26 July 2014

C-123 Veterans Charge to the Institute of Medicine C-123 Committee, June 16 2014


The IOM web site, and staff emails, end in “.edu.” and not “.gov.” The Institute of Medicine is independent, say both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the IOM. Respectfully, we ask for your independence to be exercised.

But the VA charge restricted your independence, and gave rise to confusion when instead VA should have sought useful answers. We listened to the confusion and attempts to clarify the charge back on May 15 at the first public meeting.

Back on May 15, you weren’t briefed by VA that the report of this committee, if strictly in response to the VA’s charge, still won’t affect C-123 veterans’ access to VA care. The wording on the charge was chosen most carefully.

Yale Law, and other legal scholars, and the VA itself through publications in the Federal Register, have made it abundantly clear that the sole qualifier for Agent Orange illnesses to be treated by the VA is a veterans’ proof of exposure, or proof of service in Vietnam or on the Korean DMZ.

The real question is not how much harm. The real question is not how much exposure. The real question is not about bioavailability.

The answer to the real question is vital, yet the real question itself wasn’t even raised in the charge to the committee.

That question, one you are asked by us to answer more fully, is whether or not we were exposed and are thereby due care. Last month we discussed the “as likely to as not” decision point for medical claims. The level of proof, by veterans’ law, is only equipoise. We’re far past that.

The charge, as worded, avoided the real question of simple exposure. The reason for that has become clear: By not directly asking IOM to determine C-123 veterans’ exposure on a yes or no basis, there is no response to the challenges raised in our disability claims.

The C-123 contamination has been repeatedly proven over the decades by the military. The harm from our exposure, although the law frees us from having to prove it, has also been established. Please consider that the findings supporting our exposure claim were all offered by experts without compensation. If we’d paid as much to support our claims as the VA to oppose, we’d certainly have even more to offer.

Stretch the boundaries of your charge, to answer the real question before this committee, which is simply whether our C-123 crews were exposed and are due the care for ailments already identified by the IOM as Agent Orange-presumptive illnesses.

Certainly, your work on this committee to address the fullness of the VA charge is important and there are important answers you’ll uncover. But you must go further for the real problem to be resolved. Three years of this misery is enough.

I say there must be no barrier, no evasion, no acceptance of rigid blindfolds disguised as a committee charge. As worded, the charge which takes from you the independence needed to meet the real mission of the IOM and the National Academies, fulfilling what President Lincoln sought in 1863, a body of distinguished scholars “charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology.”

Please: Independently answer the real question the veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs are contesting, and form an effective as well as scientifically accurate report.

C-123 veterans, the focus of all your work, ask you to provide the nation your advice in the fullest way with a more complete, responsive answer to the real question at hand: QUESTION – In fulfilling our duty to fly this transport for a decade, were we, more likely than not, exposed and are thereby due VA care for illnesses previously associated by the IOM with Agent Orange exposure?

That should have been the real charge to this committee.

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