17 August 2014

C-123 Exposure & Health Studies Withheld by USAF in Defiance of Freedom of Information Act

Subject: August Release of Freedom of Information Act materials by the USAF Surgeon General's Office – USAF Defied the Law But Accidentally Let Vital Information Leak*

The C-123 Veterans Association had requested information about the May 2012 USAF C-123 Consultative Letter and how its conclusions were reached, and details about the scientific studies performed. Nothing secret, nothing personal. Stuff we're entitled to!

Instead, the USAF released two sets (Release One and Release Two) of documents last Friday, each a duplicate of the other, and each redacted past the point of honesty and respect for the law. The only information not redacted was an irrelevant EPA document on radiation assessment....nothing was revealed about the C-123 study of post-Vietnam exposures.

What the heck? President Obama assured the American people on his first public act that a citizen's right to access to information is "a fundamental element of American democracy." The Air Force, perhaps, missed that press release, and also the one where the President ordered Federal agencies to be as open as possible.

Here, in their response to my 2012 FOIA request, and to my October lawsuit filed in the US District Court of Washington DC, the Air Force sent me blank pages, devoid of meaning. Remember – these are publicly-funded studies by the USAF Surgeon General's Office and the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine, about whether or not 2100 veterans were exposed to Agent Orange. Further, the Air Force study is the foundation of the VA refusal to permit a single C-123 veteran's Agent Orange claim to be considered. So...VA refused to permit us to have our cancers treated because of a secret Air Force study...not classified in any way, but still hidden from public view, and denied us as we seek VA benefits, by the USAF Surgeon General.

What arrogance and abuse of discretion. This "Freedom" of Information Act response was anything but freedom! Virtually every line of every page released was redacted, denying C-123 veterans access to USAF School of Aerospace Medicine in May 2012.
the studies completed about our Agent Orange exposure by the Air Force after they agreed to look into our concerns with scientific integrity. That study, however, failed to meet the true definition of scientific integrity, with command interference, unnecessary JAG interventions, and close cooperation with the VA but not with CDC/ATSDR nor NIH.

The AF C-123 study meekly concluded that individual exposure assessments were impossible, but then illogically also concluded that because of that impossibility, the C-123 veterans were probably not exposed to harmful amounts of Agent Orange. What an amazing twist of logic!

* But there was a single paragraph, truly golden hidden among the pages of white, a paragraph that they missed redacting and which perfectly explains our eligibility for Agent Orange exposure care:

"USAFSAM concludes that there is not enough data to evaluate or model individual exposures and performing an epidemiological investigation would not be possible.   They then looked at the results that were available from a general population and occupational perspective and conclude that although dried residuals of dioxins were present, the exposures to anyone encountering the Aircraft either occupationally or from the general public should be within the exposures experienced by the Ranch Hand personnel that were exposed in Vietnam.   The Air Force conducted an extensive epidemiological study of the Ranch Hand personnel (referred to as the Air Force Health Study) and to date the results do not provide evidence of disease in the Ranch Hand veterans caused by elevated levels of exposure to Herbicide Orange."

Read the paragraph's middle carefully, especially the fact that USAFSAM considered post-Vietnam C-123 exposures

"within the exposures experienced by the Ranch Hand personnel that were exposed in Vietnam." That confirms our exposure which is the only issue under the law to be eligible for Agent Orange illness care and benefits. The exposures were not hypothetical, not imaginary, not remotely possible...but "within the exposures experienced by Ranch Hand." There was no conclusion that we were not exposed, only that harm had yet to be proven by the exposures.

The USAFSAM study illogically concluded that because the Ranch Hand spray veterans have not evidence elevated illnesses, then the C-123 veterans must not be harmed either.

The logic failure is in failing to note that post-Vietnam C-123 vets were never tested, as was the Ranch Hand population. Further, our exposures were long term/low dose exposures, and over a ten year period versus a Ranch Hand eleven month tour in Vietnam. We were older, with more women, and during the decade we flew our sick crew members were removed from service when they presented developing Agent Orange illnesses, such as cancers, diabetes, and IHD.

Both groups of aircrews remain distinct from the "general population" in that we had flight physicals, everyone was a high school graduate (or more) if enlisted and a college graduate if commissioned. We had enlistment or commissioning physicals, which separated many who were already ill, used illicit drugs, had significant arrest records, or who did not meet education, physical or mental requirements. We had excellent medical and dental care, constant drug testing, weight control, excellent prospects of post-military graduate education and employment, and in so many ways were healthier and fortunately likely to stay healthier than the general population, Agent Orange issues not withstanding.

Conclusion: both Ranch Hand and post-Vietnam aircrews should be in better health than their contemporaries, and it seems they are. But, the overall group of Vietnam veterans, a large enough population for meaningful epidemiological studies, continues to show the ravages of Agent Orange-releated diseases.

VA even prohibits the kind of testing on us for the presence of dioxin which the Ranch Hand vets have had for decades. Ranch Hand remains the only studied population, one made up of under 2,000 veterans, similar in size to the post-Vietnam C-123 group of about 2,100. Both, too small for meaningful examination. Which is why Congress, in frustration with VA foot-dragging, simply directed with the 1991 Agent Orange Act that all Vietnam veterans, and those veterans able to prove their exposure to Agent Orange, will be treated for recognized illnesses.

Three times the VA "more clearly" explained the agency's policy toward non-Vietnam Agent Orange exposures in the Federal Register. VA stated that exposed veterans would receive the same presumptive service connection for recognized Agent Orange illnesses, providing exposure itself was established. We've done that.

As can be read above, the Air Force established our exposure. ATSDR confirmed the exposure, as did the NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the US Public Health Service. There is a pro-veteran requirement in the VA claims process....we'd like to see some!

USAF and VA: A great partnership in denying responsibility along with denying medical care for the harm done.

By the way, below is an example of the Air Force perspective on what they feel veterans are permitted to see in military studies about us, paid for by the public, requested by the veterans. It is the first page of what AF sent out last week following two years of our actions to compel release of material which should be in the public domain:

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