRC will be able to provide a more comprehensive response to VA inquiries about C-123 veterans' claims, no longer simply stating no materials exist to substantiate the veteran's assertions. Otherwise, the claim is doomed, with VA using the JSRRC negative response as adequate proof to deny. Mr. Baldini works with Mr. Jim Sampsel of the VA's Compensation Services, and I've had the opportunity to meet with him. We were assured in 2011, well before other federal agencies and university experts concluded we've been exposed, that C-123 veterans are not and will not become eligible for VA Agent Orange benefits and their perspective has not changed. Nor will it. Even when regional offices suggest approval, such claims receive an "advisory opinion" insuring they will be denied.

Still, at least JSRRC is to be congratulated for its honesty and dedication to provide VA and each veteran a comprehensive detailing of its examination of the claims. The 15 JSRRC researchers (they need MORE!) are to be congratulated and thanked. All we asked for was a fair shake...we flew the airplane, there are officials reports about its contamination, and we want that history documented to the VA so that if our claims are denied, it will be for reasons other than the truth of our service! JSRRC will give us that fair shake from now on, and the VA will utilize other steps to prevent claim approvals.

Ya gotta wonder: there are so few of us C-123 veterans. The VA broadly swung open the benefits gate to PTSD and other Agent Orange groups, yet even when we provide expert medical, scientific and appropriate federal agency supporting opinions, the VA insists it will abide only with the views of its own scientists.

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