11 May 2013

USAF C-123 Exposure Cover-up? How Could That Be? Impossible !!!

(sarcastic, but it is certainly meant to be!)
C-123 Agent Orange and Veterans’ Exposure – A Coverup? NEVER!
How Could You Think Such a Thing?

Let the word go forth…there could be NO cover-up of the Agent Orange exposure allegedly experienced by those cranky old C-123 veterans. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and veterans need to appreciate the honest, straight-forward treatment of this issue by Air Force civilian and military leaders dedicated to truth, justice and the American way. Honor means everything to today’s Air Force leadership. 

How could the C-123 veterans, guys who flew C-123s, know anything? Even if they variously flew A-37s, F-105s, T-38s, C-124s, KC-135s, C-141s, F4s, B-52s, F5s, C-130s, C-17s and C-5s, in addition to every type civilian jetliner, what could C-123 guys know about flying? What could these guys with basic and frequently, advanced degrees in law, engineering, public health, nursing, physics, history, journalism, theology, fine arts, music, chemistry, criminology, international relations, business administration, accounting, education, aeronautics, public administration, education…what could the C-123 vets possibly know or understand about cover-ups? About aviation? About military issues? Even though their combat experiences range between Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Gulf One, Somalia and later, what could they possibly understand of warfare?

Let’s make those veterans dispense with foolish thoughts of cover-up right away. Even mentioning cover-up is certain to cause eyes to glaze over, ears to stop hearing, and minds to stop thinking. No, no! No C-123 cover-up ever and here’s the story. Actually, a “non-story” because officially there’s no cover-up, right?

