16 April 2014

VA & USAF Defy FOIA – VA & AF Hide Data & Threaten IOM Study

An Institute of Medicine investigation of C-123 Agent Orange issues will begin June 16 – but with essential, unclassified VA and USAF data withheld. Although directly relevant to the assignment given IOM by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the committee will not have vital information for their studies. Without all available C-123 information made available to the IOM, their committee report will be fatally flawed, and the affected veterans harmed.

Both VA and AF have relevant, unclassified information about this 60-year old airplane and its Agent Orange history. This information has been improperly refused release to the public in defiance of Freedom of Information Act. Complete and valid requests go back over a year in each case, but they have been ignored.

In stark defiance of the Freedom of Information Act, it is clear that both Departments prefer at least some documents demanded by the veterans not to be released and available to the IOM. Although relief has been sought through the US District Court of Washington D.C. to force release of the materials, there is no possibility of court action before the June 16 workshop. 

This leaves the IOM C-123 committee tackling their VA assignment but with VA withholding information, years of its own investigations, all specifically relevant to the issue at hand. 

The June 18 IOM C-123 project is only the third such study on a unique population since the Vietnam War. Veterans who flew these airplanes which the AF tested as "heavily contaminated" claim their exposure to Agent Orange residues. Since becoming aware of the C-123 toxicity, and also responding to the C-123 veterans' inquiries, both AF and VA have completed studies, exchanged correspondence and conducted meetings and conferences. 

This extensive background of materials has been demanded under their rights expressed in the Freedom of Information Act. The materials are particularly relevant to the IOM investigation because VA has used it for years as justification for denying all C-123 veterans' exposure claims.

Both VA and AF have refused compliance with their own regulations requiring prompt release of non-sensitive materials such as the veterans' seek. The President of the United States has described FOIA as a fundamental American right, as have the courts. But neither VA nor the USAF seem to have been impressed.

According to the USAF FOIA web page:
"The principles of government openness and accountability underlying the FOIA are inherent in the democratic ideal: "The basic purpose of the FOIA is to ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption and to hold the governors accountable to the governed."

The Air Force, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, have determined that the democratic ideal can be best realized by their disregard of the FOIA and the rights of veteran citizens.

Can't IOM or other interested parties contact AF and VA for prompt release of the FOIA materials without any unnecessary court action? 

IOM, Irvine, CA   (16 Jan 2013)
If such vital information is withheld from the veterans and the IOM with the resultant incomplete report so vital to the veterans' health, it must be known to senior leadership of both Departments as well as the public.  

It should be made known that from a legal basis, budgeting for the IOM C-123 Agent Orange review is potentially wasted money. Not only is there no component of the IOM charge involving the complete legal qualification of the C-123 veterans seeking Agent Orange exposure benefits (detailed in the Yale Law report,) but VA and AF are withholding large amounts of data relevant to the committee's investigation. 

IOM's final report will be flawed by being incomplete, by design...by the calculated defiance of the FOIA, as VA prevents essential documentation from being evaluated by the Institute of Medicine.

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