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.

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