The rumors, and the worries: Has there been a cover-up, or just decades of missteps regarding C-123 contamination? The questions...
1.    “USAF hid contamination results on “Patches” at the USAF Museum when completed in 1994 and failed to inform veterans of their past exposures.”
This accusation just couldn’t be farther from the truth! Actually, the tests were completed, circulated to in-house personnel and properly filed away once the USAF Museum C-123 "Patches" 
airplane had been (mostly) decontaminated. If somebody forgot to notify the press or the public, that’s not a cover-up. Neither is it a cover-up for Air Force leaders to have decided avoid informing the exposed crews who’d flown these toxic airplanes for ten years, even though the toxicologists mandated HAZMAT protection with full-face respirators for anyone entering the planes once the “heavily contaminated” toxicity reports were filed – postage costs money, the USAF is always a good steward of public funds and if the veterans never asked about those toxic test results, that’s their fault.
2.    “All information be kept in official channels only.” The 1996 Air Force Office of Environmental Law directive that all C-123 contamination news ‘be kept in official channels only’ obviously wasn’t a cover-up. As part of the paperwork reduction effort, it was felt best to not release the fact that over 1500 veterans had flown these toxic warplanes for a decade before the heavy contamination was known. If the veterans didn’t find out about the contamination, that’s their fault.
3.    “Deceptive press release on C-123 mass destruction.”
The 2011 mass destruction of the toxic C-123 fleet was supported by the Hill AFB Public Affairs shop which produced a press release, taking many drafts and elimination of inappropriate and unnecessary words like "dioxin" and "Agent Orange." That’s obviously not a cover-up because its obviously a press release. Just because the PA folks wrote it not for distribution but as their emails explained, to have in the files just in case the media noticed that all the C-123s at Davis-Monthan had disappeared and inquired and were to be told something, that’s not a cover-up. If nobody got the press
        release that wasn’t                       distributed anywhere, that’s         their fault.
4.    And the assistance by OSD in the non-released press release which was never released, in which he guided them in removing touchy, attention-getting words which veterans and the public are concerned about from the first drafts…nasty words like “dioxin,” “Agent Orange,” and “contaminated,” that isn’t a cover-up. If members of the press can’t read through the press release they never got with words which weren’t in it, and see the broader picture, its not a cover-up and that’s the media’s fault.
5.    “Keep the destruction quiet.”
The Senior Consultant on Agent Orange to the Department of Veterans Affairs, in recommending as he put it the “quiet, below-the-radar” and immediate destruction of the toxic C-123 fleet, specified that if they learned of the warplane’s contamination, veterans who’d flown them might file for VA benefits. His language makes clear that such claims would be somehow, officially inappropriate and must be prevented by, as he and Air Force AMARG officials wrote, “quiet and below the radar” elimination of the toxic evidence of the veterans’ exposure. Again, keeping such news quiet is good paperwork prevention, plus it keeps the EPA from wondering why they were never notified of decades of hazmat storage for which Air Force officials themselves calculated the potential fine to be $3,400,000,000 (yes, that’s $3.4 BILLION) if discovered. Certainly, it would be wrong to see saving $3.4 billion in unnecessary but legally required fines if the EPA ever caught news of the problem as a cover-up when instead it is only good financial stewardship on the part of the Air Force, and not a cover-up. If EPA and the veterans never learned about this, that’s their fault.
6.    “AMARG officials never revealed the presence of the contaminated C-123 fleet to Arizona EPA inspectors, nor detailed it in required reports as required to by law.”
Here again, not telling Arizona EPA was certainly not a cover-up, because it was instead only to help them speed their way through the on-site inspections. Avoiding driving the inspectors past the special, remote, fenced, high-security HAZMAT quarantine area into which the C-123s had been moved after base employees complained about their own Agent Orange exposures was only a kindness to keep the inspectors out of the hot sun for a few minutes. If C-123 veterans can’t convince Arizona EPA officials to inspect toxic airplanes already destroyed, that’s not an AF cover-up and it’s their own fault.
7.    “Veterans’ FOIA request to USAF School of Aerospace Medicine non-responded to.”
True, there is a FOIA-mandated 20-day response time but that’s typically exceeded in the normal course of FOIA responses because it just takes longer. True, in the case of the C-123 FOIA, it has taken over nine months (and still counting) with multiple inquires from senators and Congresswoman Bonamici. But certainly, that’s no cover-up because all the materials were gathered and ready for public release by May 2012, although they weren’t released, of course. If USAF had meant a FOIA cover-up, they’d have denied the request and never responded. Here, they accepted the FOIA and never responded after promising their response about these 65-year-old airplanes by December, and then January, and then March, etc., so that’s not a cover-up. And it certainly cannot be called a cover-up if it required six weeks for the base JAG to craft an approach for removing as much of the response as possible and releasing as little as possible. If C-123 veterans can’t pressure Congress to make the Air Force respond to this overdue FOIA, it’s not AN AF cover-up and that’s the veterans’ fault.
8.    “Senators have been mislead by USAF leaders in C-123 Agent Orange test results between 1993-2009.”
That’s can’t possibly be true, because USAF has a very strict honor code, and a code which prevents even the appearance of deception or prevarication. Even by generals. Senators asked why the AF first determined C-123s to be “heavily contaminated” and “a danger to public health” yet the 2012 C-123 Consultative Letter dismissed such dire warnings. The AF responded to the Senate that the aircraft were considered safe “in their present configuration.” And certainly it is not a lie! All C-123s had been destroyed as toxic waste in 2010, so the 2012 response to the Senate was accurate. And if the Senate can’t read between the lines to see the date conflict, that’s their fault and certainly, most certainly, not a cover-up.
9.    “Senators have been misled by USAF leaders when asked why USAF C-123 contamination and exposure assessments differed markedly from the CDC/ATSDR.”
Again, no cover-up. The Senate asked why the Air Force determined that C-123 veterans had not been exposed and were assured in response, that the Air Force assessment was consistent with that of the ATSDR. Of course, the AF was off course a bit (by 180 degrees) because their “not exposed” is a bit different from the ATSDR “were exposed” but close enough.  It might have been a typo. If the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee cannot see the distinction, that’s their fault and absolutely not a USAF cover-up.
10.                  “Senate Veterans Affairs Ranking Member Burr asked the AF why HAZMAT requirements existed at the USAF Museum once its C-123 was determined to be contaminated, yet the USAF concluded crews flying the aircraft in earlier years without HAZMAT protection weren’t exposed to harm.”
No possibility of a cover-up here, either. The fact of the matter was that the AF toxicologists in 1994, when they determined the museum’s C-123 to be “heavily contaminated” and “a danger to public health” these PhDs might have been mistaken, or exaggerated a bit, or they didn't listen to the suggestions from AFMC leadership to take it easy. 

