19 August 2014

$600,000 VA Contract to "Help" Agent Orange-Exposed Veterans With Claims

Not the contractor. I wish we'd had $600,000 for research!
Really? VA spent the money only to "help" us?


 Veterans Benefits Administration spent $600,000 on a no-bid, sole-source unsolicited consulting contract to "help" veterans with post-Vietnam Agent Orange claims...by getting the claims denied and reducing subsequent appeals. VA even emphasized his work would help VA assure veterans of assistance in researching their claims, meeting that statutory requirement. But in fact, from what we've been allowed to read, ot a word in the 25 or so reports support post-Vietnam exposure claims.

In his proposal, the consultant wrote:
"Although the Department presumes exposure for Vietnam veterans and US Korean  veterans, this is not the case for veterans potentially exposed outside of Vietnam or Korea. For these cases, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been placed in a very difficult position, because without appropriate record identification, the Department has had to rely upon minimal documentation, and often only on the unsubstantiated documentation, to determine the validity of the veteran’s claim. Clearly, it would have been beneficial to all parties to have had all the available records related to the allegation or incident."
The real suggestion here was that post-Vietnam exposure claims needed to be obstructed. As for the catagorization of all available resources, that certainly would be helpful, but only if the consultant included reports, publications and other materials supporting the vets' exposure argument along with the VA's efforts to obstruct their claims. Beneficial?

Hardly. This consultant defends the innocence of Agent Orange, and insists that no veterans of Vietnam were actually exposed. His consistent view, his predictable view, that closed-mind made this consultant the go-to expert for VA to use preventing C-123 Agent Orange exposure claims.

And his proposal even dismisses our claims by calling them "allegations." Mr. Consultant, an allegation by definition is typically put forward without proof, but we've offered our proof for our claims! For years, at least since 2004 as best we can tell, the consultant has led the VA in redefinition of exposure to require bioavailability. That is because redefining exposure against us is the only "out" VA has available to deny our claims.

Three times VA assured Congress and veterans via the Federal Register that exposed veterans in situations other than Vietnam will be treated with the same presumptive service connection as Vietnam veterans. The only requirement was proof of exposure. Now that contamination of the C-123s has been well-established, the consultant helped VA redefine the whole issue which apparently was first stated by VHA's Post Deployment Health Section in preparation for the October 2011 teleconference with C-123 veterans.  In the "VHA Issue Brief" VHA echoed the consultant's toxic logic from his 2011 article appearing in the journal of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States.

Then VHA presented a poster at the 2012 Society of Toxicology in which they repeated their VA redefinition of exposure to prevent exposure claims: "exposure = contamination field + bioavailability." That was just a little line inserted in the poster's C-123 section, but it has become the foundation of VA's scheme to deny all C-123 claims. Every single one of them. Only Paul Bailey's claim, denied at first but approved over a year ago on reconsideration, has been okay'd, and since then VA has kept VHA's public promises to "draw the line somewhere" because "VA cannot permit a C-123 claim."

And VA certainly doesn't permit any claims. Rating officials even cite non-existent regulations or publications or scientific studies. There's no such thing1 One of the most recent claim denials stated:
"The VA and DOD have specifically provided guidance that such secondary exposure cannot be granted service connection, to include working on planes that carried or sprayed, or being stationed on vessels which transported the herbicide."
We should restate one terrific reason VA selected this consultant for the juicy no-bid contract: he holds C-123 aircrew veterans in terrible destain. Although he himself is a retired brother USAF officer, in 2011 he wrote a correspondent that C-123 veterans are "trash-haulers, freeloaders looking for a tax-free dollar from a sympathetic congressman. I have no respect." This is the consultant the VA selected to help tell themselves and IOM we were not exposed. This is the consultant having a terrifically negative impact on our claims.

He permitted no respect for our combat tours, or our Purple Hearts, our Distinguished Flying Crosses, our Air Medals, our POW Medals...no respect for our wings. Obviously VA, eager to prevent C-123 exposure claims, chose the right guy with the right attitude to trash our claims. VA knew about the consultant's insensitive comments and firm views against us because the veterans had brought the issues to the department's attention several times.

Imagine, however, if this gentleman was a consultant on VA employee health coverage. Imagine how unhappy VA employees would be if the same consultant had called government employees "trash-haulers, freeloaders" for whom he had no respect. They wouldn't tolerate it...they'd scream bloody murder! They'd know VA decisions about their health shouldn't be entrusted to that person.

But VBA feels it was a bargain, just $600,000 to help prevent C-123 exposure "allegations" which are, in fact, perfectly valid exposure claims!

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