03 March 2014

DOCUMENTED: VA Maneuvers to Deny C-123 Veterans' Exposure Claims

VA's Post Deployment Health (PDH) has informed VA's Compensation and Pension (C&P) that C-123 veterans' claims for exposure to military herbicide are to be denied. This was confirmed through the Director of C&P as well as through the now-Acting Director PHD.

That official also told a Senate staffer, words to the effect that "VA just couldn't permit any more veterans" with new AO claims of exposure to be granted disability. And certainly, VA has followed through, denying every C-123 veteran's claim at their regional offices, with those offices even provided boiler-plate language to simplify the process. 

VA denies all these claims, but also tells the veterans' legislators that no such blanket policy preventing claims exists. VA prevents JSRRC from responding with solid confirmation of veterans' claims, and prevents DOD from acknowledging the C-123s (now destroyed as toxic waste) as Agent Orange Exposure Sites.

Of course, the process followed by VA is illegal. The law provides veterans benefits to veterans proving exposure to military herbicides, as C-123 veterans have done. VA takes the position that these veterans must satisfy an additional burden beyond that in the law...C-123 vets must prove bioavailability to meet the VA's new redefinition of exposure.

In this post, we examine the treatment of an advisory opinion issued by C&P, following a regional office's inquiry about a C-123 veteran's claim they wanted to approve. C&P directed the claim be denied. Let's look at their letter back to the RO and see the deceit.

It is the heart of the deception, revealing VA's bold determination to bar C-123 claims:
(Text from Compensation & Pension Advisory Opinion, summarizing CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, which actually CONFIRMED  veterans' TCDD exposure.)
Dr. Sinks is the respected Deputy Director of the CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. That agency has the statutory responsibility, and scientific expertise, to provide expert findings in such situations but VA dismissed the agency's official finding. Note the last sentence: "no conclusive evidence that TCDD causes adverse health effects." Here, C&P is denying this veteran's claim with the assertion that TCDD (the toxin in Agent Orange) is harmless.

This last sentence was inserted as though it was part of the ATSDR conclusion...it absolutely was not. Dr. Sinks said no such thing – ATSDR determined exactly the opposite – veterans were indeed exposed! But VA opted to deceive in their zeal to keep VA hospital doors locked to C-123 veterans.

And the VA did even more: Dr. Sinks' report to the VA found that C-123 veterans had a 200-fold greater risk of cancer and their exposures aboard their aircraft were 180 times Army standard values. Most importantly, Dr. Sinks reported "I believe aircrews operating in this, and similar, environments were exposed to TCDD."

We do not see these, the most important parts of Dr. Sinks' official report on behalf of the CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, in the C&P summation. Not only did the VA deliberately twist the ATSDR's finding that vets were exposed into a denial of the harm of TCDD, but VA deliberately avoided mention of the extremely persuasive parts of the ATSDR report.

What should one conclude? That VA was bent on preventing the C-123 claims. That VA was so committed to preventing these claims that VA would deliberately mischaracterize an official finding by another federal government agency. And deliberately avoid mention of any affirming statements such as were submitted by Dr. Sinks. Everything confirming the veteran's claim was ignored.

The Sinks finding was subsequently reaffirmed by the Director of ATSDR, Dr. C. Portier, and then later by the Acting Director, Rear Admiral R. Ikeda, MD US Public Health Service. Those supporting documents have been ignored by VA, and VA has also ignored the official finding of other federal agencies, including FDA, US Public Health Service, and the National Toxicology Program. Further, the physicians who submitting opinions confirming the veteran's exposure were simply ignored, including the VA oncologist treating the veteran and who is an acknowledged Agent Orange researcher.

VA is by law required to be veteran-friendly, non-adversarial, and review and weigh veterans claims materials "sympathetically." Here, VA did not comply with any of these requirements. Further, in this Advisory Opinion, VA refused to recognize expert opinions supporting the veteran's Agent Orange exposure claim from a number of recognized Agent Orange scientists, stating that these scientists were not qualified to comment on medical nexus. Scientists from Oregon Health Sciences University, Columbia University, Boston University were dismissed.

But the scientists addressed the requirement in the law for proving exposure...their comments had nothing to do with medical nexus which is not something veterans need to prove – it is presumed for veterans with proof of exposure. Clearly, here the VA report was an unmistakable prevarication...a deception using true words to deceive.

And C&P succeeded – the claim was denied. Of course the veteran can appeal, and the current wait time is over 900 days. On top of the three years since the claim was filed, that's six years of locked VA doors. Hopefully, some veterans will survive this process, but Compensation and Pension isn't doing anything to speed up things...the fewer veterans surviving the claims process, the greater the savings.

We're not making this up. Print out the CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry report on the C-123 veteran, and print out the Compensation and Pension Advisory Opinion ordering the claim denied. Compare, and also be aware that the veteran submitted over 100 other documents from physicians, scientists, universities, research reports and other federal agencies supporting his claim...remember, too, the regional office recommended approval, but was overturned by C&P.

I have to ask...the VA's heavy-handed slam-down is obvious. And obviously unlawful. VA knows it. The Senate knows it. The veterans and their service organizations know it. Why isn't anything done?

Because the VA is responsible for administering the Nation's veterans laws, VA decides which to obey and which to ignore. If a few staffers in an office get a perspective that they don't want to do something, it doesn't get done. In this case, a few folks in VA's Post Deployment Health section decided to redefine exposure to prevent C-123 claims, and directed C&P to make certain all such claims are denied.

If a veteran were to have attempted such deceptions as done by the VA, VA would prosecute for attempted fraud. 

Here is the ATSDR finding confirming C-123 veterans' Agent Orange exposures:
Here is the Advisory Opinion from C&P, dismissing all expert input and denying the claim by deceitful, unethical and perhaps illegal manipulation of the ATSDR opinion 

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