31 March 2013

C-123 Agent Orange Story Posted on YouTube

The story of C-123 veterans' Agent Orange exposure and the long, long struggle to get earned medical benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs has been summarized in a ten-minute video now posted on YouTube. The video covers the basics of the aircraft contamination, the VA and AF opposition to veterans' claims of exposure, and the wonderful supporting opinions we've received from the NIH, CDC, EPA, US Public Health Service and the National Toxicology Program, as well as independent experts from industry, education and science.

Other videos will follow as time permits, and will deal with VA opposition to our claims, the Air Force study of C-123 contamination and aircrew exposure, and other topics...if you have
one in mind, let us know!

The objective is to let these videos carry our message beyond the range of our own voices, and hopefully convince others of the validity of our claims.

Who knows...maybe even some VA wonk will be interested in seeing things from our perspective!

Thank You, Vietnam Veterans of America!

Happy Easter, dear friends.

Thanks are offered to the Vietnam Veterans of America, and their president John Rowan, as well as other national leaders in this outstanding veterans organization. I am the son and cousin of long-time members of VVA, and while a new member myself, it doesn't take long to realize how much this dedicated team has done for America's veterans of all conflicts.

VVA - my thanks, for reason which will be specified later. Please know vets of all generations recognize the burden you've accepted of "No veteran left behind" which is exactly how you've embraced our people of the C-123 Veterans Association. All veterans realize it will be our responsibility to carry forward that spirit of service and dedication to our brothers and sisters in arms following us in later years and in later conflicts.

Trip Report: I had the unexpected opportunity to make a trip to Wright-Patterson AFB again, and was there Thursday through Saturday. Patches looked great, with some work being done by skilled restoration volunteers on the right wing flaps. A recent inspection indicated the interior looked as good as when it flew out of Hagerstown decades ago, however there still was a powerful stench which scientists have attributed to Agent Orange, smelling like the garden weed killer Roundup. While there has been controversy over whether Agent Orange smells at all, a professional having first-hand familiarity with Agent Orange insists the odors are the same...he even compared the smell experienced inside Patches with a container of Roundup and confirmed the similarity. He also reminded me that Roundup has much of the same chemistry as Agent Orange!

There were very interesting videos being shown of Ranch Hand operations on the monitor portion of the Patches exhibit, but I was unable to visit the museum's archives to get copies as they don't permit researchers to access materials without an appointment in advance. Kinda hard to have done that as I didn't know I was going to Dayton until the day before I got there. Anyway, I'll try to recover from the museum as well as Air Force Historical Research Center which has been so helpful in the past.

19 March 2013

VA REJECTS All Other Federal Agencies' Medical Evidence as USELESS in Claims!

VA's Compensation Services last month informed veterans that expert findings by other federal agencies...in fact, evidence from whatever source, will not be considered as material adequate to bring a C-123 veteran's claim to the "as likely to as not" threshold. This is the 50-50 point at which the benefit of the doubt rests with the veterans, and that half-way point just won't be permitted by the VA for C-123 veterans.

And they meant it. On 28 February, the same day as the meeting with Compensation Services, during which we were told of the uselessness of any evidence we might present and the predetermination that our claims will be denied, VA's Manchester NH regional office indeed denied the Agent Orange exposure claim of a C-123 veteran.
C-123 Vet. "Dang - screwed again!

There seem to be two VA basic challenges to this man's claim. First, the VA denied his Agent Orange claim because he hadn't served in Vietnam. To better deny the claim and prevent the veteran's access to VA medical care, they simply ignored the Agent Orange Act of 1991, Title 38 3.09, and the clarification VA provided in the Federal Register 8 May 2010 where VA explained that any exposed veterans will be treated the same as Vietnam veterans if able to substantiate their exposure to dioxin.

