19 September 2014

VA's Partial Response to Freedom of Information Act Request for C-123 Documents - deception revealed

Today, VA released just a small, incomplete set of of documents in response to a series of veterans' Freedom of Information Act requests, taking years to meet this legal requirement. More documents have been promised by VA’s Office of General Counsel.

These materials, incomplete though they are, clearly validate C-123 veterans' assertions that Veterans Health Administration has for three years conducted an inappropriate agenda of frustrating claims for illnesses associated with Agent Orange exposure.

Most telling is VA's instruction to Decision Review Officers to deny all claims from these veterans, while at the same time VA was telling veterans and their Congressional representatives that claims "are evaluated on a case-by-case basis." The only such claim to ever be approved (LtCol Paul Bailey, by Manchester VARO DRO) is cited as an example of what VBA and VHA want prevented.

This is the kind of deception by VA staff intent on their agenda, as the Associated Press reported, of "drawing the line somewhere" to prevent perfectly correct Agent Orange exposure claims. We'd thought the scheme was unofficial, until reading these documents which show that Veterans Health Administration as promised, "will never permit C-123 claims." (Deputy Chief Consultant, Post Deployment Health.)
Below is the "C-123 AO Talking Points" memo VHA distributed to summarize VA's position against C-123 veterans. The most offensive, and most telling of VA's determination to deny exposure claims is the last point: VA says no matter how much scientific opinion and data, and findings from other federal agencies or any other evidence the veterans submit, none of it is to be permitted to "overcome VHA scientific data." However, that "scientific data" was merely a set of old publications, carefully selected to prevent any support of the veterans' side of the issue.
"AO exposure based on stateside service aboard C-123 aircraft previously flown in  Vietnam for AO aerial spray missions  
 Not covered by VA statutory presumption of AO exposure for Vietnam Veterans 
 No VA statutory or regulatory provisions to acknowledge AO exposure based on “remote” or “secondary” exposure 
 No acknowledgement of direct facts-found exposure because no evidence that any residual TCDD on aircraft was biologically available to crewmembers 
 Insufficient scientific evidence to establish a medical nexus between service on post-Vietnam aircraft and diseases associated by VA with AO exposure 
Opinions by scientists supporting stateside C-123 Veterans stating that TCDD was present in the aircraft and that this led to “exposure” is insufficient to overcome VHA scientific data showing no bioavailability (i.e. no routes for human body entry) for any TCDD residuals in aircraft" 
It is vital to note that both VHA and VBA are deceptive in C-123 claims processing. Veterans are assured repeatedly that our claims are considered on a case-by-case basis, yet VAROs are given instructions that claims are to be automatically denied. VBA even explains in "C-123 AO Slides," #Six" that this is because otherwise,
"BVA post-Vietnam C-123 grants can lead to a public perception that the “US Government” has verified such exposure. [e.g. BVA grants of AO exposure on Okinawa, despite no valid evidence, has generated investigations by
the Japanese Government] "
Translation: American veterans' disability claims are to be denied to prevent any misunderstanding or "public perception" disagreeable to VBA, however faulty and deceptive such a leap.

The same C-123 AO Slides document shows the errors which VA inserts to guarantee veterans' claims are denied. Slide Four states:
  One scientific advocate supporting post-Vietnam C-123 AO “exposure” points to percentage of TCDD in wipe samples from “Patches” as exceeding a military standard  for direct environmental exposure.
 The majority of scientists on record, including those with VHA, state that any solidified TCDD in post-Vietnam aircraft is not active in the environment and cannot biologically enter the human body in any significant amount; therefore no TCDD “exposure.
Both points in Slide Four are in error. The first because it is deceptive, and to the point of being disingenuous. "One scientific advocate" was actually many.  They were not mere "advocates" but authoritative federal agencies with statutory responsibility in this issue. Principal was Dr. Tom Sinks, Deputy Director CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. His official finding on behalf of ATSDR, not of him as an "advocate," was later repeated by Director Dr. Christopher Portier, and then again by Acting Director Rear Admiral R. Ikeda MD (US Public Health Service.) His finding was supported by Dr. Linda Birnbaum, Director, National Toxicology Program (she is also Director, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.)  CAPTAIN A. Miller MD, US Public Health Service also reached the same conclusion, as did Oregon Health Sciences University.

VHA's second point is also in error because it is deceptive. "The majority of scientists on record" consisted of just three...one a paid VA consultant and the other two, paid by Dow and Monsanto. These VA three were opposed by dozens of unpaid scientists and physicians from universities and other federal agencies, through Dr. Jeanne Stellman of Columbia University as their Corresponding Scientist.

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