And the toxicologists must have meant HAZMAT precautions to be only for aircraft restoration workers. Just because the toxicologists in 2011 emails contradicted the Air Force 2012 Consultative Letter and Weisman confirmed their professional judgment was that ALL personnel must wear HAZMAT protection (and also ventilate the airplane for two days before personnel entry) not just restoration workers, that’s no cover-up, although again the statements are 180 degrees apart. It is certainly no cover-up, even though the logical inference is that if HAZMAT protection was required for anyone inside a C-123 in 1994, 23 years after the last Agent Orange spray missions that aircrews flying these toxic airplanes in 1972, the very year after that last spray mission, were at risk flying without HAZMAT protection. If the veterans didn’t have the foresight to wear HAZMAT protection after AF officials had told them in 1979 that the airplanes remained safe after Vietnam...if veterans believe what the Air Force tells them, that’s their own fault.
11.                  Working within AF channels, an IG complaint was filed by C-123 veterans in 2011 but not investigated.”                  
C-123 veterans complained about not being notified in any way of their flying planes later determined to have been contaminated during their service. The AF felt it unnecessary to interview the general officers, field grade officers, medical officers, and line officers as well as senior enlisted personnel with expert knowledge of the contamination, because such complaints are sometimes unfounded and complex. Dismissing an IG complaint filed by persons with expert knowledge of the event in question without doing any investigation and avoiding even speaking with these experts who filed the complaint can’t be called a cover-up. After all, the veterans were allowed to file their complaint and AF had no obligation to follow-up. If they can’t find another means to officially proceed, that’s not a cover-up and its all their own fault.
12.                  “The USAF Surgeon General directed a 2012 study of the C-123 exposure issue but did not inform veteran aircrews of their having been exposed 1972-1982.”
This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Actually, the Surgeon General did not opt to notify the veterans because, as he stated in his 1 May 2012 cover memo, he felt “it would cause undue distress and provide a limited benefit.” Limited benefit to the Air Force? If the veterans felt they could have handled the distress they should have said something or done something to get General Travis’ attention. It certainly wasn’t a cover-up to withhold the same kind of exposure information which civilian employers are required by federal law to provide exposed employees. This was an act of kindness not to tell the veterans they are going to be ill from Agent Orange poisoning…if veterans can’t understand it is all their own fault.
13.                  "The same 1 May 2012 letter from the USAF Surgeon General stated no notice would be given exposed veterans because of the ‘absence of a clear finding of potential harm.’"
It cannot be considered a cover-up to decide against informing veterans of their exposure just because there was an absence of a “clear” finding. Maybe there still was some scientific wiggle-room, although absolutely not from the perspective of other federal agencies such as the CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the National Institutes of Health/Director of National Toxicology Program, the EPA, the WHO, the National Institutes of Health/National Environmental Health Sciences Institute, and the US Public Health Service, and the universities and independent scientists and physicians all concluding that C-123 veterans were exposed. Actually, none of these experts were paid to study the issue and conclude the veterans were exposed, and all the VA persons were paid to conclude veterans weren't exposed - experts offering expert opinions can't be trusted if they do it for free, right? Even if they are the world's leading Agent Orange experts like Dr. Jeanne Stellman, Dr. Arnold Schecter and Dr. Linda Birnbaum.
In the case of the ATSDR, the conclusion was that veterans even had a 200-fold greater risk of cancer because of their flying C-123s. Usually the phrase “out of an abundance of caution” comes into play in such situations to take action, just in case, but not here because the veterans officially weren’t supposed to be exposed and therefore they officially weren’t, so no need to say anything and that’s that.
Perhaps General Travis would be concerned if he or his family were exposed to a 200-fold greater risk of cancer – he might imagine it would be best that he know about this having happened as some steps might be taken to protect everyone’s health. 

Still, most of the C-123 veterans aren’t generals or members of a general family, so USAF concluded there wasn’t a “clear” finding (just what degree of certainly would be required?) so if one pretends really hard, we can avoid considering this whole mess something other than a cover-up. How about Joke? Mess? Stupidity? 

Just because the veterans hear the siren voices of all other federal agencies and those who think they know what’s what in science, such as university medical schools, university schools of public health and independent scientists telling veterans they’ve actually been exposed, that’s entirely the veterans' own fault!

As Shakespeare has Antony tell us of Brutus in Julius Caesar “and so they are all, they are honorable men.” Right? I know I was. There could have been no C-123 cover-up, for that would have dishonored everyone involved. Even as its victim, and as a wartime-disabled veteran, I’d have been associated with that dishonor and thus ashamed of my beloved Air Force...as those who did this to us should be because it is their fault.

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