"A FIRST STEP TOWARDS A GRASSROOTS VICTORY"...Reserve Officer Association (from the November/December issue)
Major Wesley T. Carter, USAF (Ret.), is an ROA Life Member and chair of the C-123 Veterans Association. While he didn’t start crewing on the C-123 until 1974, Maj Carter, a medical service officer, suffers ailments faced by many Vietnam veterans.
Maj Carter, 66, wasn’t motivated by his own medical situation. While the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) denied his claim for Agent Orange exposure, he is 100 percent disabled due to other military-related injuries.
The VA grants compensation for presumptive exposure to herbicides to those who served in Vietnam. Between 1972 and 1982, about 1,500 Air Force Reserve men and women served aboard 34 C-123s that had been used for the defoliation mission spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam and other countries in Southeast Asia.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Paul Bailey was one of the 1,500. For nearly a decade in the 1970s, he flew the airframe #362 nicknamed “Patches”—the aircraft had more than 600 bullet holes from enemy fire as it sprayed over Vietnam. He suffers from prostate cancer and terminal metastatic cancer of the pelvis and ribs.
Every claim filed by C-123 veterans without Vietnam wartime experience, including Lt Col Bailey’s, has been denied, Maj Carter told The Huffington Post. Several C-123 veterans were granted disability benefits after appealing denials to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA).
Maj Carter brought this to the attention of ROA in 2011. In a testimony on Capitol Hill, ROA included the plight of Air Force Reserve C-123 crew members, including a statement before the VA Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation.
In his labors, Maj Carter is as much of a workhorse as was the C-123. He has contacted other nonprofits for support, visited Capitol Hill, and reached out to scientists and medical professionals to gain support for submitted disability claims. Through his efforts, 14 high-ranking doctors, toxicologists, and environmental scientists questioned the VA’s C-123 policy in a letter to Allison Hickey, VA undersecretary for benefits, in November 2012.
Politicians have also begun pressing the issue. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., ranking member on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., have asked the VA Office of Inspector General to review whether the department is inappropriately denying disability compensation to veterans who say they were sickened by postwar contamination, the Washington Post reported in an article about Lt Col Bailey.
In August, the VA reversed its denial of Lt Col Bailey’s claim and granted him the presumption of exposure. It was a significant decision.
“No such claim has ever been approved [short of BVA]— Bailey’s is the first,” Maj Carter shared with ROA. His efforts can be credited with changing VA policy.
It’s unknown whether Lt Col Bailey’s success will lead to a reversal of VA C-123 policy or if the VA will continue to maintain that carcinogenic dioxin and other components of Agent Orange could not have posed health risks after Vietnam. However, in October, the C-123 Veterans Association reported that a second veteran, MSgt Dave Noonan, won his VA Agent Orange exposure claim. He joins Lt Col Bailey as the only veterans to succeed in convincing the government of the validity of their situation.
“Perhaps, dare we hope, some change is coming?” Maj Carter suggested. One thing is certain. He—and ROA—won’t stop fighting on behalf of C-123 veterans.
If you have had legislative success as an individual or as part of an ROA department, contact CAPT Marshall Hanson, USNR (Ret.), at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(note: LtCol Bailey passed away from his Agent Orange exposures on October 27, 2013)