The second method VA used to deny this perfectly valid claim was to pretend that other federal agencies lack any qualification to address exposure issues. All such opinions submitted in this man's claim as proofs were grouped as "lay evidence" and dismissed as lacking credibility. And what evidence was dismissed as lay evidence?
EPA, National Institutes of Health, National Toxicology Program, CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, US Public Health Service, University of Texas Medical School, Columbia University School of Public Health, Oregon Health Sciences University Toxicology Program, numerous independent scientists and physicians, the veteran's own physicians and other veterans' expert supporting testimony via sworn VA21-4138 forms
(note: all evidence was either specific to this veteran, or in direct, inclusive reference to him and all C-123 veterans similarly situated)
Included in what Manchester dismissed as lay evidence was evidence from Dr. Linda Birnbaum, Director, National Institutes of Health/National Toxicology Program, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Does somebody in the Manchester VARO bring to bear science credentials more credible than hers? Anyone in Manchester with an 80-page CV to match hers?

What threshold does Manchester set for a veteran's claim to be fairly evaluated, given that even this amount of powerful and convincing evidence is dismissed in their eager refusal to award service connection? Sorry...not actually "eager" as they took two years to get around to denying his claim! Anyway, their threshold is one of  VA policy, not science or law!

18 March 2013

VA Rules Ignored - C-123 Veterans Wrongly REFUSED Care!

Veterans benefits are supposed to be administered in accordance with law, but officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs routinely ignore, or twist the meaning of, the Agent Orange Act of 1991 and the various rules and regulations implemented since its passage. 
Of particular interest to C-123 veterans is Title 38 CFR Part 3, "Disease Associated with Exposure to Certain Herbicide Agents: Type 2 Diabetes." In this publication of the Federal Register (Vol. 66, No. 89/Tuesday, May 8, 2001) VA incidentally addresses the military herbicide exposure of veterans who were exposed through service other than in Vietnam or other areas provided "presumptive" exposure status, such as the Korean DMZ. 
VA was seeking in this action to address issues surrounding type 2 diabetes, and also addressed the exposure outside Vietnam as a comment that no specific rule was necessary to address that population, because VA "will presume that the disease (the acknowledged set of Agent Orange-presumptive illnesses) is due to the exposure to herbicides."
This is the reason BVA judges have correctly awarded service-connection to C-123 veterans in Boston and in Pittsburgh, after regional VA offices failed to follow their own rules and regulations. 
Currently, to circumvent their own rule, VA denies "exposure" itself. Unable to deny contamination because the AF tests clearly establish the dioxin contamination of the C-123 fleet, and unable to deny the Agent Orange illness our physicians identify, VA is left with their trump card - to pretend that no exposure took place!
The law, however, is quite clear. "Exposure" is even clearly defined by the EPA itself as "contact between an agent and the visible exterior of a person," or, alternately, contact between a chemical or biological element and the outer boundary of an organism." That's us, folks. 
Fighting back, determined to prevent access to their medical care for our Agent Orange illnesses, VA conducted a literature review which they termed a "scientific review" - citing in some cases 30-year old discredited articles, and carefully avoiding publications which confirm our exposure (such as the DOD TG 312), VA bars the hospital door. They even ignore, or cite as irrelevant and incompetent "lay evidence" expert opinions from EPA, US Public Health Service, CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, National Institutes of Health, the National Toxicology Program, Columbia University, University of Texas Medical School, Oregon Health Sciences University Toxicology Program, and many, many more highly qualified scientists and physicians. How many does it take to convince? Actually, VA has said it doesn't matter - no proof will be considered, regardless of qualification or expertise, per VA's Compensation Services.
How? Again, because they dispute "exposure" and claim it is secondary, where in fact it is initial, or primary. They claim it is too little an amount to harm...but the law does not require any amount of poison to be poison! And VBA claims Veterans Health Administration findings eliminate any need to evaluate a veteran's proofs because VHA rules come first.
Some regional offices have quoted one of the VA's internal decision-making matrix for claims rating officers, M21-1MR, Part IV, Subpart ii, Chapter 2, Section C. This is meant to address issues such as B-52 flying over Vietnamese air space, or aircraft flying from Thailand without landing inside Vietnam, and hypothetical contamination of aircraft or equipment later serviced outside Vietnam, such as trucks, armored vehicles and the like. This does not address contaminated C-123 spray aircraft, saturated with Agent Orange, and which official USAF tests confirmed as being "heavily contaminated" and "a danger to public health." Here's what the decision matrix states:

If the Veteran’s claim is based on servicing or working on aircraft that flew bombing missions over Vietnam, please be advised that there is no presumption of secondary exposure” based on being near or working on aircraft that flew over Vietnam or handling equipment once used in Vietnam.  Aerial spraying of tactical herbicides in Vietnam did not occur everywhere, and it is inaccurate to think that herbicides covered every aircraft and piece of equipment associated with Vietnam.  Additionally, the high altitude jet aircraft stationed in Thailand generally flew far above the low and slow flying UC-123 aircraft that sprayed tactical herbicides over Vietnam during Operation RANCH HAND.  Also, there are no studies that we are aware of showing harmful health effects for any such secondary or remote herbicide contact that may have occurred.
Following is the critical language in the Federal Register meant to include C-123 veterans in the group of veterans who will be treated the same as Vietnam veterans, regarding Agent Orange exposure:
"Herbicide Exposure Outside Republic of Vietnam 
One commenter urged that VA amend the proposed regulation to include veterans who did not serve in the Republic of Vietnam, but were exposed to herbicides during their military service.Section 1116(a)(3) of title 38 of the United States Code establishes a presumption of exposure to certain herbicides for any veteran who served in the Republic of Vietnam between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975, and has one of the diseases on the list of diseases subject to presumptive service connection. However, if a veteran who did not serve in the Republic of Vietnam, but was exposed to an herbicide agent defined in 38 CFR3.307(a)(6) during active military service, has a disease on the list of diseases subject to presumptive service connection, VA will presume that the disease is due to the exposure to herbicides. (See 38 CFR 3.309(e)). We therefore believe that there is no need to revise the regulation based on this comment."

Friends, I admit getting several hours of generous help from researchers at at the Library of Congress, but if you can't trust your librarian who can you trust?

17 March 2013

VA Issues Internal Regulation to Change Agent Orange Act?

Mon Dieu!  Screwed Again!
VA must have changed the law and not let Congress, the public, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, VSOs, or Paul Bailey know about it! We know this, because Lt Col Paul Bailey's two-year old claim for Agent Orange benefits was denied effective 28 February 2013 by the Manchester NH Regional Office,  in which the statement was made:
"Although you submitted numerous amounts of evidence to support your claim, VA regulations do not allow us to concede exposure to herbicides for Veterans who claim they were exposed to herbicides after the Vietnam war while flying in aircraft used to spray these chemicals."
Now, Paul wasn't asking the VA to "concede" anything, but was hoping that the Manchester VA would lean toward obeying the law (1991 Agent Orange Act as well as Title 38) and the 2001 promulgation of various issues narrated in the Federal Register in which the VA detailed that veterans exposed outside Vietnam, with Agent Orange illnesses, would be treated the same as veterans exposed with "boots on the ground."

It is clear from the denial of his claim and the statement above that the VA now employs some regulation which prohibits this adherence to the law, a VA "private" regulation employed to trump everything else otherwise protective of veterans' rights.

I spent half a day in the Library of Congress with a dedicated researcher, and all we could find applicable is Title 38 itself and the May 2001 Federal Register (Volume 66, Number 89, Tuesday May 8, 2001, page 23166). This is the material cited by judges making various BVA decisions awarding other C-123 veterans from Paul's own unit, with the same airplanes, in the same time frame, their Agent Orange claims. The skilled researcher assured me nothing publicly available is known to supersede these references, so I take it that the VA's regulation cited in Paul's claim denial is somehow classified or otherwise unavailable outside the VA, and used as their special trump card to insure claims are refused regardless of all legal, scientific, medical, or moral merit. 

Understand, Paul's claim was justified on each of those merits - but not to the satisfaction of the Manchester Veterans Affairs Regional Office which follows special VA procedures about which the rest of us are kept unaware.

