29 November 2014

VA Redefines "Exposure" to Block Agent Orange Exposure Claims

OSHA, CDC, NIH and all the others...not quite good enough for VA. At least, not when VA is casting about for something to use to prevent veterans' exposure claims.

To other federal agencies, exposure is defined as contact between a chemical (of any type) and the outer boundary of an organism. CDC, in about the same manner, defines exposure as:
Exposure: Contact with a substance by swallowing, breathing, or touching the skin or eyes.
OHSA defines occupational exposure...the kind experienced by C-123 aircrews, as:
Occupational Exposure means reasonably anticipated skin, eye, mucous membrane, or parenteral contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials that may result from the performance of an employee's duties. 
But the VA needed to create its own definition. Not that there was anything incorrect or unscientific in standard medical or scientific definitions of exposure...its just that VA needed to create a definition to prevent exposure claims. All the other, scientifically correct definitions were, in fact, accurate but that was exactly why VA needed to create its own. Accuracy, and scientific correctness, were what VA saw as the problem in standard definitions of exposure.

VA needed to change the meaning of the word to prevent exposed veterans from qualifying for treatment of Agent Orange exposures.  Here's what the VA invented in their Post Deployment Health Section of Veterans Health Administration, in response to staff members insisting that no C-123 veterans would be permitted to have their Agent Orange exposure claims approved:
Exposure = contamination field + bioavailability.
As VA's Office of General Counsel explained, VA hasn't needed to define the word "exposure" before. There hadn't been any need, because  for one thing, VA never pretended to have the regulatory or scientific authority, or the need, to create its own unscientific and policy-oriented definition of the word. For nearly every situation, the standard reference of Dorlands Medical Illustrated Dictionary was ideal for every occasion.

But that need to come up with VA's own definition, however unscientific, arose just as soon as C-123 veterans pointed out the 1991 Agent Orange Act, and the multiple postings in the Federal Register all very clearly specify "exposure' as the single qualification for veterans to be able to seek VA medical care for Agent Orange-related illnesses.

So VA couldn't easily escape the obligation, oft-repeated, of honoring exposure claims and thus it simply changed the definition of the word...at least, within the VA. That's how the DOD, USPHS, CDC,NIEHS, EPA, NIH, OSHA, WHO, and all other government agencies consider C-123 veterans to have been exposed to Agent Orange, but the VA uses its private, and very unique, redefinition just so that the vets' claims can be denied.

28 November 2014

VA Redefines "Exposure" All By Itself

Definitions. VA regularly uses standard definitions of medical and scientific terms. After all, the more inclusive the definition of any scientific term, the more scientific it is. But if VA simply doesn't like definitions universally accepted in medicine and science, VA has no problem creating its own definitions. And VA's Office of General Counsel suggests it can do just that, even if the redefinition is specifically to disqualify veterans claiming disability benefits.

"Exposure" per Dorlands Medical Illustrated Dictionary
The CDC definition wasn't good enough for VA. Neither was the National Toxicology Program. Not even Dorlands Medical Illustrated Dictionary, otherwise perfect for the VA throughout the medical and legal systems. But no reference, no glossary of terminology, was good enough to help VA ignore exposure claims, so it decided to redefine "exposure" all by itself, for its own purposes of preventing veterans' exposure disability claims. All other medical and scientific definitions in Dorlands were fine for VA's use all the way up to the Supreme Court, but VA needed a special definition for that single word of exposure.

Why? VA finds itself stuck with the word exposure already used in the 1991 Agent Orange Act, and used by the VA itself in at least three separate Federal Register announcements it published regarding how they would treat non-Vietnam Agent Orange exposures. No other qualifiers were used...only the word exposure.

But once veterans began pointing out to the VA that VA's own regulation, VA M21-1MR, and the Federal Register and the 1991 Agent Orange Act simply and clearly specified exposure as the principal qualification for veterans to be eligible for exposure care and other benefits, VA needed to find a way to escape constraints it had created for itself so that it could better deny exposure claims from exposed veterans.

What to do? What might work to help VA avoid providing exposure care and benefits to exposed veterans, having found itself stuck with the word?

VA found their perfect solution in Lewis Carroll's  Through the Looking Glass. Specifically, the wise, and slippery, words of Humpty Dumpty who tells Alice:
“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
’The question is
,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”
 VA's approach: redefine the word exposure within the VA to prevent the exposure claims. VA's Post Deployment Health Section simply created its own definition: "Exposure = contamination field + bioavailability." Adding the separate term of bioavailability was the master stroke, because most exposure situations leave the exposed vet without such proof, especially when medical problems are manifested only decades later, as in the case of Agent Orange exposures.

Confounding exposure with bioavailability, which is actually an element in risk assessment, let VA redefine away any threat that it might have to honor its commitments to veterans suffering from Agent Orange illnesses. VA simply disqualified the veterans by changing the meaning of the word.

