15 December 2014

Another VA Fact Sheet Needs VA IG Review – The C-123 Fact Sheet

VA's Senate Briefer
In May 2013, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs responded to inquiries from Senator Richard Burr, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, regarding VA management of C-123 veterans' Agent Orange exposure claims.

The Senate was fed two pages of deception. Here's how.

C-123 post-Vietnam exposure claims were ordered denied regardless of substantial proofs by Veterans Health Administration's Post Deployment Health Section and were the basis of Senator Burr's concerns. The Secretary's response was drafted for him by a Veterans Benefits Administration manager, Mr. James Sampsel, and has been found to present over twenty significant errors. Some can fairly be termed clearly deceptive.

Although the factual errors were pointed out to the VA soon after the Secretary's fact sheet was received by Senator Burr, no corrections were ever permitted. VA's consultant (who is a former Dow and Monsanto consultant well) even raised objections to the scientific merit of tests performed on Patches at the USAF Museum, but other experts disagree CDC, NIESH, the Committee of Concerned Scientists and Physicians, the original experts Dr. Ron Porter and LtCol (PhD) Wade Weisman, and the USAF-contracted testing facility Midwest Testing Institute... find the procedures and results appropriate and Drs. Porter and Weisman stand behind them, per their 2011 correspondence.

Objection now to these tests from a single consultant who has expressed for decades his belief as to the innocence of Agent Orange, and who also expressed his disdain for the veteran aircrews, and who was retained by VA at a cost of $600,000 to obstruct the veterans' claims, seems hardly appropriate. It is, rather, starkly anti-veteran. The Fact Sheet is policy, not science nor law. It reflects staff members' personal agenda, selective use of references rather than a broad assessment of materials, and is clearly not a neutral, objective, accurate assessment of a serious issue.

Readers must note that unlike the recent deception VA's own Inspector General found in a VA Fact Sheet given Congressional staff, this is far more troubling as it is over the Secretary's signature and directly to the Senate Veterans Affairs leadership.

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) 
Fact Sheet for the Honorable Richard M. Burr Regarding Processing of 
Disability Claims Based on Agent Orange (AO) Exposure Aboard C-123 Aircraft 
Outside the Republic of Vietnam 

Several hundred C-123 aircraft were used during the Vietnam War for a variety of
purposes, including troop and supply movements in Vietnam, flare dropping and
gunship security on Thailand airbases, and aerial spraying of insecticides to control
malaria-causing mosquitoes in both Vietnam and Thailand. Only a small number of
these C-123s (approximately 30) were rotated through Vietnam and used for the aerial
spraying of tactical herbicides, such as AO. This occurred from 1962 to 1971 during
Operation Ranch Hand, which was designed to destroy enemy food crops and reveal
enemy jungle positions. Following the 1971 termination of tactical herbicide use in
Vietnam, the involved aircraft may have been assigned other missions in Vietnam or
sent back to the United States.

Eventually, all C-123s in Southeast Asia were sent back to the United States, where they were used by Air National Guard or Reserve units for the remainder of their useful life. VA does not currently have a method of determining if a Veteran claiming stateside AO exposure was flying on one of the Operation Ranch Hand C-123s on one of the many other post-Vietnam C-123s flown stateside during the 1970s and 1980s.

The general claim of AO exposure among stateside C-123 crewmembers is based on a
wipe test sample of residual 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) (the
carcinogenic element in AO herbicide) found in only one C-123, which is exhibited at the
Wright-Patterson U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. That aircraft, named
"Patches" because of the numerous enemy bullet holes that were patched during its
Vietnam service, was assigned to Operation Ranch Hand initially and stayed with the
operation longer than other C-123s. Most of the Operation Ranch Hand C-123s arrived
in Vietnam after 1968, when the application of tactical herbicides was on the decline
and herbicides other than AO, such as Agent White and Blue, were in use. These other
tactical herbicides did not contain TCDD.

Despite these facts, there seems to be a widespread and unfounded assumption that all
other C-123 aircrafts would contain TCDD samples equivalent to "Patches," if tested.
VA has no way of verifying this assumption, but government documents provided by
Dr. Alvin Young, a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel and leading expert on tactical
herbicides, do shed light on the issue. Analysis of surface wipe samples taken from
four mothballed Operation Ranch Hand C-123 aircraft between 1996 and 2009 showed
no evidence of TCDD in two of the aircraft and only trace amounts of TCDD in the other
two. Air samples from all four planes showed no TCDD. It is not clear how VA could
obtain additional aircraft samples and determine if residual TCDD was present in other
C-123s because they are no longer in use, and in some cases, have been destroyed.

Additionally, wipe sampling is a universally accepted method used to detect at what
level a chemical is present on a surface, but cannot be directly extrapolated to represent
human health risk, as chemical intake must also be taken into account. Further, the use
of a solvent removes more of the chemical from the surface than would be available through casual contact with the surface. This illustrates the difficulty VA faces when evaluating whether a particular Veteran claiming stateside AO exposure was actually aboard a C-123 used for Operation Ranch Hand and, if so, whether there was any residual TCDD present in that aircraft, and if it was able to enter the body.

VA assumes that some Veterans flew stateside aboard post-Vietnam Operation Ranch
Hand C-123s that did contain residual solidified TCDD similar to that found in "Patches,"
and so the issue of exposure and long-term health effects among those Veterans must
be considered. To that end, the Veterans Health Administration's (VHA) Office of Public
Health has already conducted a specific scientific investigation into the theory of
exposure to TCDD via incidental aircraft contact. The results are posted on VA's Web

The general conclusion is that:
(1) any residual TCDD in the Operation Ranch Hand aircraft had solidified and is unable to enter the human body in any significant amount, and  (2) there is no scientific evidence that a Veteran's presence in an aircraft containing solidified TCDD can lead to adverse long-term health effects.

Regarding this VHA Office of Public Health scientific investigation:
1. Some scientists have argued against the VHA conclusions and provided opinions stating that the concentration of TCDD in "Patches" was excessive, and, therefore, crew members in any post-Vietnam Operation Ranch Hand C-123 would have been exposed to a high dose. However, several other scientists who are involved with ongoing toxicology research have independently and without solicitation contacted VA to refute the aforementioned opinions. They note that the percentage of TCDD in a wipe sample obtained with a solvent does not translate into a high dose that would be absorbed by the human body. They further note that studies show the skin to be a strong barrier against absorption and that extremely high temperature would be required to vaporize TCDD and make it available for absorption through the lungs.

2. Regarding VHA's conclusion on adverse long-term health effects, numerous public sources have identified the 20-year longitudinal Air Force Health Study, initiated in 1982, as a source of scientific information. It followed and studied 1,261 Vietnam Veterans who were actual pilots and crew members of Operation Ranch Hand C-123s. As such, they were exposed to tactical herbicides on a daily basis and testing showed the presence of TCDD in their bodies. However, current health data (obtained as late as 2012) fail to show a general increased risk of adverse long-term health effects as compared to other populations. Given that the evidence from actual participants in Operation Ranch Hand does not show a health risk from direct exposure to TCDD, it is difficult to ascertain a basis upon which to find a health risk among crew members of post-Vietnam Operation Ranch Hand C-123s.

Veterans Benefits Administration Veterans Health Administration
May 2013

Conclusion: There' much more for the VA IG to consider here! Denial by VA of essential medical care and other earned benefits, as VA staffers seek to implement their personal agendas, cannot be left unchallenged by VA's internal watchdog. Neither can VBA staffers' sabotage of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs in this year of monumental scandals be left concealed.

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