The VA regulation (or whatever it is) being unavailable, it makes things kinda hard for C-123 veterans to present our claims, given that the VBA isn't even permitted to approve them. Other veterans need merely reach the famously reasonable threshold of "as likely to as not", but in the case of C-123 veterans, with Compensation Services already explaining that VA Veterans Health Administration findings prohibit evaluation of evidence supporting our exposure claims, we veterans have hit a mile-high VA brick wall.

Paul, and others of us similarly situated, have made clear our less-than-happy medical picture to the VA. Knowing this, they smile back and assure us that after our two-year wait for these claims to be denied by the VA it is only a five year wait to be heard at the Board of Veterans Appeals. 

A nice, big smile. Not their problem. They've got their secret regulation to back them up. But this kind of secrecy, of uneven treatment, of extra-legal denial of American veterans' rights, invites public attention. Lots of it. In black ink and other media.

And here's one interesting part. Veterans are invited...virtually required...to submit evidence of their claim. Paul submitted official findings that he'd been exposed to Agent Orange while a crewmember aboard the C-123. Included in his package were findings about him from:

1. National Institutes of Health, Dr. L. Birnbaum
2. Center for Disease Control, Agency for Toxic Substances, Dr T. Sinks
3. US Public Health Service/NIH Senior Medical Advisor, CAPT A. Miller MD
4. Columbia University School of Public Health, Dr. J. Stellman
5. University of Texas Medical School, Dr. Arnold Schecter
6. Oregon Health Sciences University Toxicology Department, Dr. Fred Berman
7. Paul's doctors, Dartmouth University Medical Center
8. Peer-reviewed scientific articles re: dioxin and exposure
9. USAF C-123 test reports confirming contamination
10. TG 312, the military "gold standard" for entrepting test results, and which the CDC used to confirm Paul's exposure aboard the C-123
11. Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Allison Toppler
12. Hatfield Environmental Consultants,  Dr. Wayne Dwernychuk

The Manchester VA dismissed all of these, including input from a member of the National Academy of Sciences and director of the NIH/NEIHS (Dr. Linda Birnbaum) without comment other than to group everything as "lay evidence", to wit:
"The lay evidence was found not to be competent and sufficient in this case to establish a link or nexus between your medical condition and military service or to establish that such a link has been found by a medical professional."
Actually, all was predicable, because on the same day LtCol Bailey's claim was denied, we were hosted to a conference at the VA Compensation and Pensions Division offices, 1800 G Street, Washington, where we were assured that no amount of proofs, from whatever source, from whatever physician or federal agency or university or whatever...would be permitted to apply in proof of a C-123 veteran's Agent Orange exposure claim. This was because Veterans Health Administration had already formed an official opinion against such exposure and VBA is compelled to adhere to VHA input and not consider anything else. 

Judging from Paul's claim denial, and my own claim which was denied in Portland, Oregon on 14 March, I guess they meant it!

16 March 2013

C-123 Contamination News - So Much More To Come

There is such a messy time ahead with more and more messy news about the C-123 Agent Orange contamination. A time with news of what was done and left undone. A tale of integrity and honor put aside. Of forgetting "We do not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do" in the performance of one's duty, whether commissioned, enlisted or civil service. A tale of silly little mistakes and acts of bad judgement leading to thousands of veterans suffering. Still, it was, to paraphrase Dickens, "the best of times."

I love the Air Force. If only we'd have invented "Once a Marine, Always a Marine" for our service...Once an Airman, Always an Airman has a fine ring to it. Except for not having those cool swords and high-collar white uniforms like the Navy, and stuck with "Off We Go, Into the Wild Blue Yonder" instead of serious music like "Anchors Away," I love the Air Force. Think about it...a sailor's memorial service has those tears flowing like rivers as "Anchors Away" or "Eternal Father" plays from the organ, but an airman's memorial service has only "Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder" playing, inviting mourners' embarrassed smiles and with no hope of tears for the poor fallen airman! Still,  I think the Air Force is the best thing in my life. It was the best of times. I love the Air Force.