VA's determination to have exposure mean only what VA chooses to make it mean was first noted in Post Deployment Health's 2011 VHA Issue Brief, and soon thereafter in the Agent Orange poster presentation several staffers made at the 2012 Society of Toxicology conference. It was years before veterans even noticed the slight-of-hand, years before anyone noted how VA had played the vets.

In 2010 President Obama termed the overall Agent Orange problem "the 40-year wait." Decades of misery which, as described in the White House press release, the President offered his "unwavering support" for "justice long overdue." Promising words indeed, eagerly accepted five years ago by veterans whose cancers, heart disease and other maladies were among the presumptive illnesses associated with Agent Orange exposures. A 40-year wait seems still too short, from the VA's perspective.

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master – that's all."

By its unique redefinition of exposure, VA indeed resolved the question of who is the master (hint; its not the veteran!) and resolve its concerns about how to prevent treatment for exposures suffered by veterans. VA had the clear obligation to honor exposure claims from post-Vietnam veterans who had proof of their exposures, but VA created an escape clause for itself. And thereby, dishonored the Department.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has reasonable discretion in addressing veterans' claims. Congress and the public expected VA to use that discretion in a more inclusive manner, to evaluate various situations and honor legitimate claims under the law in a responsible manner.

Neither Congress nor the public expected VA to instead be resolved to prevent veterans claims.

Rather than keep Lincoln's promise, VA is more determined to show veterans "which is to be master!" After all, as Post Deployment Health told the Associated Press, "We have to draw the line somewhere." And Post Deployment Health is firmly dedicated to drawing its lines however necessary, just so long as claims can be denied. Somehow, policy trumps law in Veterans Health Administration.

25 November 2014

VA Violates 2010 Order from US Circuit Court of Appeals

Veterans Benefits Administration has violated a 2010 order from the US Circuit Court of Appeals. VA had been ordered to publish, and to implement, various rules involving Agent Orange exposure and veterans' benefits. The order flowed from a petition for a writ of mandamus from several veterans organizations and the National Veterans Legal Services Program.

And involved was the eligibility – the right – of C-123 veterans to exposure benefits.

The court approved the request for the writ and ordered the Secretary to publish in the Federal Register the changes in benefits recommended shortly before by the National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine. The 1991 Agent Orange Act states that the Secretary has 60 days to implement such changes and the writ enforced that timely response upon the VA, which VA had been stalling on for too long.

The VA complied with the order, and on August 30 2010 published in the Federal Register the required rule changes bringing into effect the recommendations from NAS. C-123 veterans are directly affected in two ways:
1. The announcements in the Federal Register are binding upon VA 
2. The announcement on August 30 2010 included the VA's statement that no revision on VA regulations (VA 21-1MR) was necessary to address non-Vietnam exposure claims because VA would presume all such situations with recognized Agent Orange illnesses resulting would be treated the same as Vietnam veterans' "presumptive service connection"

So now VA has dodged its obligations to C-123 veterans by redefining "exposure" to prevent acknowledging C-123 veterans' fact-proven exposure claims. Setting up a definition of exposure unique to federal government medical and scientific agencies, VA defies opinions submitted by DOD, USPHS, CDC, EPA, NIH and other authorities to pretend this group of vets were never exposed at all.

And in this deception, not only do they defy their own rules, which courts have said have the rule of law, but they defy the US Circuit Court of Appeals. This is because, having published as ordered the changes recommended by the NAS, VA opts to avoid enforcing them and has for years refused to permit C-123 veterans to receive VA medical care.
VA Announcement in Federal Register
30 August 2010

19 November 2014

C-123 Vets Make Presentation to Institute of Medicine Agent Orange Committee

For our third time since January 2013, on November 17 2014 the C-123 Veterans Association presented an update on our Agent Orange experience to the Institute of Medicine. This time, the IOM was beginning a special, final 24-month examination of virtually all Agent Orange issues with a special focus on newly published scientific and medical literature.

Unlike the first of these meetings back in 1994, only three veterans were present to address the committee during its Monday public forum. In 1994, hundreds of concerned veterans and their advocates made clear to the VA and the IOM the depth of our anger and disappointment.

This time, on Monday November 17, it was immediately clear that so many of those passionate advocates are no longer with us, or no longer able to advance the cause of exposed veterans. The three folks on Monday did their best, and we'll know more in 24 months when the committee's report is finally published.

Who knows...it might be the last one in history!

C-123 Agent Orange IOM Report Delayed – Again!

Word was received yesterday from the Institute of Medicine that the anticipated C-123 Agent Orange study, under way since February and promised out of the IOM by the end of September, has been delayed until mid-January.

It isn't the IOM! The VA has informed the IOM that the department doesn't have the time to review the IOM report, and therefore it can't be released for another six weeks or even longer.

