31 December 2014


The year 2014 ends very much as did 2011 for this particular veteran: three claims in the mill awaiting VA attention. Three claims in appeals awaiting VA attention.

If I didn't have other resources to meet my financial and medical needs, I don't know how our family would have survived waiting for VA action on my requests for service connection. Amazing that illnesses and injuries incurred before I left Active Duty are denied by VA with the statement...pulled from somebody's imagination who didn't bother reading the C file, that they arose after the military.

For instance, I was treated at Bethesda Naval Hospital in 1992 for a broken foot (while on AD, and TDY to Bethesda for spine surgery!) but the claim for continued problems denied with VA insisting there is no service record....other than the six volumes of materials the military already provided.

The same situation with bilateral shoulder injuries, etc.

However  – we all are proud of the tremendous job Veterans Benefits Administration has done bringing down their inventory of over-aged first-time claims. This work is vital because until a vet's claim is approved, VA denies treatment for the injury unless the person is somehow otherwise eligible for care. Congratulations to VA's regional offices and staff.

However – today's veterans waiting over a year on average is still too long to wait to have cancers, heart disease, and other ailments and injuries postponed for treatment. Where is the veteran to turn in the interim? Charity hospitals? VA should have some sort of immediate review of a claim to filter out obviously qualified applicants and provide a period of presumptive eligibility until such claims are finally adjudicated.

Nobody in American society except veterans gets turned away from hospital doors because their health insurance provider (here, the VA) can't find the time to process endless piles of forms, half of which seem designed to disqualify, rather than affirm eligibility.

Happy New Year, and God Bless all veterans, their families, and those in the Department of Veterans Affairs claims offices who are working so hard on our behalf. Perhaps theirs is too often a thankless job, with more paperwork coming in each day than can be shoveled out in the hours available...but they keep trying.

Thank you.

30 December 2014

C-123 & Blue Water Navy: Similar IOM Experiences

C-123 veterans, families and friends are looking forward to the release of the Institute of Medicine C-123 report on January 9 at 11:00 AM in Washington, D.C. The report heavily influences whether or not the Department of Veterans Affairs will permit C-123 veterans to be admitted to VA hospitals for treatment of Agent Orange illnesses associated with their decade flying these former Agent Orange spray aircraft.

The only parallel to this situation is that of the "Blue Water Navy" where deep-water vessels' crews claimed Agent Orange exposure and IOM conducted a study after VA disqualified this group of veterans from "presumptive service connection" for which they'd previously qualified.

Looking over the Blue Water Navy and IOM, we see three events similar to how C-123 veterans have experienced. First, the VA issues a "charge" to the Institute of Medicine. This is a contract with objectives spelled out. The language of the charge is very carefully considered by the VA's Post Deployment Health Section as they seek to guide IOM to specific conclusions and not permit a more comprehensive or wide-ranging response. Second is the announcement by IOM of their findings, and third, the basic analysis of the VA, formed as closely as possible to VA's desired policy objectives.

Below are these three fundamental parts of the process, experienced by the Blue Water Navy veterans and likely to be the same process ahead for C-123 veterans. Veterans hope IOM's report will support our claims for service connection due to proven exposures.  Opposing them, as they have for years via other maneuvers, VA leaders hope the report will dismiss veterans' claims for Agent Orange exposures or at least provide some leeway, call into question, or offer some loophole permitting VA to continue refusing medical care to these veterans seeking care for Agent Orange-caused ailments.

The 9th of January will be an important day, and one we hope not as painful as was the IOM Blue Water Navy report for those worthy veterans! 

From another vet group's editorial addressing IOM's earlier review of Gulf War concerns:
"A final note -- while the IOM may claim it was just doing its job as mandated by the VA, that's not good enough, not for an institution that is part of the National Academies, which calls itself "Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering and Health." IOM could just as easily have read their Civil War-era Congressional mandate and told the VA that its request was not in accordance with IOM's mission nor with questions the nation needed answered. 
IOM could and should have informed VA science and the nation's needs would not be confined to the VA's policy-directed "charge," so cleverly phrased by VA to guide IOM to a pre-determined VA objective.
In fact, why didn't they stand up for good science? IOM says it advises "the  nation." 
The nation is not the VA -- the nation is veterans. The nation is not the CDC -- it's families and individuals coping with an autism epidemic. And the nation is certainly not the federal government -- the nation is the people who elected that government to protect and defend them; it's you and me. 
Sadly, IOM is not meeting objectives set forth in the law signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Rather, IOM now meets objectives set by VA policy makers with only a sprinkling of scientific flavoring."