Having left my family back at Dreux Air Base, France where my dad was stationed and where I graduated from an Air Force high school, then hitchhiked on cars, ships, trains and airplanes, 7000 miles from France to California. I walked onto March AFB near Riverside, California for my first Air Force physical in 1964. Worked my way through college over the years with a single goal...an Army commission which I was offered in 1973. Instead, a love of flying led me to the Air Force, first enlisted and then commissioned (thanks to Colonel Kosakoski). Life turned out to be Air Force, all the better! I love the Air Force!

As an Army brat himself, my pop Army CWO Hank Carter might have preferred my walking into Madigan Army Hospital in Fort Lewis, WA. My grandpa was Army BG John Wesley Carter. My mom and dad, all my "lifer" uncles and one aunt, were proud that our family's generations of career military service would continue for a fourth generation of me and my many cousins (sadly, all Texas A&M). I was so proud that the Air Force would even consider letting me wear their honorable uniform. It was what our family did.

We span, in my family's continuous service, duty on the Western Plains oppressing the First People, duty through World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, to duty in the AOR for Gulf One. From horseback to jets. General officers, field grade officers and young privates, it didn't matter commissioned or enlisted. Over earlier centuries, it was service in the famous First Minnesota and the Civil War. It was what our family did, happy at the end of a career to earn a nice bronze marker simply noting name, state, wars served, rank and honors. A resting place among comrades.

All beginning in the Eighteenth Century with Colonel Joshua Carter and his sons taking up arms in colonial militia of Massachusetts and Virginia, and on that first Patriots Day telling the Red Coats at Concord that it was time for them to go home. My grandma's front window in Saint Cloud had a WWII banner with six blue stars, and fortunately her husband and five sons came home. From Okinawa to Iceland to North Africa to Sicily to Normandy to the Rhine, it was what our family did.

Then an Air Force captain on April 19 1990, I was at the Battle Green reenactment at Lexington, near their famous Minute Man monument. The dark, cold and foggy morning, and suddenly, just like the militia did centuries ago, hearing the Red Coats' muffled drums approaching in the distance. Terrified but dedicated, the farmers stood and held their ground as long as they could. I suddenly was amazed...listening to those frightening distant drums and understanding finally what they did, standing up to a foe with no hope of victory. Little hope of surviving at the beginning of a very long war of independence. Like so many others, it was what our family did.

We were what might be called "Old Army." Army folks so consumed by "Duty, Honor, Country" that we didn't care about living in unairconditioned Quonset huts at Fort Bliss with my mom sweeping snakes and tarantulas out in the summer, or the pay. House guests ranged from senators and ambassadors to general officers to PFCs, all men of honor, some with the Medal of Honor. We "broke starch" in our fatigues, trying to look sharp. Even old-time silly stuff like not wearing blue jeans in the PX was tolerated. Growing up to be just like Dad and growing up to make Grandpa proud...three career grandsons with two Army and me, the aberrant Air Force guy. Cutting my wedding cake with Grandpa's sword. Over my decades wearing gabardine, bush jackets, Ike jackets, 505s, 1505s, BDUs, finally a baggy green flight suit and silver wings I was most proud of. It was what our family did.

Seven years an Army field medic. Seven more an Air Force medevac crew member. Thirteen more as an Air Force officer. Flying, teaching, Pentagon TDY, training at the Fort Devens EFMB course. SOS and greasy omelets with friends at midnight chow at some remote base after the airplane is tied down following a long, long fight. Chapel in a GP-Medium tent or the Air Force Academy. Friends weddings and funerals. Twenty more an Air Force retiree trying to help recruit, swear in recruits, run errands for recruiters, help with AF Academy Liaison, give speeches. I still wish I could have done more. And now helping with C-123 Agent Orange issues but too sick to do enough in the time left. Like everyone else I flew with in those old warplanes, for nothing more than my love of the Air Force - proud of the Air Force the way it is supposed to be. It was what our family did.