This is reprehensible! Especially so, because VA ordered its regional claims offices to "postpone" all C-123 claims decisions until the IOM report comes out. This flies against VA's own rules spelled out in VA 21-1MR, which hold that claims must be processed promptly once records are complete and a JSRRC response is on file.

VA's stall has meant nine months (so far) of VA refusing to admit C-123 veterans to their hospitals. Nine months of suffering and deaths.

16 November 2014

The Atlantic Magazine Reports on Iraq Chemical Weapons

The New York Times recently uncovered a vast cover-up by DOD officials  Hundreds of troops were exposed to mustard gas, sarin and other agents, all while working under military assurances that none of Iraq's old chemical warfare munitions were a threat.

But threat they were! Atlantic Monthly did a thorough review of the New York Times investigation and the responses by DOD and VA. Click to read their report.

12 November 2014

VA Ranks Number One in Federal Web Sites

The Washington Post gave high praise to the Department of Veterans Affairs, reporting that the VA web site ranked Number One in what most would perceive as value and importance to American democracy. The Post suggested that the better the web site, and the better job that site did serving its visitors, the better for democracy.

And the VA came out on top! This was even before Secretary McDonald announced his plans to further improve the VA's portals for veterans' information, streamlining itself down to a single point with a single log-on.

Good job, VA!

08 November 2014

VA Secretary McDonald Posts "Road To Veterans Day" Action Review

Secretary McDonald published a detailed road map for improvement in the Department of Veterans Affairs, called "The Road To Veterans Day 2014."

As an action plan, he details logical steps VA needs to take to overcome the 2014 Year of Scandals. Mostly, he addresses Veterans Health Administration issues. Of course, these have been the focus of most veterans this year.

He is far more brief on the problems before the Veterans Benefits Administration. Their backlog of claims is improving, but the systematic refusal to address exposure claims at the regional office level remains both an intrinsic and extrinsic ethical nightmare.

For what is termed the biggest remake of the Department in its history, there seems to be little structural change. We hope there is more significant moral improvement.

For 1334 days, VA has refused to acknowledge C-123 veterans' exposure to Agent Orange aboard our aged Vietnam War Agent Orange spray aircraft. This is done with predictable suffering, and as we saw again yesterday when news of Cliff Turcotte reached us, deaths as well.

VA continues to many to be seen as the agency which assured us, through Post Deployment Health's Chief Consultant Dr. Michael Peterson, that "We All Die."  That was his sharp answer to veterans' requests for claims to be processed before their deaths.

That seems of minor concern to many in VBA and VHA.

07 November 2014

Cliff Turcotte Passes

News received this morning that retired Major Cliff Turcotte, Nurse Corps, 74th AES, has passed
away in Springfield, MA. Cliff and I were enlisted medics together, with him going on to a Flight Nurse commission and me, off to the Medical Service Corps.

A big, tough guy, Cliff loved the hard work he did in the 74th so very much, especially out in the field. He was never one to miss the opportunity to help another, to volunteer, to be the best he could be. A great Navy corpsman, he was a great aeromedical evacuation technician and then a great flight nurse. And a great friend.

Rest in peace, Cliff. God bless.

06 November 2014

Military Hid Info About Old Iraqi Chemical Weapons – troops exposed

Hundreds of American service members were exposed to Iraqi chemical weapons between 2003 and recent months.

Several news outlets, including Fox, CNN, The New York Times and the Associated Press, today reported that the Pentagon had withheld information from troops, Congress and even senior military leadership. Pentagon officials briefed the media and offered initial details.
More than 600 U.S. service members told military medical staff that they believe they were exposed to chemical warfare agents in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, The New York Times reported Thursday. Pentagon officials said the department will now expand its outreach to veterans and establish a toll-free hotline for reporting potential exposures and seeking medical evaluation or care, the newspaper said.
Recently, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered an internal review of military records after the Times reported in October that U.S. troops encountered degraded chemical weapons from the 1980s that had been hidden or used in makeshift bombs. The initial newspaper report disclosed that 17 service members had been injured by sarin or sulfur mustard agent, and several more came forward after the story appeared, the Times said Thursday.
The Army's Public Health Command collects standardized medical-history surveys, known as post-deployment health assessments, which troops fill out as they complete combat tours, the newspaper reported. Those who responded "yes" to a question about exposure to such warfare agents — "Do you think you were exposed to any chemical, biological and radiological warfare agents during this deployment?" — were asked to provide a brief explanation.
The review ordered by Hagel showed that 629 people answered "yes" to that question and also filled in a block with information indicating chemical agent exposure, Col. Jerome Buller, a spokesman for the Army surgeon general, told the newspaper. Each person who answered the questionnaire would have received a medical consultation at the end of their combat tour, Buller said.
The Times reported that it was not clear why the military did not take further steps, such as including compiling the data as it accumulated over more than a decade, tracking veterans with related medical complaints, or circulating warnings about risks to soldiers and to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Operationally, questions immediately arise about why EOD personnel were not  briefed on these threats, and why medical personnel were not informed that chemical injuries were a continuing battlefield threat.
This is troubling news to all veterans, and we wish those affected by these chemical weapons the best of care and every possible assistance from DOD and the VA. It is troubling that both the Pentagon and the VA continue to explain to C-123 veterans that, by VA's unique redefinition of the word "exposure," none of us were exposed (in their view.)  

