For their service and sacrifice, warm words of thanks from a grateful nation are more than warranted, but they aren't nearly enough. We also owe our veterans the care they were promised and the benefits that they have earned. We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America. It's a commitment that begins at enlistment, and it must never end. But we know that for too long, we've fallen short of meeting that commitment. Too many wounded warriors go without the care that they need. Too many veterans don't receive the support that they've earned. Too many who once wore our nation's uniform now sleep in our nation's streets. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, MARCH 19, 2009Dear Mr. President,
Why does the Department of Veterans Affairs obstruct Agent Orange exposure claims by inventing a VA-unique definition of exposure, by which no veteran of any war, of any service, in any circumstance could ever qualify? Clearly, the redefinition by Veterans Health Administration was to prevent claims from succeeding.
Why does VA redefine exposure in an unscientific manner, challenged by other federal agencies and health experts, when that definition isn't used even elsewhere in the VA itself? Why permit VA to use a unscientific definition of such a fundamental term, when no juried publication would ever touch such work? Why did VA's own National Center for Ethics in Healthcare avoid dealing with the criminal and ethical questions such redefinition raises?
Why does the Veterans Health Administration game patient wait times by keeping veterans out of their hospitals? Are you and Secretary Shinseki aware that VA games their own system by blocking qualified veterans' disability claims for years, and constructing a three to five year additional delay through the VA Board of Veterans Appeals? What happened to your promises of 2009, and the VA's obligation to be "veteran-friendly" and non-adversarial? Would you ask America to wait five years for us to put on our uniforms to report for duty?
Clearly, your Administration has waited five years to consider our situation, and the wait continues. Perhaps a solution will arrive, but it will likely interest our survivors more than us. Do you expect us to draw comfort from the words of VA's Chief Consultant of Post Deployment Health who, when asked if claims could be considered before veterans died, answered, "We all die."
How can you permit the Veterans Benefits Administration to order Agent Orange exposure claims denied with the excuse that that Agent Orange is harmless? Has your Office of General Counsel read the Yale Law C-123 finding? Has VA any intention of obeying the law without a court order to do so?
Why does VA refer complex medical and scientific issues to the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine and pay only for arguments and testimony against the veterans' claims, but spend or offer nothing in support of the veterans' perspective? The VA obviously develops a scheme to prevent disability claims and is dedicated to funding that view in IOM meetings, and leaves it to the veterans' resources to argue their case. VA outspending the veterans works for the VA, but not the veterans. This isn't science. And it dishonors all involved.
God bless the United States.
FOR THE C-123 VETERANS ASSOCIATION:
Wes Carter, Chair
Fort Collins, Colorado