My point. There are messy, unpleasant but truthful revelations coming out over the next few months about Air Force and VA actions over the decades which followed the first official awareness of C-123 contamination by Agent Orange. Revelations about actions which should have been taken, actions which should not have been taken, decisions to permit personnel toxin exposures to be ignored, press manipulation, inadequate IG investigations...messy stuff. Millions of dollars wasted. Perjury.

Deadly illnesses allowed to progress without prevention. Coverup. Stuff allowed to happen, or at least slip by uncorrected, by people who were not proud enough to keep the Air Force the way it is supposed to be. People who failed to bring it, and themselves, onto the path of honor. Mostly, folks involved are long gone into retirement. But not all...some are still wearing uniforms. Uniforms they failed to wear with the honor expected of them by the President who, as per their commission, reposed special trust and confidence in them. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." The worst part will be told.

Vietnam Veterans of America - Standing Tall for C-123 Veterans!

(Testimony of VVA Presented by John Rowan, National President/CEO before the House and Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committees Regarding VVA Legislative Agenda & Policy Initiatives March 6, 2013)

"VVA shall continue to advocate on behalf of the veterans of the crews who flew C-123 transports contaminated by the remains of the barrels of Agent Orange they once ferried into and out of Vietnam and are now suffering some of the same peculiar health ills as in-country Vietnam veterans."

We C-123 veterans remain in debt to President Rowan and his fantastic Agent Orange committee which long ago recognized our just claims for Agent Orange exposure.

A note: I have advised President Rowan that, in fact, the C-123 was primarily used for actually spraying Agent Orange which was the mechanism for its becoming contaminated, rather than the transport of Agent Orange barrels.

 Legislative Testimony March 6, 2013
VVA urges Congress to investigate if our nation’s minority veteransare given lesser treatment for health conditions at VA medical centersand community-based outpatient clinics (CBOCs).
VVA urges Congress to mandate that the VA provide brochures andother information for Spanish-speaking veterans, particularly thoseresiding in Puerto Rico, inasmuch as many male veterans areconvinced to seek VA medical assistance by members of their family,who may speak Spanish exclusively.
Agent Orange/Dioxin & Other Toxic Substances
VVA calls on Congress and the President to take steps to declassify
documents from the years of the Vietnam War, including memos between agencies, dealing with Agent Orange/dioxin and make them public – now, almost 50 years since our government sprayed some 20million gallons of extraordinarily toxic compounds over five millionacres of the former South Vietnam.
VVA shall continue to support legislative efforts and other initiativesto achieve justice for naval personnel serving aboard ships plying thewaters of Yankee and Dixie Stations in the South China Sea and theGulf of Tonkin by getting the VA to recognize that they are deservingof the same health and other benefits as in-country “boots-on-the-ground” veterans.
VVA shall continue to advocate on behalf of the veterans of the crewswho flew C-123 transports contaminated by the remains of the barrelsof Agent Orange they once ferried into and out of Vietnam and arenow suffering some of the same peculiar health ills as are in-countryVietnam veterans

Recent Improvements in VA Disability Claims

Some very sensible changes were made during the first quarter of 2013 regarding VA disability claims. Goal: faster, easier and fewer errors. Might work!

1. VA practitioners are now permitted to complete Disability Benefit Questionnaires for issues they treat, removing the previous prohibition on their input to the claims process. These DEBs can be pricey to have private physicians complete and often, the VA practitioner has greater in-depth familiarity with both the veteran and the service-connected issue. Good move, VA! DBQs greatly speed up the claims process because everything relevant to a particular issue (there are 71 different DBQs) is documented for the C&P reviewer to work with.

2. C&P Exam no longer needed for some disabled vets     

In a modest change that could end up helping up to 40 percent of disability claimants, the Veterans Affairs Department is eliminating the need for an in-person medical examination if there is enough evidence of a service-connected disability in a veteran’s files or available over the phone.

The concept, tested in a 15-month pilot project, not only helped VA process claims more quickly, but it also eliminated the need for veterans to make another trip for a medical exam, which can take a month or longer to schedule.