Hopefully the same unscientific (or "ludicrous," in the view of a health official in another federal agency) redefinition won't be used to block care for more current chemical injuries. VA must be prevented from redefining exposure to prevent exposure claims. Congress, and the IOM, must realize that VA provides wonderful medical care but also has shown itself unreliable, and untrustworthy, by preventing veterans' access to that care.
That VA redefinition, established by VA's own Post Deployment Health Section, is: Exposure = contamination field + bioavailability. No proof of bioavailability, means no concession that exposure occurred and the VA eagerly dumps the claim. 

Questions must arise about why VA and DOD together oppose designating toxic C-123 transports proved to be contaminated with Agent Orange as Agent Orange sites, questions certain to only be asked more loudly following this revelation and its proof that policies often trump veterans' health needs.

05 November 2014

VA Makes Its Rules...Then Ignores Them

VA Ignores Its Rules & Blocks C-123 Veterans'
Agent Orange Exposure Claims

The VA follows through on delivery of laws passed by Congress through the United States Code, for most veterans meaning Title 38 C.F.R. VA creates rules and regulations whereby it defines how it will implement the laws, procedures by which claims are to be addressed. They also publish in the Federal Register those rules and regulations, as well as explanations of issues, procedures and unusual situations.

VA's manual addressing veterans' claims is VA 21-1MR. But VA has been picking and choosing which parts of it their agency will implement and which it will ignore, for the purpose of blocking C-123 veterans' claims.

In our case, VA opted not to follow its own published regulation nor adhere to the explanations of its rules and regulations repeatedly published in the Federal Register. Together with numerous other steps by VA, a convincing picture forms of the department's program to block C-123 veterans' exposure claims.

Let's look at how courts have said VA is supposed to respect its own rules, rules by which it determines veterans' eligibility for care and compensation:
The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that, "[w]here the rights of individuals are affected, it is incumbent upon agencies to follow their own procedures.  This is so even where the internal procedures are possibly more rigorous than otherwise would be required" by statute or regulation.  Morton v. Ruiz, 415 U.S. 199, 235 (1974).  This is important when VA takes a "short cut" to save time or effort and then denies a claim.  The law is that even if a regulation requires less effort than a procedure used by VA in similar circumstances, VA cannot pick and choose when to follow its own rules and when not to do so.  See Castellano v. Shinseki, 25 Vet. App. 146, 151 n.2 (2011) ("[T]he Secretary must adhere to his own policies when adjudicating veterans' claims." (citing Morton, 415 U.S. at 235 (1974)).  Yet, 38 C.F.R. § 19.5 states that "[t]he Board is not bound by Department manuals, circulars, or similar administrative issues."

Compliance with the M21-1MR can also be reasonably raised by the record such that the Board should address the issue.  See Schafrath v. Derwinski, 1 Vet. App. 589, 593 (1991) (Board must discuss provisions of law and regulation where they are made "potentially applicable through the assertions and issues raised in the record").  A regional office's failure to follow the M21-1MR and the Board's failure to identify such issues frustrates judicial review, warranting remand.  See Tucker v. West, 11 Vet. App. 369, 374 (1998) (where "the Board has incorrectly applied the law, failed to provide an adequate statement of its reasons or bases for its determinations, or where the record is otherwise inadequate, a remand is the appropriate remedy."); Allday v. Brown, 7 Vet. App. 517, 527 (1995) (holding that the Board's statement "must be adequate to enable claimant to understand the precise basis for the Board's decision, as well as to facilitate review in this Court").
That's the law. So why doesn't VA strictly obey it, as we must? Because they don't have to. Failure to perform as the law or its regulations demand have no consequence for the VA or any of its employees. If a claim goes to the BVA or Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) with clear violations of VA's rules, the worst that can happen is the claim gets remanded for reconsideration, with some comment from the judge if VA has been particularly outrageous. Nothing more.

No fines, No punishment, no nothing.  The only consequence is the veteran faces even more delay as the until the regional office gets around to reworking the claim and then its back in line again for reconsideration of the appeal. In some cases, this has happened three or four times with the CAVC becoming more and more irritated, and the regional office probably going "ho-hum." And the poor veteran waits years and years past when VA should, if following its own regulations, have awarded the claim.

