04 October 2014

"Merchants of Doubt" Confuse Public About Agent Orange & Other Poisons

Or at least, be confused!!
Tobacco, lead paint, Agent Orange, coal dust, DDT, patent medicines, acid rain. Other poisons. Or here, a poisonous airplane, the former Agent Orange spray plane, the C-123 Provider.

For years "Merchants of doubt" had many products to defend, and they've done well. Create some doubt, and extend a deadly product's life cycle, or delay product restrictions from legislators. Make that buck as long as possible, and minimize control over profit-making activities regardless of the harm to others


As the authors of "Merchants of Doubt" says, its the "troubling story of how a cadre of influential scientists have clouded public misunderstanding of scientific facts to advance a political and economic agenda."

Merchants of Doubt have as their clients, Merchants of Death, Disaster, Suffering. Agent orange redux.

The manufacturers and others who profit from unregulated deadly products fund hip-pocket scientists to confuse and delay the public's coming to understand the threat.

Anything to turn a buck. Or in the case of the VA, to keep from handing a buck to a veteran and having also to pay for his/her hospital care for Agent Orange illnesses. From 1921 to 1957, the tobacco industry gave others the perfect case history of how to drag out any issue and the VA's Veterans Health Administration has been an apt student of that history.

With tobacco, Readers Digest, which at the time didn't accept advertising, brought to America the first glimpses of truth about tobacco: Smokers didn't live as long, or as well, as non-smokers. No absolutes...only proof through statistics the odds were with non-smokers, rather than smokers. This simple fact, a conclusion already reached by researchers since 1920, was hidden from the public by the tobacco industry's powerful advertising lobby. Tobacco ads were the mainstay of many periodicals, as well as of the broadcast industry. Advertising contracts required magazines to submit articles involving tobacco to the advertisers, so nothing negative was allowed to reach print. Until 1952 when Readers Digest dropped a dime on the whole industry, with their article, "Cancer by the Carton."

Invisible Bullets: toxins, biohazards, dirty water and more!
With Agent Orange, it took Bill Kurtis of CBS News and VA employee Maude De Victor, with her 1977 simple observation that Vietnam veterans were more ill than non-Vietnam veterans, and were filing more disability claims, to bring to America what veterans had been claiming for many years...Agent Orange was making them sick.

 "Allegation." "Controversy." "Debate." That's what the tobacco industry called the deaths of their customers. Labeling statistical proofs of smoking deaths "a debate!" Now the VA and its apologists/partners in industry are doing the same with Agent Orange and other military exposure situations, following the playbook left by Big Tobacco.

"Allegation.""Controversy.""Debate." Repeated again, not by Big Tobacco but in the monographs Veterans Benefits Administration paid to have produced under a unique no-bid, sole-source two year, $600,000 consulting contract to help VA oppose post-Vietnam Agent Orange claims. VA actually opposed the very question they put to the IOM!

Since May 2014, the Institute of Medicine has been investigating C-123 veterans' Agent Orange exposure issues. But the efforts by Dow, Monsanto, the VA, USDA, Diamond Shamrock, Hercules and others have been overwhelming veterans' concerns for decades and the obstructions continue today. The current IOM received from the VA a report sponsored by Dow and Monsanto, arguing against C-123 veterans' exposure experience and illnesses.

Even though Congress, showing their loss of faith in the VA with passage of the 1991 Agent Orange Act, thought it settled the issue, VA continues to oppose veterans' Agent Orange exposure claims wherever it is not compelled by law to honor them....and sometimes, those, too! The Air Force was an early leader in defending Agent Orange against veterans' assertions of its dangers. The Air Force even loaned its Agent Orange experts to the Department of Veterans Affairs (back then it was the Veterans Affairs Administration) to help man its Agent Orange Desk and fight against claims. With the support of his staff, in 1982 the VA's director Bob Nimmo insisted Agent Orange illnesses were "no more than teenage acne." (note: list expanded to soft tissue sarcoma, ALA, prostate cancer, lung cancer and other life-threatening illnesses VA tried to hide for another decade.)

"Allegation.""Controversy.""Debate." Words dusted off, repeated frequently by VA. Up until the 1991 Agent Orange Act passed, VA fought hard against vets' exposure disability claims with only a handful permitted to sneak through for approval. After that, VA's efforts shifted to targeting non-Vietnam exposure situations to keep such claims denied.

Rather than argue the innocence of Agent Orange, the tactic shifted to "there's no Agent Orange there." In 2006, DOD commissioned a Battile subcontractor's study to list US Agent Orange testing and storage sites. The Air Force expert loaned to the VA back in the early 1980's himself selected which sites to list and which to ignore. VA then cited the DOD report as proof that no Agent Orange was ever at sites not listed, denying claims.*

In 2011, VA's continuing opposition of veterans' Agent Orange claims led to a new tactic. Not only could VA deny exposure claims by citing the absence of locations on the DOD list, it began saying even if Agent Orange was present, it somehow did not expose veterans. VA developed a new definition of exposure, "exposure = contamination field + bioavailability." Using that redefinition, despite the fact it is considered unscientific by other agencies, VA continues to deny C-123 exposures.

The IOM C-123 study had two public meetings, the first during which VA presented its carefully worded "charge," assigning the IOM to its task. The second was a series of presentations and panel discussions held June 16, 2014. The VA did not speak directly, although a consultant presented what he described as "the science behind the VA's conclusions" against the veterans' exposures...which were principally his own monographs prepared under that $600,000 contract.

"Allegation.""Controversy.""Debate." Those magic words appeared again at the IOM in word and in print. Not to defend tobacco or lead paint this time, but dismissing C-123 veterans' exposure concerns. These are words which have definitions as well as emotional content:
-Allegation: a claim or assertion that someone has done something illegal or wrong, typically one made without proof.
-Controversy: a prolonged public dispute, debate, or contention
-Debate: a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward

-BUT: the C-123 veterans' claims were substantiated with evidence from other federal agencies, universities, medical schools, VA physicians, expert toxicologists, peer-reviewed journals...there were proofs, so "allegation" is an inappropriate dismissal of the claims

-But: there is no remaining controversy. Decades of research have shown the toxin in Agent Orange, TCDD, to be a known human carcinogen. VA, the Congress and the Public have long accepted the fact that Agent Orange exposure is harmful, and no "controversy" remains, just fact and settled law.

-But: although there was civil discourse and open debate during the Institute of Medicine C-123 meetings, it actually can't be called "debate." Because the VA threw $600,000 into creating the consultant's monographs which carefully ignored contrary evidence, and not a penny into considering the veterans' arguments, VA outspent any balanced scientific "debate" which might have happened. VA carefully chose the words of its "charge" to constrict the IOM's finding, rather than address the only actual question of whether or not there was an exposure situation on the C-123s. Further, there remains no legitimate debate about Agent Orange because it is a settled issue in science and law. VA suggests otherwise to prevent claims, but calling its opposition to veterans' claims a debate is a mere deception.

* Despite frequent requests and ignoring substantial proofs, DOD has refused requests to amend the 2006 DOD list of Agent Orange cites, referring inquiries back to the VA – which refers inquiries to the DOD.

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