The streamlined process will not be used in every case, VA officials said. Those most likely to benefit are veterans who have already been treated, either at VA or by private physicians, and have test results in their files providing key information. A good example, VA officials said, would be a veteran with hearing loss who has received hearing aids.

The process calls for a medical professional to screen files to decide if there is sufficient information to provide clinical evidence of a disability. In some cases, information in the file can be supplemented by a telephone interview, officials said.

In a pilot program, 38 percent of disability claims were eligible for what VA is calling Acceptable Clinical Evidence, or ACE, processing. Processing time was cut by two-thirds to an average of just eight days, down from 25, VA officials said.

VA-wide expansion of the program began in October as part of a larger five-year plan to find new ways to process claims and eliminate a growing backlog. On average, it takes VA 265 days to process a disability claim. VA’
s goal is to process all claims within 125 days by 2015. with.

3. The Joint Services Records Research Center will be providing much more accurate information in their responses to VA inquires regarding C-123 issues, thanks to initiatives undertaken by the Center's director and his VA liaison, Mr. Jim Stempsel.

15 March 2013

Its Official: AF Fails to Notify Exposed C-123 Veterans

It is official. According to a 2012 HQ USAF Washington DC memo accompanying the US Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine paper addressing C-123 contamination, Major General Travis, Deputy Surgeon General of the Air Force decided NOT to notify exposed veterans of their decade of dioxin exposure!

The reason. Of course, it is not a cover up. Heaven forbid! We were not told about our 200 times greater risk of cancer, and dioxin exposure equal to or greater than Vietnam War ground troops, because the General felt it best, as he put it, " to avoid distress." He's a general, a physician and a Command Flight Surgeon, and flight surgeons are the flyers personal physician, so I know we can trust him!

Still, I am worried beyond measure these days. Perhaps if we'd been told to take normal dioxin-exposure precautions back in '94 when the Air Force confirmed our airplanes' contamination we could have taken precautions like monitoring PSA numbers and reducing fat intake. But, thanks to the General's concern about our stress levels, we lost the chance to observe those helpful steps.

Why can't I feel grateful for my unnecessary stress being spared me? General? Doc? What's the deal?

The General's letter and the AF Consultative Letter were initially only distributed to the VA, so I guess it was written to address the VA's needs, not the veterans. Certainly, the veterans are the only ones disserved, as the VA uses the letter as part of their justification for denying C-123 veterans' claims.

VA Hides (?) Documents from FOIA Release?

It grows curiouser and curiouser. Last year, the C-123 Veterans Administration submitted through LtCol Paul Bailey a comprehensive FOIA requesting release of materials used before and after the first few conferences we had between us, our congressional representatives, and officials of the VA's Benefits Administration and Health Administration.

The FOIA was initially denied, appealed and eventually wasn't exactly denied, but the VA did insist on a cost-prohibive $4500 to respond. Apparently the amount and the scope of the documents involved were just too much to release otherwise. We don't have that kind of money in our little group.

We appealed, stating in great detail our justification for the fee waiver and resubmitted the request and greatly reducing the scope of our request and using the channels offered by the National Archives and Records Administration. They operate as a helpful mediation service between federal agencies and requesters. Laying out all our reasons for the fees to be waived, we submitted our appeal.

Yesterday, the result dated 11 March 2013 came directly from the VA's Office of the General Counsel. Their assistant general counsel advised the C-123 Veterans that, so sorry, no there are no documents available.

"Subsequent to your appeal, we contacted VBA personnel and learned that they conducted an appropriate search for responsive documents and found none. We also contacted the Office of the Secretary and learned that no one individual maintains records responsive to your request."

In no way do we doubt the character of the letter from the VA's Assistant General Counsel. What we find amazing is that records so extensive that the VA needed $4500 to gather and duplicate them when requested back in 2012, by March 2013 suddenly don't exist at all. 

Golly, we should've paid the $4500 before VA dumped the files!

14 March 2013

VA Denies Another C-123 Veteran Agent Orange Claim

Honoring its promise made us on February 28, 2013, the director of VA's Compensation Services (C&P) completed denial of my own C-123 Agent Orange service connection claim today. This completes C&P's 25 September 2012 advisory opinion provided the Portland VARO in which he directed opinions from toxicology scientists be disregarded because they weren't physicians.

