22 June 2013

Coverup in the Desert - USAF destroyed evidence of veterans' Agent Orange exposure!

The question has surfaced in Washington about the manner in which the Air Force came to decide to destroy the dioxin-contaminated C-123 aircraft, then in desert surplus storage in 2010. The C-123 veterans, exposed during our decade of flying the toxic C-123 fleet, need an opinion  as to what we should make of it, being from our impression a situation involving destruction of evidence? How can the AF misdeeds which affect our veterans’ exposure claims be categorized, because the airplanes were destroyed with the specific objective of preventing our claims?

We have located a set of AF papers via FOIA from Davis-Monthan AFB dealing with the toxic planes, which had been stored at Davis-Monthan AFB AZ since 1982 once we'd retired them to the desert.

One of the attention-grabbing points is the AF statement that their analysis of the EPA fines, which might be leveled for improper storage of hazardous/toxic materials, could reach $3.4 billion. There was also memo discussion of hosting Arizona EPA inspections but routing inspectors around the special fenced HAZMAT quarantine area into which the C-123s had been moved. The item that most offends veterans seems wrong to us but on what basis we can’t say.

Base officials had worried about these airplanes ever since 2000 when it became clear they could not be sold as surplus, not transferred to foreign governments, or even parted out for their very valuable engines.

Davis-Monthan solicited OSD’s suggestions about ridding themselves of the toxic C-123s. OSD concurred with AF understandings expressed in various memos that the airplanes could not be sold without enduring liability questions, even for parts such as avionics or engines, including on aircraft which had never been to Vietnam, and engines never unpacked from their storage wrappings.

OSD came to the conclusion that the aircraft needed to be destroyed to bring the issue to a conclusion. Base officials eventually found an EPA loophole which permitted toxic airplanes, which themselves should have been declared to the EPS, to be shredded into cell-phone sized scraps and then smelted, such waste being exempt from EPA hazardous labeling.

In a series of three memos to base officials, including the 505th Operations Officer, Major Carol McCrady, Dr. Al Young reviewed the situation, described an article about the stored airplanes which was published in Orion Magazine, and explained that visibility of the situation could lead to the already-exposed veterans turning to the VA for what he called “presumptive compensation.”

Mr. Buddy Boor then summarized in his position paper the Air Force options, and reiterated Young’s warning that the veterans might learn of the exposure and turn to the Department of Veterans Affairs for “presumptive compensation.” This recommendation traveled upstream to the Air Staff for its eventual approval.

OSD had stressed the need to minimize media attention. OSD recommended that base Public Affairs prepare a press release in case of media inquiry. OSD helped with
various editing cycles, eliminating words like “dioxin” and “Agent Orange’ and other attention-grabbing terms. 

Finally, OSD congratulated the Air Force on minimizing media attention – which was completely non-existent. C-123 veterans worry about the role of this OSD consultant, who describes us as "trash-haulers, freeloaders" for whom he has no respect but would have respect if we'd earned Purple Hearts. 

Well, our membership has plenty of Purple Heart Medals, POW Medals, Air Medals, Distinguished Flying Cross Medals, Bronze Star Medals, Aviator wings, parachute wings, Combat Infantry Badge and others - OSD should have checked before publicly disparaging us. He has his merits but we believe OSD's consultant isn't the right person to have a role in guiding the Air Force in preventing our access to VA medical care.

 What can be done to classify the wrong described here? To us it seems that this is destruction of evidence of our having been exposed. 

It is an inappropriate destruction of evidence by the AF to prevent our claims succeeding with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Obstruction of justice? Bad attitude? Nothing? Eliminating the airplanes has resulted in the Secretary of Veterans Affairs claiming that only two out of four airplanes tested positive for dioxin in 1996, when in fact 14 of 17 did. And it kept the AF from being able to more closely examine the toxic planes in subsequent studies, in particular the 2012 Consultative Report from the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine – the absence of test data led the AF to conclude they had no way to firmly conclude whether or not aircrews were exposed, and upon that indecision VA somehow based its interpretation of the AF report.

This hurt us. The Air Force has a legitimate interest in protecting present and future employees and military personnel, but it has no role in taking actions to prevent already-exposed veterans from turning to the VA for benefits. We feel the AF had a duty to inform us of the exposure, yet the question never arose until mentioned in the distribution memo from the Deputy Surgeon General of the Air Force when he mentioned there would be no notice so as to “prevent undue distress” to the veterans. 

We indeed have experienced distress.

 How can we describe these bad acts? What laws were violated? What OSHA regulations (if OSHA is applicable) were violated? Can we do anything about this?

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