15 August 2013

C-123 & Agent Orange: Stars & Stripes 15 Aug 201

UC-123K flyer wins Agent Orange claim
by Tom Philpott, 15 Aug 2013
After a two-year battle with the Air Force and Department of Veterans Affairs, a group of ailing Air Force Reserve aviators has won a bittersweet victory: VA acknowledgment that one of their own likely is gravely ill due to post-Vietnam War exposure to toxic residue on UC-123K Provider aircraft, which were used as herbicide “spray birds” during the war.
Lt. Col Paul Bailey of the White Mountains, N.H., a cancer patient in hospice care, received notice this month that the VA had approved his disability claim, citing a “preponderance of evidence” suggesting exposure to herbicides, including Agent Orange, on C-123s he flew on missions after the war.
The decision is important because, for the first time, a VA regional office is recognizing that a C-123 crewmember was exposed to herbicides and should be compensated for ailments the VA presumes are linked to Agent Orange. Former C-123 veterans who previously won VA compensation did so on appeal after the VA had denied their initial claims.  That meant payment delays in compensation and access to VA care for up to two years, said retired Maj. Wesley T. Carter, of McMinnville, Ore.
Carter, a retired reserve aviator and C-123 veteran himself, has led an intensive fight against bureaucratic resistance on behalf of his fellow crewmen since 2011.  That year, as we reported at the time, he filed a complaint to the Air Force inspector general that health officials knew since 1996 of contamination aboard aircraft flown by reserve squadrons until 1982, and failed to warn them of the health risks.
Carter learned the government had stopped a contract to sell C-123s because of dioxin contamination and that the Air Force struggled over how to dispose of the aircraft.  Even burying them could contaminate the ground.  In 2010, the last of the aircraft were quietly torn apart and melted down for disposal.
Reacting to Bailey’s award, Carter, who is rated 100-disabled from cancer and heart disease, said he felt “immense satisfaction and gratitude.  But I'm tired and ill.  Why did we have to work so hard to get our VA care?  As sick or injured veterans, our focus needed to be on our medical needs and our families, not on years of struggle with the VA.”
The Bailey claim decision, he said, “signals that regional offices can examine the full range of facts and reach a reasonable conclusion on other exposure cases as Manchester (N.H.) VA Regional Office did.”
To comment, write Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA, or email milupdate@aol.com or twitter: Tom Philpott @Military_Update

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