27 August 2014

Current Status - Institute of Medicine C-123 Agent Orange Exposure Committee

Actually, the full name just doesn't quite flow off the tongue, nor is it easily typed...I always have to look it up: Committee to Evaluate the Potential Exposure to Agent Orange/TCDD Residue and Level of Risk Adverse Health Effects for Aircrew of Post-Vietnam C-123 Aircraft."

They've been meeting and working very hard since the spring and apparently are about finished with their draft copy, according to the cryptic summation of the recent committee teleconferences. Once the draft is complete, it begins another process before reaching the Secretary of Veterans Affairs:
• Prior to release, report is reviewed by individuals who are not involved in authoring the report and whose names are not revealed to the committee or the study director during review.
Reviewers are selected by the major unit responsible for the project, in consultation with the National Academy of Sciences’ Report Review Committee.
• The review is overseen by a review monitor and/or coordinator.
• Each committee must respond to, but need not agree with, reviewer comments in a detailed “response to review” that is examined by the monitor and/or coordinator, who ensure that the report review criteria have been satisfied.
• The report may not be released to sponsor or the public until the chair of the Report Review Committee (or designee) signifies that the review process has been satisfactorily completed.
• The Department of Veterans Affairs will not be given an opportunity to suggest changes in the report.
• The names and affiliations of the report reviewers will be made public when the report is released.
The second bullet could be fatal: VA, as the "major unit responsible" will select reviewers already determined to prevent C-123 exposure claims, so whatever pro-C-123 exposure conclusions will be severely challenged, and whatever anti-C-123 exposure conclusions will be amplified. So whatever the committee itself recommends will be amended in some way at this point to a position more acceptable to the VA's Post Deployment Health Section. And you can bet they've already got their reviewers picked out! Only when its released and too late to be challenged, are the reviewers identified and in any case, nobody sees the committee's draft, or original version.

Remember: VA did not refer this to the IOM because there is any scientific question that we've been exposed. They referred it, and worded the charge to the committee, to create a basis for continuing to deny all C-123 exposure claims even though each C-123 veteran with an Agent Orange-recognized illness is presently legally entitled to presumptive service connection.

A strong point still in our favor is a fundamental IOM rule: In reaching consensus about an association between exposure and health effects, the Committee considers only peer-reviewed, published scientific literature. The committee also realizes that this group of veterans was never tested at any time for dioxin, and that VA rules for the Agent Orange registry actually prohibit such tests.

The committee realizes that our C-123s are unique in that they were tested to be contaminated – "highly contaminated," in the words of the toxicologists, long after we'd retired them to storage. No other such situation...boats, ships, tanks, trucks, helicopters...was ever determined to be contaminated as were our C-123s. "A danger to public health" as AF toxicologists offered in sworn testimony in 2000. And then, all aircraft destroyed as toxic waste, with special note made for this to be done because exposed vets would seek their exposure benefits.

The material gathered by the VA for IOM, including from its $300,000/year Agent Orange consultant and the Dow/Monsanto sponsored letters, was never peer reviewed. Of course, many other documents submitted to the IOM by the VA and the veterans weren't peer-reviewed, either.

And the only peer-reviewed scientific literature available which directly addressed the situation was Lurker, et. al. "Post-Vietnam Military Herbicide Exposures in UC-123K Agent Orange Spray Aircraft."

The committee is doing what it has to. We asked them also to exercise their independence and address the yes/no question of exposure.

We'll wait and hope for the best.We'll look forward with great hope to the end of September or, if delayed, maybe sometime in October bringing us the IOM report.

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