24 August 2014

The Army Proved the C-123 Exposures, Despite VA Dismissal

It was heavily downplayed by VA and USAF in their C-123 reports. The Army's Technical Guide (TG) 312, considered the "gold standard' in its treatment of surface contaminations was dismissed as irrelevant regarding implications for C-123 post-Vietnam veterans.

It had to be. TG 312 was too accurate, and too spot-on to simply ignore, as VA and USAF had ignored the expert input from other federal agencies. VA's agenda was, and is, to "draw the line somewhere" (VHA to the Associated Press 2014) and prevent any further Agent Orange exposure claims (VHA to Major T. Rudd, US Army Chemical Corps 2012.) Because it helped establish C-123 veterans' exposures, the Army's TG 312 was a hurdle before VA in blocking claims, so they simply tipped it over and went around. VA's stated policy objective regarding post-Vietnam claims was, as they've stated since the beginning, to prevent approvals.

The Air Force Times itself did a complete explanation of the whole mess, and VA's intransigence, with a full-page article and also its editorial echoing that of other major publications.

By careful selection of which references to use and which experts and other federal agencies to ignore, VA VHA formed their arguments to prevent claims, and against the veterans, rather than letting the full body of evidence be evaluated to form their policy.

VA dismissed TG 312 as having no relevance for the C-123 interior and the aircrews' exposure. The complex interior of the C-123, mind, is of aviation grade aluminum, painted aluminum, wood, canvas, leather, glass, adhesives, other metals, canvas, fiberglass, wrapped electrical cables...many different surfaces upon which Agent Orange and its contaminant, dioxin, penetrated over the Vietnam years and then began to degrade.

The slow degrading was through weak UV exposure, as well as dioxin's half-life, different on different surfaces. But it was there, for decade after decade following Operation Ranch Hand in Vietnam, through the decade we flew them (1972-1982,) through the next decade while Patches (#362) sat at the USAF Museum, until Patches was tested "heavily contaminated on all test surfaces" in 1994.

TG 312, along with the USAF toxicologists who actually tested Patches, clearly showed these former spray aircraft a toxic threat to the crews who'd flown them. So VA dismissed both. VA said the AF tests were not applicable to the rest of the C-123 fleet (which hadn't been decontaminated but was determined with repeated tests to be contaminated with Agent Orange,) and TG 312 was based on wipe samples which disturbed the surfaces testing tested and therefore was inaccurate.

TG 312 is the "gold standard" of the US Army, respected by virtually every government, university and independent toxicologist, but VA's goal was to insure it somehow did not apply to the C-123 because tests on the C-123s, evaluated against TG 312, supported the veterans' exposure claims, even VHA's unique redefinition of "exposure" to require bioavailability. And wipe tests prescribed by TG 312 had adjustments calculated for physical disturbance in the testing procedures, a critical point mischaracterized by VA.

But most tellingly, the bioavailability is addressed in the TG 312  equations.  The surface and airborne concentrations are multiplied by various factors to yield an estimated dose by the various routes of exposure. For example,  by the direct dermal contact route, specific to dioxin, TG 312 notes the dermal absorption factor is 0.001, perhaps less significant unless exposed to large amounts over longer periods  However, the major routes of exposure are dermal to oral and inhalation which bypass the dermal barrier.  So VHA Post Deployment Health and the VA/Dow/Monsanto consultant were only partially correct positing that via direct dermal contact dioxin is not readily bioavailable.*

Exposure by ingestion and inhalation, exposure and yes...also bioavailability. Less so by dermal contact which was still intensive over the decade working on these transports, but it was there, too. We were exposed, and there was bioavailability. As Yale Law and other legal scholars agree, C-123 post-Vietnam veterans who flew former Agent Orange spray aircraft met the legal and regulatory standards to present vet's exposure claims. In 2001, 2008 and 2010, VA even said so, but this was before the C-123 vets grew concerned about our exposures, so VA had to redefine the word "exposure" used in several Federal Register promises to treat exposed veterans, so that they could better pretend we weren't exposed.

But VA says, "NO." VA orders regional offices to deny claims, has its C&P Agent Orange Inquiry Desk return "recommend disapproval" responses to claims forwarded IAW VA 21-1MR,  and create web pages alluding to non-existent "scientific studies" which were merely selective literature reviews to form words around VA's "we cannot permit any C-123 claims," as per the Deputy Chief Consultant, VA Post Deployment Health. "VHA has told us no C-123 veterans were ever exposed," according to C&P's statement on February 28, 2013 in his office conference with C-123 veterans.

The recent non-release of the FOIA'd USAF C-123 records, in which only a handful of hundreds of white pages had copy left on them after nearly all information was redacted, a line showed that the point-of-contact the Army for TG 312 would like to follow and assist the USAF C-123 investigation – but all such information was redacted and we don't know any more.

Neither do we know much about the VA's $600,000 sole-source, no-bid two year contract  for post-Vietnam Agent Orange exposure claim prevention...so many pages of the contract were redacted when released by VA. Amazing: the US government opts not to release information about Agent Orange studies it pays to conduct to the veterans who have been exposed and who need that information to accept, or to challenge its conclusions.

One final observation: the VA sought out the US Army Public Health Command for input regarding its TG 312 and the two organizations communicated regarding the C-123s. We veterans also wrote the Army with questions, but our inquiries were ignored, both the formal letters and the emails. The Army Public Health Command has in its mission statement the duty to assist in this regard, but withheld that assistance except to the VA.

* email, Dr. Peter Lurker to Major Wes Carter, 23 August 2014

No comments:

Post a Comment

Got something to share? Nothing commercial or off-topic, please.