20 January 2014

C-123 Veterans – Pushing Too Hard?

A thoughtful advisor asked me to double-check my perspectives. She was bringing to my attention the tone of my postings here and elsewhere, and challenged me gently about perhaps coming on too

She seemed worried that I might become too negative or disrespectful towards VA leaders and staff. I have spent this afternoon doing as she suggested, examining my own thoughts.

First, I continue to praise VA health professionals, from whom in twenty years I have had only two disappointing experiences, and likely those were not with lasting damage. I never could have expected the same level of professionalism in the civilian medical community for such a long time, with such a variety of challenging health issues. Good job, VA, and thank you very, very much!

Next, I praise the professionalism of VA administrators, who obviously know their stuff and certainly are not in this business for purely selfish motives...nobody would want to be torn apart so regularly, so relentlessly, by veterans and by politicians, unless this was a mission they want to honor with their service. Many, like the Secretary, General Hickey, Mr. Tom Murphy, Dr. Terry Walters, Assistant Secretary Linda Schwartz, Dr. Wendi Dick are veterans themselves...they know what it was like to be in uniform.

However...some of these VA administrators forbid my friends and fellow veterans all care in their VA hospitals. These VA folks construct arguments against, rather than advocating for, VA medical care for our Agent Orange illnesses. If they can find or create an excuse to deny service connection, they'll do it..and they have created denials out of whole cloth!

VA has withheld medical care from deathly ill C-123 veterans by sly redefinition of exposure to deny our lawful eligibility for VA medical care. Though Post Deployment Health redefinition of our exposure, we somehow were not exposed. VA says, in effect, "Go somewhere else to die."

VA Compensation and Pension tells us they have decided in advance to deny our claims, yet VA leadership at the very top insists (even to the Senate) there is no "blanket policy" against us. They denied MSgt Gabby Gadbois' disability claim, and he died with soft tissue sarcoma...denied VA medical care like 1560 other veterans of the C-123.

There are many, many names of C-123 veterans whom the VA has kept from care. In fact...they have prevented all C-123 vets, except those of us eligible for other injuries, from being treated for our Agent Orange illnesses. VA indeed does have its blanket policy forbidding approval of our exposure claims. Their leadership insists otherwise, however. By any name, it is a blanket policy!

If they are correct, what do they distribute boilerplate denials to the regional offices for, along with orders "Please tell the veteran regulations do not permit acknowledging exposure" if bit as a blanket policy?

Do VA leaders know the language of Title 38, of the Federal Register for 8 May 2001 and 31 Aug 2010, and that veterans need only establish exposure to be treated for a presumptive illness? Do VA leaders know that Post Deployment Health has redefined "exposure" to prevent conceding C-123 veterans' exposure, and that this redefinition is unique to the VA...and that it seems to be a definition used only by Compensation and Pension (VBA) and Post Deployment Health (VHA)...the rest of VA defines exposure the way the rest of science and medicine define it, and the wayEPA and ATSDR define it.

Do General Shinseki and General Hickey know that experts in other federal agencies call VA's exposure redefinition "unscientific, mistaken, ludicrous?" Does VA leadership know that VA's exposure redefinition was created specifically to prevent TCDD exposure claims.

Does VA leadership know that Compensation and Pension denies C-123 veterans claims by actually insisting on advisory opinions that TCDD is harmless?

Does Secretary Shinseki know that VA's Agent Orange consultant, paid to submit an "Investigation" on C-123 exposures, earlier denigrated C-123 veterans "trash-haulers, freeloaders, looking for a tax-free dollar from a sympathetic congressman."

Does VA leadership know that its consultant, then acting as Office of the Secretary of Defense consultant, advised the Air Force to destroy our toxic C-123s and repeatedly cited in memoranda to AF leaders his concerns tthat exposed veterans might apply for exposure benefits because the law entitles us to do so? Does the Secretary know that those AF officials repeated the concerns about veterans' claims as approval was sought from the Air Staff?

I would never slander or denigrate a single VA employee or leader. They have been consistently polite to us, but also consistent in preventing VA doctors and nurses from caring for us. These folks have blocked the VA hospital doors and won't let C-123 veterans in for care.

When we are told by Dr. Michael Peterson in Post Deployment Health that "We all die" when we asked him if claims can be decided before our deaths, I object, He is right, of course. We're going to die, and some of us sooner than others, but I feel justified in complaining about his heartless answer. I feel justified in complaining when VA decides to save money by denying my crewmates medical care, to save money by playing word games with "exposure" to reinvent medical nexus requirements for Agent Orange-presumptive illnesses, the reinvention solely to prevent VA treatment and benefits.

I am right to shout "foul" and insist that even the VA should follow the laws VA has responsibility for administering.  I am right to complain loudly when we have to spend years fighting for benefits clearly ours under the laws of this country, but benefits denied us on the whims of VA administrators.

If the 1991 Agent Orange Act were obeyed by VA, if Title 38 were respected and the Federal Register followed,  we could be focused on our health, on our families, and not locked in struggle with VA for our rights.

To any VA staff who feel I've incorrectly described our situation and the way we've been treated, please re-read your oaths of office. Please ask why every proof we submit is received with an automatic "how can we deny" rather than "how can we approve?"

I've tried to say what has been done to us by VA is wrong, not that any of the individuals who've done all this awful stuff to us should be vilified or personally attacked.

I say that the wrongs done us are done by the institutional positions in the VA, not the people in those positions themselves. My complaints are about the actions of VA decision-makers, never about the decision-makers themselves.

I'd hate to think that anyone in the Department of Veterans Affairs would do what has been done to us out of personal malice! But you have to ask, why??

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