So what's happening with C-123 veterans? For us, the regulation states that VA will follow a section of VA 21-1MR which addresses non-Vietnam War "Boots on the Ground" claims.

Violations of the its procedures set forth in the VA's claims manual (VA 21-1MR) are reversible errors on appeal to BVA or Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The CAVC has declared the M21-1MR manual has “the force of law” and if not followed by VARO raters and DROs violates both procedural and constitutional due process right of veterans. A case from Fort Ord had VA severely criticized for failing the "duty to assist" both stated and implied in VA 21-1MR when VA fails to follow its own rules. But the only penalty was paid by the veteran whose claim was remanded for further delay in the hopes of justice. (Eventually, the claim was successful.)

Legal experts advise us that the three Federal Register statements VA published regarding non-Vietnam exposures constitute VA rules published by the Secretary and VA is compelled to follow them. This is why OGC quickly opted to redefine exposure, different than other government agencies and even differently than VA's standard dictionary of medical terminology and its court-accepted definition of "exposure." Redefining standard terms differently than other federal agencies (CDC/ATSDR, ) to prevent claims, and predetermining our claims to be without merit, denies us due process.

When claims like ours have persuasive supporting evidence dismissed in advance, when VARO staff is trained that C-123 claims are baseless, and when VA fails to follow its own manual as well as the specific commitments made in the Federal Register, due process is denied and, as the CAVC and other courts have said, our Constitutional rights abused.

When VHA executives state "We cannot permit C-123 claims" or tell the Associated Press, "We have to draw the line somewhere" or "No C-123 veterans were ever exposed," our rights are abused. Not a little, but in direct trashing of our Right to Due Process under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In case you're not familiar with it, that's one of the "Bill of Rights." VA trashes it, destroying personal liberties guaranteed us under the Constitution. That's a pretty big deal.

VA doesn't care. No problem for them, either as an agency or for the individual doing the trashing.

The VA has created a C-123 process like this:
1. Veteran files exposure claim (assuming he/she isn't dissuaded by the VA web pages stating somehow, no exposure occurred) or told by VSOs and VA staff there is no eligibility and therefore, no need for vets to apply as the process is hopeless
2. Claim gathers input from JSRRC if available, but claim is usually denied at the VARO on the strength of VHA/VBA instructions, training to dismiss/disregard veteran's proofs
3. Non-Vietnam AO claim is supposed to be routed to VBA Agent Orange desk, Mr. James Sampsel, the gentleman who drafted Secretary Shinseki's deceptive, error-laden letter to Senator Burr
4. Agent Orange desk issues Advisory Opinion directing the VARO to deny the claim
5. Claim is appealed and BVA correctly interprets scientific evidence; thus far all appealed C-123 claims are successful and our Fifth Amendment rights restored, albeit with great delay
6. Trend developing in non-C-123 Agent Orange situations where BVA is stating claims for exposure are not authorized for other than VN, DMZ, some ships, etc – this is a great error because every claim should be permitted to stand on the evidence of proven exposure, as VBA Under Secretary Hickey has stressed so many times, but without VA follow-through because instead, each claim is ordered denied
7. VA has spent $600,000 with an outside consultant for creation of monographs challenging C-123 veterans' claims, but not a penny was spent to support the claims. VA even invited Dow and Monsanto to submit a letter arguing against veterans' exposure claims. These "experts" continue to assert that dioxin has not been shown to be harmful, which is shown to be a false statement: the VA itself, EPA, NIH, CDC, FDA, WHO and virtually all other regulatory and scientific organizations recognize dioxin as a potent human carcinogen.

Why? We don't know. There aren't enough of us (about 2100 crew and maintenance veterans) to warrant such a continuing (1331 days) campaign to bar us from VA hospitals. Probably, admitting our exposures would trigger something else which we're unaware of but which VA is so determined to prevent.

We're waiting for the Institute of Medicine C-123 Agent Orange report, although it is months late from its anticipated September 30 release. Probably VA is fighting that report as well in the review process before publication, but perhaps we are just off base and the IOM is taking more time to make its report comply better with the VA's charge to the committee.

In any case, VA rating officials have ordered all C-123 claims postponed until results of the IOM are clear and implemented by the VA. This has meant eleven months thus far with more to come, in delaying VA from obeying the regulations it published for itself...and for us...to follow regarding Agent Orange claims.

Even in the most positive review of what's happened and what is to come in this process, VA wins, defeating our access to VA care for over 1331 days since we first sought their help. No catch-up check for delayed compensation makes up for denied medical care, denied family benefits, refused state benefits due vets with acknowledged VA disabilities, and the misery of having to fight this fight for years when our focus should instead be on family and resolving medical issues.

We fought our wars. We didn't expect to come home to do combat with the VA.

Time is of the essence once a veteran becomes ill and files a claim. Life-saving care won't be permitted until the vet's claim is processed and (hopefully) approved.

