22 December 2013

VA Opposed on Its "Exposure" Definition; Word Redefined By VA To Deny C-123 Veterans' Claims

The VA continues to be challenged about their in-house, policy-driven redefinition of the word "exposure," redefined by adding "bioavailability" only to prevent legitimate Agent Orange exposure claims from C-123 transport veterans.

Challenger: Dr. Linda Birnbaum, Director of the National Institutes of Health/National Toxicology
Program and  Director, NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences:, asked about the VA redefinition of exposure:
In all my years as a toxicologist, I have never heard bioavailability as part of the exposure definition...In my opinion, "exposure" is the contact between a chemical (of any type) and the body. [June 26, 2013]" 

VA: "Exposure=contamination field+bioavailability." VA invented that illogical redefinition of exposure because the law requiring VA to care for Agent Orange-exposed veterans simply states "exposure" as the requirement.

VA and its Compensation and Pension Service, determined as always to frustrate veterans' disability claims, remade the word to their own liking so no matter how much proof the C-123 veterans might submit (touched it, drank it, bathed in it, used as a hair tonic, whatever) VA would deny any exposure having occurred.

But fundamental scientific terms can't legitimately be redefined just for  agency policy objectives – instead, we all have to play by the same rules and regulations, the same science, the same physics, the same language, the same law and rules of justice. Is the VA exempt somehow, able to invent, reinvent, redefine basics just to prevent veterans' claims?

But now, according to the Deputy Director for Post-Deployment Health, none of the C-123 veterans have been exposed. In a conversation with C-123 Chair Wes Carter, she explained that no of Vietnam War veterans had been exposed either, and probably not many of the Operation Ranch Hand spray veterans were ever exposed.

That insertion of "bioavailability" is what VA uses as their magic bullet, because VHA insists NO AGENT ORANGE VETERAN CAN EVER PROVE HIS/HER BIOAVAILABILITY event and were therefore, using the VA's new definition, were never exposed regardless of any ingestion, inhalation or dermal contact with Agent Orange.

Thus, Post-Deployment Health has directed that no C-123 veterans are even  to receive Agent Orange exams, even though VA policy is that ANY veteran believing himself/herself to have been exposed to military herbicides is entitled to an exam if requested. Again, her policy was confirmed in conversation with The C-123 Veterans Association.

Clearly, despite the Agent Orange Law of 1991, Title 38, commitments made in the Federal Register of 8 May 2001, and the requirement to be "veteran friendly," the VA is invested in preventing C-123 exposure claims and has fought hard for two years to deny us medical care and other exposure benefits.

Is this why VA's Director of VA's Compensation and Pension Services ordered C-123 veterans' claims denied on the basis that TCDD (the deadly, cancer-causing toxin in Agent Orange) "no conclusive evidence that TCDD exposure causes any adverse health effects." Imagine that: denying Agent Orange exposure benefits, provided for by law, by pretending Agent Orange is harmless?

Dr. Wayne Dwernychuk, retired scientist from Hatfield Consultants (a leading environmental sciences firm) was not reserved in his comments.  "Frankly, I am dumbfounded by the comment published by Mr. Tom Murphy...Either Mr. Murphy has missed the VA briefing session on the toxicity of TCDD or he genuinely has no idea of the work of the Institute of Medicine...Hundreds of eminent scientists regularly participate in the literature assessment of diseases related to exposure to TCDD...Obviously, Mr. Murphy has twisted science to prevent recognition of your valid claim for exposure to Agent Orange."

It is an amazing situation. Even the US government agencies responsible by law for these fundamental issues cannot get the VA to treat veterans correctly. VA rejected EPA confirmation. VA rejected US Public Health Service confirmation. VA rejected even the CDC Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) which made it clear: "ATSDR concluded aircrews operating in this, and similar environments, were exposed to TCDD." VA reacted by claiming the ATSDR scientists weren't even qualified to make such determinations, even though the ATSDR has reconfirmed their finding three separate times. 

Most recently, incoming ATSDR Acting Director Rear Admiral R. Ikeda (MD, US Public Health Service) said she has reviewed and stands behind the ATSDR C-123 exposure confirmation.

Will nothing will penetrate VA's barriers against C-123 claims? One or two snuck through (I'm thinking of LtCol Paul Bailey, receiving his VA award just two months before his death) but Compensation and Pension Services put a stop to that!

"Unscientific" was the conclusion by physicians and scientists, who complained to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs that Compensation and Pension Services was cheating C-123 veterans out of life-saving medical care.

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