09 July 2013

Office of Secretary of Defense Linked to C-123 Agent Orange Evidence Destruction

Air Force documents uncovered recently via the Freedom of Information Act link the Office of Secretary of Defense to the actions by Air Force Material Command to destroy toxic C-123 transport aircraft, specifically to prevent veterans from learning of their exposure to Agent Orange. Revealed
were procedures untaken to bar Agent Orange benefits from already exposed aircrews and maintenance veterans, procedures involving press manipulation and destruction of the evidence which would support claims for Agent Orange benefits by over 1560 men and women.

C-123 transports, used earlier in Vietnam for spraying Agent Orange, remained contaminated with deadly dioxin for the decade the planes remained in service after the war, until they became obsolete and were retired in 1982. Although toxicologists first established the hazardous condition in 1979 the Air Force opted not to spend the necessary money (estimated at over $40,000 per aircraft) to properly decontaminate the fleet of C-123s and instead ordered base maintenance workers to wipe interior surfaces (those that could be accessed) with Dawn detergent and to cover the intense stench which sickened aircrews with area deodorants. Using paint scrapers and even dental picks, maintenance personnel scraped Agent Orange residue where it had caked up during Vietnam, but huge amounts remained inaccessible in the wings, under the cargo deck, and in portions of the landing gear wells. Agent Orange had even soaked into the paint, wood, leather, fabrics, ceramics, adhesives and other surfaces inside the C-123, little of which could be removed.

In 1994, twelve years after the fleet was retired to desert surplus storage in Arizona, more tests firmly detailed the toxicity of these medium assault transports in 1994 as the Air Force examined an aircraft ("Patches") being moved into the USAF Museum. Results: "Heavily contaminated on all test surfaces" and "A danger to public health," confirmed toxicologists from the highly-respected
USAF Armstrong Laboratories. At this time, either through oversight or a specific decision, the Air Force opted not to inform the veterans who'd flown these airplanes, veterans who'd previously been assured there was no risk of Agent Orange exposure, that in fact they'd been exposed for a full decade.

A more deliberate act by the Air Force to hide information from veterans about their exposure to Agent Orange was undertaken in 1996 by the USAF Office of Environmental Law. JAG attorney Major Ursula Moul directed that all information about C-123 contamination be "kept in official channels only," a deception costing the exposed veterans nearly two decades of awareness of their exposures. Two decades during which at least minor health precautions could have been observed, such as monitoring PSA numbers or limiting dietary fat intake.

After decades in storage the surplus fleet of C-123 transports needed to be eliminated as they couldn't be sold, parted out, or even buried as toxic waste. Seeking input, in 2009 the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) offered the Air Force the name of Dr. Al Young. Young is also a retired Air Force colonel, and his career has focused on use of Agent Orange from the earliest days of its use in Vietnam.

Young then guided the AF to the decision to destroy the old airplanes and in at least three memos to three different officials, introduced the point that if veterans learned of the airplane contamination, the old aircrews and maintenance folks would approach the VA for what Dr. Young called "presumptive compensation," meaning compensation for exposure illnesses and VA medical care as well. This apparently was something he felt should be prevented, even though the veterans had already been exposed and were presumably eligible for such care. His recommendation to destroy the airplanes to prevent veterans' awareness was repeated up the Air Force chain of command and finally approved by the Air Staff. All remaining C-123s were destroyed as toxic waste in June 2010. Young even helped Air Force Public Affairs craft a press release minimizing references to "Agent  Orange" and such attention-grabbing words - a press release never released but held in the event of media attention. There was none.

He was also mentioned in the letter from VA's Secretary Shinseki to Senator Richard Burr, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. The Secretary commented on Dr. Young's having volunteered details (even though he was under a $600,000 VA post-Vietnam Agent Orange consulting contract) analyzing the details of the dioxin the test results. C-123 veterans note that VA's Compensation Services has uniformly rejected expert independent evidence from toxicologists and other scientists, with the claim that such professionals, even though from an allied health profession, are unqualified to comment on medical nexus or exposures. Included in the rejected list are the Director of the CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Rear Admiral Robin Ikeda MD, as well as the Director National Institutes of Health/National Toxicology Center, and physicians from the US Public Health Service. All unqualified because their degrees are not in medicine (Compensation Service ignored those experts who were physicians, illogically grouping them instead in the unacceptable non-physician pile).

Is the VA cherry-picking their experts, accepting only those supporting the VA against C-123 veterans? Is the VA cherry-picking experts because, as Veterans Health Administration puts it, she "cannot permit" C-123 veterans' claims?

Veterans invite our fellow citizens to consider the CVs of experts who've weighed in on this issue. Google them...see who has the expertise and reputation to speak out on this subject.

For Veterans' Exposure: Dr. Linda Birnbaum, Dr. Christopher Portier, Dr. Jeanne Stellman, Dr. Aubrey Miller, Dr. Arnold Schecter, Dr. Fred Berman, Dr. Wayne Dwernychuk, Rear Admiral Robin Ikeda MD (US Public Health Service), Dr. Tom Sinks, Dr. Mark Garzotto, others from universities and federal agencies identified to the VA as members of the Concerned Scientists and Physicians. Please note all opinions were offered without compensation.

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