VA know this, which is exactly why VHA considers 1331 days of delay thus far a spectacular victory, a victory of preventing our access to its world-class medical institutions. Why?

The more vets receiving care, the longer the waiting lists which draw such attention from the media, and the more VA's budget is impacted in providing essential care. VHA sees prevention of our care their greatest cost-saving opportunity...the longer they hold off claims or keep them denied, the more money saved for VA.

04 November 2014

VA DELAYS – 1330 Days Since C-123 Veterans Sought Help

Too much time has passed.

We sought VA help one thousand three hundred and thirty days ago. VA refused that help then, as they do now. In the interum, we've supplied more proofs and findings to support our claims.

But in the interum, VA has opted to redefine "exposure" to prevent exposure claims, and to order ROs to deny C-123 veterans' claims. They even assure us dixoin hasn't been shown to be harmful. They even refuse input from the CDC, EPA, NIH, US Public Health Service, and dozens of concerned scientists and physicians.

Too much time has passed. And VA continues to work hard, through the offices of its Post Deployment Health Section in Veterans Health Administration, to insure none of our Agent Orange exposed veterans are permitted VA hospital care and other benefits.

The suffering and deaths from such action were perfectly predictable back when we first asked VA for help. They refused us care anyway.

They have fought us at every turn, even by hiring outside consultants at a cost of $600,000 to prepare monographs opposing our exposure proofs. VA allowed Dow and Monsanto to submit arguments against our veterans. VA staffers also drafted deceptive and error-laden correspondence for Secretary Shinseki to sign and submit to the Senate Veteans Affairs Committee.

1330 days. Intolerable.

03 November 2014

Dow & Monsanto Team Up On New Challenge To Veterans' Agent Orange Claims

The Agent Orange manufacturers aren't content with having poisoned a decade of Vietnam veterans with their deadly herbicide known to contain deadly amounts of dioxin.

Faithfully continuing their profitable anti-veteran campaign first begun in 1961 and reaching now into 2014, Dow and Monsanto again joined forces with the VA in June at the Institute of Medicine's C-123 Agent Orange hearing in Washington, D.C.

Their Objective: Block veterans' Agent Orange exposure claims, by preventing VA medical care and compensation for C-123 post-Vietnam veterans.

Between 1972-1982, these vets flew the Agent Orange spray airplanes for routine cargo and aeromedical evacuation missions, but the crews and maintenance workers didn't realize their aircraft remained contaminated ("heavily contaminated," according to USAF toxicologists.) In 2010, all C-123s were destroyed by the USAF as toxic waste.

Researchers Drs. John Ross and Michael Ginevan presented their error-ridden letter to VA Under Secretary Allison Hickey in January 2013. Sponsored in this disservice to veterans by Dow and Monsanto, these private-sector consultants apparently felt it inappropriate that VA provide care for the C-123 veterans' Agent Orange illnesses.

Ross and Ginevan have frequently sided with the VA and the Agent Orange manufacturers in opposing veterans' disability claims, and nothing is new here. They ignored most proofs the veterans submitted to the VA to substantiate their claims, such as the CDC and NIH findings, and twisted others in their attack.

One particularly glaring deception was their description of Patches (C-123K Tail #362) as not being representative of other Agent Orange spray aircraft. Indeed...the others were likely even more contaminated than Patches because they sprayed Agent Orange more recently than did Patches and their contamination was "fresher."

They found a way to twist another fact into a deception. Dioxin is well-known as a human carcinogen, even acknowledged as such by the VA. Ross and Ginevan attempted to mislead VA into dismissing the dangers of the dioxin remaining on the aircraft. Offered to VA was a pretense that scientists question whether dioxin actually is a carcinogen. Really? From VA's own web page;
"TCDD (the dioxin in Agent Orange) is the most toxic of the toxins, and classified as a human carcinogen by the EPA."
That alone should condemn Ross and Ginevan's letter into the VA's trash heap. But it won't. They played to VA's eager ears. Dow and Monsanto were only too happy to feed VA deceptions to continue their joint defense of Agent Orange.

General Officer Statement on C-123 Safety

Patches, Tail # 362, now at USAF Museum, Dayton OH
In October 1979, even after tests were performed on a C-123K assigned to the 731st Tactical Airlift Wing and Agent Orange was identified which still contaminated the airplane, BG Don Haugen made the following statement to thousands of his personnel:
"As far as aircraft safety is concerned, although there is never a warranty, the C-123 is as safe as humanly possible."
I personally worked for this leader and admired him greatly. But he was in error.

The C-123 was a deadly hazard that had already poisoned us for seven years, and that would continue poisoning us for three more until the last was flown into desert storage. 

Agent Orange, identified on Patches (Tail #362,) remained on many of our aircraft following their Vietnam Agent Orange spray missions. The Conway tests proved this, but neither we nor our leadership were informed then, or ever since. We had to find out by the Freedom of Information Act.

