30 May 2013

VA Ignores Latest C-123 Veterans's Freedom of Information Request

Our guarantee of information, to help keep us free
VA people.

They must feel like very, very special people. Equal, perhaps, but far more so from their perspective. Exempt from the law, even. Able to decide which laws they will cooperate with, and which they benefit more by ignoring. Yes, very special people, dedicated public servants...at least, dedicated to insuring C-123 veterans are kept away from vital Agent Orange medical treatment.

C-123 veterans filed a Freedom of Information Act request demanding all VA materials about the C-123 and Agent Orange...VA correspondence, reports, scientific reviews, emails...and meeting notes from the two occasions in which C-123 vets met face-to-face with VA officials.

Initially VA took no objection as to the scope of the request...meaning they did not challenge the FOIA by exercising any of the nine exemptions in the law (privacy, junior persons's names, classified
information, etc)). However, VA tried to keep the FOIA blocked by demanding over $4500 for the requested materials. We appealed, and at their suggestion reduced the scope of the request to bring the cost down.

Surprise, surprise, surprise! Eventually the VA responded, but denied that any materials exist at all, anywhere. Not even the materials obviously on their Internet pages. So now the VA denies our claims and bases their actions on evidence which VA insists doesn't exist. VA copies language to their regional offices to use in denying C-123 claims...language and instructions to regional offices which doesn't exist.

What I find troubling is the signature on the final VA correspondence assuring C-123 veterans no VA materials exist. It is the signature of an attorney, the VA's assistant general counsel.  Over her signature as a government official, we are assured that our government's guarantee (that's the word the FOIA law uses) of access to information has been kept. Over her signature, we are assured that the Freedom of Information, which the President, Supreme court and the Congress all say is an important element of American democracy, has been complied with in response to our request. This makes me so very concerned, because what is going on to lead these VA officials to take such a stance against us?

Next step, United States District Court in Portland Oregon.

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