|VA Health Benefits Administration|
These are the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) which decides disability claims, and Veterans Health Administration (VHA) providing the veterans health care and research. They're working together to keep their waiting lists, and costs, within management's goals.
We report on the prevention of claims by linguistic slight-of-hand: VA prevents exposure claims by redefining exposure to keep veterans from being considered exposed. A simple solution. VA invented for its own use a special definition of exposure, unique in medicine and science:
"Exposure = contamination field + bioavailability."
That redefinition works great. Using it, VA denies every exposure claim crossing their desk for Agent Orange, burn pits, radiation, dirty water, biohazards, toxins, immunizations...everything except situations where VA is compelled by law to provide care. No law=no exposure, regardless of proofs of exposure.
Legislation such as the 1991 Agent Orange Act protects veterans of the Vietnam War with "boots on the ground." That law, and various court decisions and announcements in the Federal Register also require VA to provide care to veterans exposed to Agent Orange outside Vietnam.
So, VA pretends it has the scientific and legal authority, and boldly redefines exposure to pretend no exposures take place. In the case of C-123 veterans, who flew the Agent Orange spray airplanes for a decade after Vietnam, the aircraft tested positive for Agent Orange residue many, many times up until their destruction as toxic waste in 2010. Too toxic for landfill, and the Air Force concerned about a threatened EPA HAZMAT fine of $3.4 billion for illegal storage, all C-123s were shredded and smelted as toxic waste, upon recommendation of the consultant to the Office of Secretary of Defense.
That same consultant then was retained by VA to construct arguments against the veterans' claims, and developed arguments that the veterans' dermal contact, inhalation and ingestion of the military herbicide residue did not constitute exposure, utilizing the VA's unique redefinition. His VA work continues decades of defending Agent Orange and its harmful effects.
This redefinition, and the decision against awarding C-123 veterans exposure benefits, is challenged by many universities as well as other federal agencies. The CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the US Public Health Service, and the NIH/National Toxicology Program have all informed VA that tests prove the aircraft contamination and the veterans' exposure.
All input contrary to the VA's objective of preventing C-123 veterans' service connection is disregarded, explained away or simply ignored as with the input to VA from the Director, NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences who wrote, "Based on contact with the aircraft, exposure is assumed...the magnitude of these exposures is uncertain."
The VHA informs the Veterans Benefits Administration that none of the C-123 veterans were ever exposed, and therefore have no basis for exposure claims. In fact, VHA officials also insist that under their new exposure definition none of the ground soldiers during the Vietnam War were ever exposed, and perhaps only a few of the Air Force crews which sprayed from their C-123s. This directive flies in the face of Secretary Shinseki's repeated assurance to the Senate that all C-123 veterans' claims are considered on a "case by case basis," an obvious misstatement when VA has predetermined all the vets to be disqualified...thanks to that nifty redefinition of exposure from VA's Post Deployment Health Section.
"Unscientific" and "reflects a lack of understanding" are the judgements of leaders in the science of toxicology. But the claims remain denied, with vets told to get in line for appeals taking three to five years.
There, justice may await, but often only for the veterans' survivors. Complaints to the VA's National Center for Ethics in Healthcare resulted in recommendation that veterans turn to the VA IG because of the criminal and ethical implications of preventing medical care to eligible veterans. There, the issue has been ignored for years with inaction.