13 December 2013

Air Force 2012 C-123 Agent Orange Report Revisited –policy driven deceptions!

The Air Force botched it! In May 2012 the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine released its year-long study of C-123 contamination and potential aircrew exposure...and they blew it! Deliberately, it now seems. Because the report was not written to be science, but to be dismissive of decades of USAF tests which proved the contamination of our warplanes.

While supposedly prepared in response to inquires from The C-123 Veterans Association, which in 2011 was invited to Wright-Patterson AFB and the 711th Human Performance Wing review its extensive document collection at the beginning of the USAFSAM study, the only folks included in the distribution were Veterans Affairs staffers.

Conclusion: the report was written, not for the veterans, but for two anti-veteran purposes:
1. For VA disproving veterans' Agent Orange exposure claims
2. To explain why the AF failed to notify dioxin-exposed aircrews of the risks to their health
3. UPDATE: Much of the AF report challenged by the Environmental Research article, "Post-Vietnam Military Herbicide Exposures in UC-123 Agent Orange Spray Aircraft."

We note first the striking absence of the report's investigator's signatures. Typically in such military and government research, the scientists and physicians doing the grunt work are noted and their signatures attached. Not here.

Instead, perhaps because none of them would sully their reputations or honor with their signatures, only the name and signature of the USAFSAM commander, Colonel Christian Benjamin was on the report...and he was not a participant in the research, only an administrator

Oh, and by the way, the report was not "juried"...it was not submitted to outside professional or scientific societies for critical review. There, errors in science and twisted, policy-driven conclusions would have been immediately challenged. In fact, this report still cries out for a critical review, sure to shame the otherwise outstanding reputation of Air Force science.

But it certainly was submitted to the VA's Compensation and Pension Service! Included in the distribution memo are the names only of military and VA personnel, not the veterans who requested the study nor their Congressional representatives who pushed for it.

But the true failure of the report lies in its...lies. Mark Twain famously said "There are liars, damned liars...and statisticians." The USAFSAM report bends over backwards at every opportunity to twist the various authoritative C-123K contamination studies into an indecisive, negative-sounding conclusion.

But the truth is so obvious. The principal toxicological study done on the former Agent Orange spray C-123K warplanes was on "Patches" (Tail #362) at the USAF Museum, Wright-Patterson AFB. AF toxicologists from the USAF Armstrong Labs concluded Patches was "heavily contaminated on all test surfaces" and "a danger to public health." Subsequently, other tests conducted by the AF at Tucson's Davis-Monthan AFB reported seventeen of seventeen aircraft tested positive for dioxin contamination.

Not too much wiggle-room in these test results, but USAFSAM's 2012 report, which was meant to help the VA construct arguments against veterans' claims, tried to summarize things into a conclusion that precise data wasn't available, the C-123K veterans were therefore not exposed.

USAFSAM went further in their deception. Early in the report various groups are identified: occasional passengers and aeromedical evacuation patients ("general population") and "occupational group" (aircrew and maintainers. The report logically concluded the occupational group would have the higher risk of exposure, which was the case. BUT...the report concludes that no substantial risk would have been borne by the general population ("Given the limited contact of the general population to the UC-123K, any ingestion of contaminants would likely be incidental and considered insignificant in terms of a lifetime dose."

 But that wasn't the reason for the report...the concern was for the occupational group...the aircrews and maintainers. No "insignificant" conclusion was reached about their greater and more long-term exposure! Instead, by cleverly touching on the irrelevant general population, the inference was allowed to stand that neither group was at risk.

In every mention of specific testing, the USAFSAM report bent over backwards to twist affirming studies into either negative or ambiguous results. The worst example of this unscientific deception was in dealing with the wipe tests. These were done to determine surface contamination, and indeed, Patches was "heavily contaminated on all test surfaces."

Yet, there are no regulatory standards which apply to wipe tests to give them a degree of danger, so USAFSAM dismissed them altogether. This was in the face of industry standards for acceptability of such tests. Indeed, even the Army's TG312, the "Gold Standard" of toxicological surface testing, relies on surface wipe tests. This kind of testing was the standard when C-123K tests were performed and they are the standard still today!

For USAFSAM to dismiss the confirming test results and logical conclusions reeks of slavish adherence to VA predetermined policy – that C-123K veterans are not to be recognized for Agent Orange exposure, and the report was prepared to meet that requirement and the report was also heavily influenced during its preparation by VA input from their staff already dead-set against the veterans.

Finally, nobody disputes that the greatest exposure to Agent Orange was the Operation Ranch Hand veterans, the men who actually flew the spray missions during Vietnam. The USAFSAM report took that obvious point and said that post-Vietnam C-123K veterans' exposure would have been less...and that the USAF concluded it was "not possible to derive quantitative estimates of any increased health risks for those individuals who came into contact with the UC-123K aircraft from 1972-1982.

Get the point? USAFSAM found it was not possible to be exact about the C-123 veterans' exposure...so VA and the USAF concluded the veterans would be denied Agent Orange benefits.

They stated an irrelevant truth to construct a deception! With this report in-hand, VA skirts the law entirely...the 1991 Agent Orange Act and various VA regulations hold that exposure is the only criteria, not how much. In no place in the USAFSAM UC-123K report is the fact of aircrew exposure to military herbicide challenged! Because it cannot be...aircrews and maintenance personnel were exposed via dermal, inhalation and ingestion routes of exposure, and science firmly establishes this.

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