13 July 2014

VA's Agent Orange Consultant: Also Had 2006 DOD Contract to Identify Exposure Sites

Here's one we didn't know about. We knew the consultant Dr. Al Young had a distinguished Air Force career, helping develop Agent Orange as a military herbicide weapon. We knew that he had a role opposing early veteran demands for recognition of their Agent Orange illnesses in different assignments with the AF, VA and White House, we didn't know the rest of the story until more recent years.

Once we started learning about Patches and the other C-123s' record of spraying Agent Orange during Vietnam, we filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the USAF, and uncovered a large part...but only part of Dr. Young's involvement guiding VA (where his office was "Agent Orange Projects Office" at 810 Vermont...VA HQ!) and USAF in addressing veterans' exposure claims. It goes back through the decades. The same song, playing over and over. Remember Groundhog Day?

In 2006, the Department of Defense also contracted with him to produce a list of Agent Orange exposure sites. Although testing had identified Agent Orange residue in the C-123s stored at Davis-Monthan, the aircraft weren't mentioned.

In 2009 the AF sought advice and was reminded of Dr. Young's services by the Office of Secretary of the Army. Young's advice is mentioned in various documents from those years, but the significant ones are three "Decision Memorandum" he wrote to officials, including Major Carol McCrady, Mr. Jim Malmgren and Mr. Buddy Boor. In each, he recommended the immediate destruction, without further testing, of the former Agent Orange spray C-123 aircraft. Dr. Young also reminded AF officials that exposed veterans could seek care for their Agent Orange disabilities, and discussed the need to keep the destruction process "below the radar."

Dr. Young next appears on our radar when one of his correspondents shared an exchange in which the exposed C-123 veterans were denigrated by this retired Air Force officer in 2011 emails.

Then, he again enters the scene in 2012 as the VA consultant awarded an unsolicited $300,000/year contract to prepare articles on post-Vietnam Agent Orange situation. You guessed it...his first articles were to target C-123 veterans claiming post-Vietnam AO exposures aboard these former Ranch Hand warplanes.

In 2013, the Office of Deputy Under Secretary of Defense again found him invaluable in the investigation to insure no Agent Orange was found on Okinawa, site of many barrels of Dow chemical burial. I don't know that situation well enough to comment.

But what really rubs salt into our Agent Orange wounds is the VA's acceptance of his reports for use against us at the June 16 Institute of Medicine committee hearing. Is it a coincidence that his contract runs through the end of the IOM C-123 process, September 27, 2014?

I was there. We shared a hour-long panel discussion, and I felt his genuine passion, defending a point of view he's kept unchanged for decades. But this was a scientific gathering of experts to provide input to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science. I was representing the veterans, and we were the only ones in the room entitled to express ourselves passionately!

I didn't make a big deal about his use of web site photos from recent restoration of a privately-owned C-123 to represent the same airplane being "restored and refurbished" in 1973. I didn't mention his foul slurs about us. I didn't even object to his failure to completely answer Professor Lu's question about why the C-123s were destroyed and his decision to avoid mention of own role recommending exactly that.

And if I made mistakes he graciously didn't make too big a deal of them, either. It seemed a civil discourse, but I remain critical most especially of his failure to mention to the committee his VA contract for $600,000. He was under contract to the VA running before, during and after his presentation to the IOM, yet neither he nor the VA properly informed the committee. By the way, the VA didn't pay me anything to carry my side of the argument, but the IOM paid my airfare to get to Washington, DC.

We've been asked if we see this as sinister? No, but certainly not pro-veteran, not pro-benefit of the doubt, hardly non-adversarial, and most definitely, unscientific. The consultant's papers, which were not peer-reviewed, were heavily slanted against Agent Orange being harmful, against any Agent Orange being present, and, if there was Agent Orange present, it somehow was the kind which couldn't expose anyone.

The VA did not simply place a stack of documents before the IOM representing all available information. Instead, they contracted out for $600,000 to prevent our claims. They accepted input from Dow and Monsanto who sponsored scientists to write to the Under Secretary to argue against us. They chose which documents to release to the VA...and withheld others.

The folks from VHA Office of Public Health were adversarial and, after submitting the charge to the IOM, then strongly argued against it instead of keeping their distance...letting the IOM search out the truth. Perhaps this added to the reasons behind the six major veterans' service organizations joint letter to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, objecting to the historical role of this consultant regarding veterans and Agent Orange.

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