16 April 2013

VA Defies FOIA - Hides Documents from Senate & C-123 Veterans with "Don't Exist" Claim

"FOIA - a vital part of our democracy" The Department of Justice (but not the VA)

"They are honorable" Marc Antony, Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene II)

FOIA-requested materials concealed from C-123 veterans. Documents don't exist? Well, they certainly DID until our FOIA was filed a year ago! But given the issue so important to C-123 veterans and in light of their team's preparation and participation in meetings on the issue of C-123 Agent Orange exposure, and the dedication they show to making sure it is never conceded, we can understand their preference to keep their materials under cover. And as Marc Antony said, "They that have done this deed are honorable."

C-123 veterans, joined by scientific experts and Senator Burr's Senior Policy Advisor, Mr. Brooks Tucker, conducted two meetings, one in 2011 and one in 2012, with representatives of the Veterans Administration to discuss C-123 Agent Orange exposure concerns. One meeting was a teleconference and the second, a gathering hosted by Mr. Tucker at the Hart Senate Building.

Extensive preparation went into these meetings on the part of the veterans and
scientific advisors, and VA representatives participated with perfect familiarity with the subjects discussed and also arrived at the Hart meeting with proposals to submit some issues to the Institute of Medicine for a special project. This makes clear that the VA representatives were prepared, and we certainly saw notes with more notes being taken. Last year, veterans submitted a broadly-cast FOIA net for all materials used by the VA for preparation for the meetings, and notes taken during that meeting, and other materials.

At first, the request was denied by the VA. Then the request resulted in an estimated $4700 fee, appealed by the veterans. Finally, the VA responded that no such materials exist. No memos. No emails. No briefings. No reports to superiors. No nothing. Yes, I know that a double negative, because there certainly was material, just not which they were willing to submit in response to the law.

"The law" you ask? Right...you remember...that thing which veterans are obliged to obey and which the VA flaunts. The law, which we, and they, were all sworn to protect and defend. The law. The foundation of our society and upon which we depend to compel government by, and not OF the people. Doesn't matter - big laws or small, one veteran or a thousand. Law is law - it must reign supreme, otherwise we are to expect (or beg) for our veterans' benefits from the whims of  a capricious and hopefully benevolent administrator.

But among others, VA disregards the Freedom of Information Act. Hello...neat word...freedom. Previously, considered important in American-style democracy. Here, VA even has their general counsel helping us to understand that these materials "have gone missing" in response to our FOIA. And as Marc Antony said, "They that have done this deed are honorable."

Really now, are we to believe that employees did nothing regarding Agent Orange, failed to send emails, didn't use references or correspond,  were hired without qualifications being noted, haven't published professionally, and addressed issues of contaminated aircraft and vehicles without research or conclusions, other than voicing them at the meetings with veterans? Did they beam down and back up again without documents? 

The VA claims in its online publications and correspondence with Congress that it conducted "scientific research" by its scientists and physicians, but it cannot account for that in any way, other than the internet pages. But that undocumented "scientific research" seems to have been enough to deny Agent Orange exposure benefits to C-123 veterans, and in the face of other federal agencies such as the EPA, NIH, CDC/ATSDR and US Public Health Service claiming the C-123 veterans were exposed. VA, by claiming no such materials exist, must have simply sat down and started typing at a computer with the only work product being the online pages about the C-123 veterans magically being spared Agent Orange exposure. Right. Uh-huh. 

VA, by responding in the negative here, doesn't even have copies of the Air Force test results, the materials provided by other federal agencies and universities...nothing.

How could the VA conclude it would charge us $4700 to collect and duplicate materials which, on 11 March 2013 and a year after the FOIA submission, VA reports the items don't even exist? How could mid-level mangers from the VA's VBA and VHA organizations not prepare, not take notes, and not generate work product following a meeting such as this? Attending for the VA were physicians, scientists and managers such as Director Post Deployment Health and Deputy Director. 

Why is VA hiding these materials? Why are they even hiding the ones already published on their web sites? 

Can you please help? 

And remember, Marc Antony assuring us "They that have done this deed are honorable" men and women, as indeed they are. And, "If you have tears, prepare to shed them now." (Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene II)

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