What happened? Where was the leadership due us from the USAF Surgeon General?

Where is the leadership and responsibility of the Department of Veterans Affairs when we turn to it with proof of our illness, proof of our exposures, and find the VA locking its hospital doors against us?

Has VA not read its own mission statement, so horribly abused this Year of VA Scandals?

Mission, Vision, Core Values & Goals

Mission Statement

To fulfill President Lincoln's promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.

Core Values

VA’s five core values underscore the obligations inherent in VA’s mission: Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence. The core values define “who we are,” our culture, and how we care for Veterans and eligible beneficiaries. Our values are more than just words – they affect outcomes in our daily interactions with Veterans and eligible beneficiaries and with each other. Taking the first letter of each word—Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, Excellence—creates a powerful acronym, “I CARE,” that reminds each VA employee of the importance of their role in this Department. These core values come together as five promises we make as individuals and as an organization to those we serve.
Integrity: Act with high moral principle. Adhere to the highest professional standards. Maintain the trust and confidence of all with whom I engage.
Commitment: Work diligently to serve Veterans and other beneficiaries. Be driven by an earnest belief in VA’s mission. Fulfill my individual responsibilities and organizational responsibilities.
Advocacy: Be truly Veteran-centric by identifying, fully considering, and appropriately advancing the interests of Veterans and other beneficiaries.
Respect: Treat all those I serve and with whom I work with dignity and respect. Show respect to earn it.
Excellence: Strive for the highest quality and continuous improvement. Be thoughtful and decisive in leadership, accountable for my actions, willing to admit mistakes, and rigorous in correcting them.

CDC: Full HAZMAT Suits Should Have Been Used on C-123s Due to Agent Orange Contamination

It is official: CDC analyzed test results of C-123s previously flown for spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam, and issued the following conclusion to the Institute of Medicine on June 16. The IOM is reviewing C-123 veterans' Agent Orange exposures.

CDC wrote:
Above: CDC Report to VA/IOM, page 6
Above: AF inspectors at C-123 Quarantine Site, 2009. Wearing HAZMAT protection as 
specified by base safetyofficials. In 2014 CDC concluded full HAZMAT should have been required for 
crews flying and maintaining the C-123s between 1972-1982, however AF elected not to inform 
aircrews of lingering Agent Orange contamination or any safety precautions. (USAF Photo)

VA PUBLIC AFFAIRS – AN EASY JOB. Just say nothing!

"We take these issues very seriously."
Public Affairs:
 Tell 'em nothing. Make Boss Look Good

"VA is committed to (fill in the blank as per below:)"
   – protecting patent's privacy
   – fixing the problem
   – putting patients first
   – providing high quality benefits & care deserved
   – ensuring EEO and workplace diversity
   – enforcing accountability
   – open, honest timely communication
   – strengthening veterans' trust
   – maintaining our vision
   – transparency
   – continuing reform
   – yada-yada, etc ditto

You get the idea. VA operates on a "fill in the blank" while saying nothing of substance. When challenged by reporters or veterans, they pop off with one of their auto-statements. These phrases carry no promises, no weight at all, and are identical to a parent's telling a child "later" or "maybe next time."

No effort is wasted telling us just how VA remains "committed," nor what happens if they take an issue seriously. We veterans take being sick and dying seriously. We wish VA did.

For years problems have been pointed out to VA officials, only to have vapid responses like these hurled back without changes made to address what needs improving. And 2014 has certainly showed America that much needs improving at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The first VA failure on our own list is Post Deployment Health, part of Veterans Health Administration. Post Deployment Health actually does good work in many areas, but the damning failure in their disservice of veterans is creative opposition to veterans' claims for exposures. This failure has been recently the focus of special coverage in the National Journal, with one feature on C-123 veterans and today's publication of VA's failures with Camp Lejeune.

It seems that if Post Deployment Health can find a way to prevent claims, they excel. Amazing that they'd even redefine exposure itself to prevent exposure claims, from us as well as today's returning veterans.

02 November 2014

CDC Report Proves C-123 Agent Orange Exposures (Post-Vietnam)

In June 2014 at the Institute of Medicine C-123 Exposure Hearings, the CDC presented its findings about C-123 veterans' Agent Orange exposures, and they pulled no punches! We were exposed, and our duty aboard the C-123s subjected us to a greatly increased risk of cancer and were also 182 times greater than military limits for dioxin exposure.

These government experts determined that our post-Vietnam aircrew and maintenance workers suffered significant, and harmful, Agent Orange exposures which were probably even higher when we flew the planes, than when the Air Force tested them years after the C-123s were mothballed.

VA has had this information from the CDC since 2012, but just refused to evaluate it. Reviewing the details, VA's Compensation and Pension Service simply dismissed the facts presented as irrelevant to our claims.

