14 December 2014

VA Defies NIH & CDC – Insists Dioxin is Harmless

The Department of Veterans Affairs defies scientific opinions from leading health experts at CDC, EPA, OHSA, the National Toxicology ProgramNational Institutes of Health, and elsewhere throughout the government. VA has refused veterans' dioxin exposure disability claims on the basis of dioxin being harmless. The veteran had claimed exposure to Agent Orange, which contained dioxin, the common name for the toxin TCDD.

"In summary, there is no conclusive evidence of TCDD causing any adverse health effects."

This statement summarizes VA's denial of a veteran's claim based on Agent Orange exposure aboard the Air Force Agent Orange spray C-123 transports, flown after the war until 1982. Agent Orange is simply harmless?

The summary is the official position of Veterans Benefits Administration executive Mr. Tom Murphy. Mr. Murphy is Director, Compensation and Pension Service, and heads VA's organization managing disability claims. His statement, over his signature, was read back to him at his office in February 2012, in the event of a possible misquote or typo. It was not retracted or modified and he allows it to stand as part of his decision to refuse VA medical care for an Air Force veteran's prostate cancer, a recognized Agent Orange exposure ailment.

Mr. Murphy did mention he could not be familiar with every document leaving his office over his signature, but again, permitted no change or modification of this unusual statement, even considering that it served as his basis for refusing medical care for a veteran's cancer, as well as several other ailments the VA associates with Agent Orange.

A year after being submitted, the veteran's claim was denied in 2012. The claim remains denied over two years later, still in appeal in the VA' s additional two to three year long process with the Board of Veterans Appeals. There, such an obvious scientific mistake is nearly certain to be corrected, but the process (called remand) merely sends the claim back to the original VA office with the errors pointed out and instructions to reconsider.

More years thus await a cancer victim seeking a VA's help surviving terrible illnesses. If he or she survives, it will only be because care was found somewhere other the the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Veterans who served in Vietnam are all presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange and are provided care. VA had been asked by Congress and veterans service organizations about meeting the needs of veterans exposed outside Vietnam and three times via the Federal Register VA assured Congress that all exposed veterans are to be treated. Here, by pretending both that Agent Orange is harmless and exposed vets somehow weren't' exposed per the VA's unique definition of "exposure," VA's unofficial policy of blocking disability claims perfected. Why?

VA is determined, as its Deputy Chief Consultant of Post Deployment informed the Associated Press, with denying Agent Orange claims because, "You have to draw the line somewhere." Other federal agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, CDC, OHSA and EPA, are concerned with health, not drawing lines over veterans' TCDD exposure claims. At VA, veterans' health and survival comes second to "draw line somewhere." In such denials, VA carefully considered the input received from Dow and Monsanto, who along with the VA's $300,000 per year Agent Orange consultant, strongly oppose veterans' exposure benefits.

This was strongly opposed by the Committee of Concerned Scientists and Physicians, with Dr. Jeanne Stellman of Columbia University as the corresponding scientist. The input of these dozens of experts was ignored because VA had predetermined (in VHA's Post Deployment Health Section) that all the claims were to be denied regardless of proofs and evidence.

Mr. Murphy was manifestly wrong in his statement regarding TCDD being harmless. Rather, TCDD is the most toxic and potent of the toxins.  To VA a denied claim, even if eventually overturned in the veteran's favor,  is a win-win situation because VA is able to deny medical care for many years in the process. Years when caring for cancer and heart disease patients becomes a very expensive proposition.

Here's what the National Institutes of Health tells us about about dioxin:
"TCDD dioxin is listed as a human carcinogen in the Thirteenth Report on Carcinogens published by the National Toxicology Program because it causes cancer, particularly lung cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. 
Exposure to high levels of dioxins can cause reproductive and development problems, suppression of the immune system, increased heart disease and diabetes, changes in hormonal levels, liver damage, and abnormalities of the pancreas, circulatory, and respiratory systems. 
Exposure to low levels of TCDD can cause dermatitis, gastrointestinal problems, and excessive body hair. 
Exposure to low levels of all dioxins can cause a burning sensation in the eyes, nose, and throat; headache; dizziness; fatigue; blurred vision; urinary tract disorders; muscle and joint pain; impaired muscle coordination; nausea; and vomiting."
Here's what the Department of Veterans Affairs and Mr. Murphy tells us about dioxin:
 "Claim Denied." "In summary, there is no conclusive evidence of TCDD causing  any adverse health effects."  
The statement might be scientifically and medically wrong and absolutely contrary to experts throughout the government (as well as in the VA!) but Mr. Murphy's objective was met: VA drew its line and, as the VA and Office of Secretary of Defense Agent Orange consultant put it, veterans he considers "freeloaders, trash-haulers looking for a tax-free dollar from a sympathetic congressman" were told to seek care elsewhere...anywhere but the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Mr. Murphy's statement thus gets another claim out of the infamous VA backlog by the easy step of denying it, and helps resolve VA's budget and long lines in VA hospitals by keeping Agent Orange veterans' decisions denied as long as possible.

If only veterans could turn to Mr. Murphy to resolve their cancers with his pen as readily as he solves VA's problems.

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