The same advisory opinion also detailed the VA's one paragraph summary of the official finding of Dr. Tom Sinks, Deputy Director of the CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Deliberately and evasively avoiding mention of Dr. Sinks' actual finding which stated "I believe that aircrew operating in this, and similar, environments were exposed to TCDD," C&P appends a sentence to that summary in a manner implying Sinks meant something altogether different: added was "In summary, there is no conclusive evidence that TCDD exposure causes any adverse health effects" - a conclusion completely opposite Dr. Sinks' finding! VA also conveniently ignored (ignored to better deny the claims!) the ATSDR finding that C-123 veterans now face a 200 times greater cancer risk, thanks to exposure aboard the contaminated airplanes. 

This unscientific and prejudicial editing of another federal agency's finding was discussed in person with C&P's director and his staff on February 28 at his offices, but without comment, modification, retraction, denial or anything...other than his statement that he can't be personally familiar with every piece of VA correspondence over his signature. I understand, but I did bring it to his attention (without response) in November 2012, before it was used to deny my VA claim. While selectively applied to C-123 veterans, thank God VA does not apply that mistake about TCDD to other Agent Orange-exposed veterans.

Agent Orange, and its toxic component TCDD, are generally thought to be somewhat harmful, and considered a human carcinogen and one of the most toxic toxins on the planet. The VA, paying billions in Agent Orange veterans benefits, might consider applying the above paragraph in reconsideration of all those expenses if, indeed, there is no evidence of TCDD being harmful. VA might wish, however, to first run the issue past the Congress, the veterans organizations, the courts, the Institute of Medicine and their own executives. Perhaps...the statement of TCDD being harmless is applicable only in the instance of denying C-123 veterans our claims.

Completely ignored in today's denial of my exposure claim are expert findings in my favor provided by the University of Texas Medical School (Dr. Arnold Schecter), the EPA, the NIH, Dr. Jeanne Stellman, Dr. Fred Bowman (Oregon Health Sciences University Toxicology Department) and other highly esteemed scientists. Ignored completely are the numerous juried scientific articles establishing the TCDD contamination of the C-123, the bioavailability of that TCDD, the routes of exposure as having been dermal, inhalation and ingestion, and dozens of other proofs. Best dealt with by the VA by ignoring them as opposed to acknowledging the fact of the matter...C-123 veterans were indeed exposed to Agent Orange.

VA Exposure Expert
The question of "exposure" is pivotal. The VA utilized its own special in-house extra-legal (even though the issue has already been adjudicated and resolved, and VHA is not free to redefine such things and VBA isn't supposed to approach veterans claims with a VBA predetermination for denial) definition of exposure, being in effect "no C-123 exposure is ever going to be acknowledged." Science, however, more correctly defines exposure as "the contact between a chemical or biological agent and the outer boundary of an organism." Quite simple, and according to the NIH adequate to establish that C-123 veterans were exposed to Agent Orange to the complete satisfaction of the law. 

Typical C-123 Veteran
The law? Forgettaboutit! The Agent Orange Act of 1991 and subsequent modifications, in particular the May 2001 VA promulgation of Title 38 (as detailed in the Federal Register) clearly spell out that VA will treat veterans exposed to Agent Orange outside the Vietnam "Boots on the Ground" group the same as the Vietnam veterans, and without having to establish medical nexus. Thus, given (1) our doctors' proof of Agent Orange-presumptive illnesses, and (2) the Air Force proof of the C-123 Agent Orange contamination, the only way for the VA to shoot down our claims is to (3) deny exposure. Deny, deny, deny.

Today, the VA Compensation Services locked on and fired, just as they promised they would for any C-123 veteran hoping to establish service connection for Agent Orange exposure.

Next step? Board of Veterans Appeals, at least, for any of our members surviving to present their claims after the typical five year waiting period which follows the two years wasted thus far.