For nearly four years now, VA has dismissed everything which possibly argued that we'd been exposed, and even ignores its own regulations to block our claims.

How much proof does it take to reach the "as likely to as not" threshold of the law? Apparently, much, much more than VA should be asking! They ignore the CDC, NIH, EPA, dozens of scientists and physicians (the "Concerned Scientists and Physicians",) National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Toicology Program, US Public Health Service and even the DOD Joint Services Records Research Center.

The JSRRC report is considered "source DOD verification" of veterans' exposures – except with VA's treatment of C-123 claims. Our claims continue to be ordered denied by the VBA's Compensation and Pension Service, regardless of stacks of proof.

Below: Findings: CDC details proofs of C-123 veterans' Agent Orange exposures (from page 4, by Dr. T. Sinks)

CLICK HERE to read entire CDC C-123 Report

01 November 2014

GAO Attacks Disabled Military Retiree "Triple Dipping"

Fox News and other sources jumped on an AP report of a twisted, error-laden General Accounting Office report that 60,000 veterans are "triple-dipping" disability benefits. In a particularly offensive headline, the usually even-handed Washington Times labeled the veterans as "caught" doing it. But how can one be "caught" earning and then receiving the protection provided by law?

At least each of the articles did mention that earning and receiving such benefits is entirely legal. We say entirely appropriate, as well!

Senator Tom Coburn, generally considered an anti-military representative from Oklahoma, requested the study and described the veterans in derogatory terms.

GAO failed to emphasise that veterans, and indeed, all Americans, are entitled to collect the benefits provided by law or employment contract. We often pay into those programs, as with Social Security Disability Insurance.

GAO's most glaring error was failure to detail the identical programs of disability protection enjoyed by the rest of American society. Military members, just like the letter carrier, the VA records clerk, or the WalMart checker, on-the-job injuries result in medical protection of the employee and where appropriate, disability income. Unlike many civilian disability plans, a military member has no protection in the event his/her injuries are associated with drug or alcohol abuse, or being absent from duty...civilians' disability insurance plans generally kick in regardless of the injury or illness' cause, however on-the-job workers compensation plans generally address only situations directly job-related.

Just like civilian workers eligible for retirement based on years of service, military members earn that benefit as well, but only after 20 long years of often hazardous service, not the five years specified for most civilian workers to be vested in their company's plans. Everyone, civilian or military, completing the requirements of their particular situation, receives retirement benefits. Military members enjoy no advantage over their civilian friends but rather, must serve longer and often under far more hazardous conditions, as well as forfeit numerous civil liberties while earning a retirement.

Social Security Disability Income kicks in for long-term or permanent disability for both military and civilian workers, basing the amount paid on pre-injury earnings, and providing through MediCare vital medical coverage as well. Military members do receive expedited processing of claims, an action undertaken by Social Security itself. About half of the veterans cited are over age 60, at which point disability benefits are replaced with regular, earned retirement benefits as with all other workers covered by Social Security, which we all pay into our entire working careers.

All persons working for a "substantial wage," (generally $1,070/month or more) whether military or civilian and regardless of degree of disability, disqualify themselves for Social Security Disability. Military retirement, or being on injured status awaiting disability retirement and receiving full pay and benefits, is not work! It is work and receipt of a "substantial wage," not one's income, which triggers the Social Security Disability cutoff. Civilian worker, military member...no difference.

VA disability is where military members have different protections. Different percentage of disability are assigned for different illnesses and injuries, with non-service connected issues not considered. At one time, VA disability was based on military rank, but years ago everyone was put on the same basic amount...a private's amount. Extraordinary disabilities can increase the veteran's monthly amount, for instance being home-bound, massive trauma, blindness and other catastrophic situations. Allowances are also made for dependents, and some other programs such as children's educational benefits are provided.

All situations addressing military members are created by Congress, not the Armed Forces. No special plans for special employees, as is often the case in civilian companies providing different benefits for executives than for other staff. Congress established the Social Security Disability System, in which civilian and military members are treated equally other than with expedited claims.

So the GAO didn't make much of a point in their study, other than to create, through clever use of statistics and selective use of references, the perception that it is a better deal to loose an arm or leg in combat than in a civilian accident.

It is a false perception. The GAO seemed to emphasize disabled military receiving earned retirement, earned VA benefits and Social Security Disability, as if this was legal but shifty or greedy. It is not! We earn our benefits through decades of service, through payments into Social Security, and by on-the-job injuries for which VA provides protection. Receiving earned military retirement and receiving earned VA disability as well is no different than a postal worker receiving his retirement and also, if qualified, his VA disability check from any military service performed.

If Congress wishes the military not to qualify for Social Security Disability Income for which all servicemembers are taxed, it should address that issue by exempting the military but also not taxing them for Social Security.

If our civilian friends want to address military pay or VA disability issues, we suggest, "go fight your own wars."