When retired Major Wesley T. Carter began to experience major illnesses, he wondered why. He started to investigate.
Carter served as an air medical technician and flight instructor and examiner with Westover’s 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron during and after the Vietnam War.
Through his research, Carter learned that he was not the only one experiencing serious illness. There were 48 others.
Freedom of Information requests helped Carter discover the cause: Dioxin, the toxic ingredient in Agent Orange, was to blame. The C-123 Provider planes had been used in Vietnam where the lethal chemical weapon was sprayed.
Carter's request yielded 15 years of memos, safety reports and complaints from private companies and military workers. In 2000, the government canceled sales of the planes because they were contaminated, and in 2010, the remaining 18 were shredded and smelted to satisfy Environmental Protection Agency regulations.
"Some of the most compelling documents," writes Jeanette DeForge for The Republican and MassLive.com, "revealed 11 of the 16 planes from Westover tested positive for dioxin when they were examined from 1994 and 1996 – more than a decade after they were retired. One Westover C-123 was labeled 'highly-contaminated.'”
Now, Carter and other veterans experiencing similar illnesses, have filed an official complaint with the Department of Defense saying they have been improperly denied medical and disability benefits related to their exposure to the carcinogen.
While veterans who served in Vietnam are automatically granted full medical coverage, these veterans have been continually denied benefits.
“Our military and civilian scientific documentation establishes the dioxin contamination of at least 34 C-123s, all destroyed by the USAF (United States Air Force) as toxic waste, should retrospectively be designated Agent Orange Exposure sites,” Carter wrote in his complaint.
If not for Carter's request, the hidden pieces of this sickening puzzle might never have been put together.
Why the Department of Veterans Services continues to deny the truth of these veterans -- an unintended but life-threatening cost of the Vietnam War -- is unconscionable.
The veterans are now paying for their service with their health and their lives. The least the U.S. Department of Veterans Services can do is provide them with medical and disability benefits.