ONE: The VA Charge to the IOM

Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans & Agent Orange Exposure


Activity Description

The IOM will conduct a study and prepare a report on whether the Vietnam Veterans in the Blue Water Navy experienced a comparable range of exposures to herbicides and their contaminants (focus on dioxin) as the Brown Water Navy Vietnam Veterans and those on the ground in Vietnam (i.e., specifically with regard to Agent Orange exposure).  The IOM's report is expected to include:
1.    An historical background on:  the Vietnam War; Combat troops (ground troops); Brown Water Navy (includes inland waters); Blue Water Navy; VAO legislation
2.    A discussion of exposures (Blue Water Navy in comparison with ground troops in Vietnam): specifically compare exposures on ground with those on ships (discuss all possible routes of exposure); and examining the range of exposure mechanisms for herbicide exposures (i.e., concentrating toxics in drinking water; air exposure possibly from drift from spraying; food; soil; skin.
3.    A determination, if possible, of the comparative risks for long-term health outcomes comparing Vietnam veteran ground troops, Blue Water Navy veterans, and other "Era" veterans serving during the Vietnam War at other locations (given the possible dioxin exposure).
4.    A review of studies of Blue Water Navy veterans for health outcomes (assuming there are studies specific to that cohort of veterans).


From 1962 to 1971, the U.S. military sprayed herbicides, including Agent Orange, over Vietnam. Exposure to these chemicals is associated with several cancers and a variety of other health problems. The Agent Orange Act of 1991 established that veterans with any of the diseases linked to Agent Orange were presumed exposed during their service, and therefore could claim disability. The law saved veterans from the often impossible task of proving they were exposed to Agent Orange during their service. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) only compensates veterans who served on the ground or on inland waterways in Vietnam. The “Blue Water Navy”—those who served on deep water vessels—are not automatically eligible for disability benefits.

In response to a growing concern from Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans that they may have been exposed to Agent Orange during the war, the VA asked the IOM to examine whether the exposure to Agent Orange of Blue Water Navy veterans was similar to the exposure of other Vietnam veterans. Although the IOM found several plausible ways by which Blue Water Navy veterans could have been exposed to herbicides, there was not enough information for the IOM to determine whether Blue Water Navy personnel were or were not exposed to Agent Orange.


THREE: VA announcement of report w/VA perspective:

VA asked the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine (IOM) to review the medical and scientific evidence regarding Blue Water Veterans’ possible exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides.

IOM’s report Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans and Agent Orange Exposure was released in May 2011. The report concluded that "there was not enough information for the IOM to determine whether Blue Water Navy personnel were or were not exposed to Agent Orange."

- See more at: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/locations/blue-water-veterans.asp#sthash.mSYMHdKx.dpuf

27 December 2014

VA "Releases" C-123 Agent Orange White Paper

Years ago the C-123 Veterans Association began filing, and the VA began ignoring, Freedom of Information Act requests for documents better detailing the VA knee-jerk position denying any and all C-123 Agent Orange exposure claims. Here's one of the more recent discoveries of how our rights to information about us are withheld so that claims are more easily denied by VA.

Well, it took a complaint filed through the US District Court in Washington, but VA finally yielded some (only some) of the requested documents. For reasons important to them, the attached memorandum touching on LtCol Paul Bailey's approved C-123 exposure claim resulted in internal turmoil as to how Manchester VA Regional Office had permitted such a thing. VA headquarters demanded the reasons for Manchester departing from the company line of denying the contamination of the airplane, and the exposure of the aircrews.

The Washington Post carried the Bailey decision prominently, as it followed by just days the Post's front-page story of Agent Orange and C-123 veterans.

Here's what is bewildering: The Vietnam War ended officially 41 year ago. The last Agent Orange spray missions were 43 years ago. The last C-123 retired to HAZMAT desert quarantine 32 years ago.

But still, VA executives and their staff attorneys decided that VA must withhold the core of this memo from the public and the veterans requesting this FOIA which VA attorneys had approved. This stuff is secret and must be kept from veterans and their advocates??

Redacted were two pages with only the front page title "White Paper" remaining. Apparently, VA in its dedication to provide the finest medical care for veterans, and to insure that every veteran presenting a disability claim receives the famous "benefit of the doubt"...decided that the very core of VA's determination to block all C-123 claims is to be kept secret.

So much for President Obama's assurance that freedom of information is a right of every citizen...and veteran...and the FOIA is fundamental to the American concept of democracy. They're treating us wrong here, making decisions against us and keeping their secrets from us! Here is what VA attorneys felt safe to make public, and I think we can all trust that if VA had uncovered absolutely convincing proof against our claims they'd have been eager to release it. However, if it contains materials which might assist vets in their claims...it is redacted!
--------Page One---------
========Page 2==========

26 December 2014

C-123 Vets Invited to Jan 9 Release of IOM C-123 Exposure Report

IOM staff graciously invited C-123 veterans, and other interested parties, to attend the public release of its C-123 Agent Orange report. Underway since February 2014 at the initiation of VA Under Secretary of Veterans Benefits Allison Hickey, some resolution to veterans' need for Agent Orange illness benefits might be coming.

Veterans cite the restrictive language under which IOM accepted its "charge" from the VA. The distinguished physicians and scientists selected for service on the Committee were tasked by VA Post Deployment Health to study C-123 issues but was their charge was phrased to channel inquires into questions already found unanswerable by previous IOM committees.

Still, the report, and the manner in which VA elects to oppose any findings which affirm the C-123 veterans' claims, have importance. The 9th of January will be very interesting.