Our elation over last Friday's release of the Institute of Medicine C-123 report is tempered somewhat today.
We see that VA has modified their web pages touching on C-123 veterans' issues, but used very cautious language without any suggestion of acceptance of the affirmation contained in the Institute of Medicine findings released last Friday. VA simply says the IOM report is out and they've assembled subject matter experts to consider it.
Consider it? Not accept and implement it? This is a worry. Is VA seeking ways to negatively interpret the findings or to avoid presumptive service connection? Or poke holes in it to prevent any meaningful recognition of exposure?
The VA web pages cite references, but pointedly avoid including the many which affirm our veterans' exposure (Porter, CDC, ATSDR, etc.) The IOM report itself isn't included as a reference. On the other hand, we're glad that VA did react and post web page changes...they're doing something, we just don't know the details yet.
Let's hope for the best from VA! We want to work with VA. Time is of the essence here, given our ages and illnesses. We've already paid a terrible price because the IOM has shown we were exposed from 1972 on, and many of us had illnesses during these years that can be associated with that exposure. For instance, I had surgery in 1978 to sever nerves in my thigh to stop a severe burning pain we now know could have been Agent Orange-associated peripheral neuropathy.
These four years since we've had to work against...not with...Veterans Benefits Administration and Veterans Health Administration on this concern. At this point, we should finally be on the same page.
We want to wrap up this burdensome struggle and turn to our health concerns and our families! This was not a battle we should have had to fight for ourselves, but instead a situation where VA should have turned to us, offering their care based on science and facts in hand since 2008 and even earlier.
I hope we don't have a Camp Lejeune situation where VA takes a couple years getting machinery in place to administer our situation. After all, there is no legislation needed, the VA has multiple Federal Register announcements covering this very situation, and the "veteran status" of the crews is covered in USC whether flying as ART, AD, UTA, AFTP or even points-only status.
This last weekend the C-123 Veterans Association and the VA reached out to each other to cooperate – lets hope for that cooperation and for prompt acceptance of our veterans' claims per VA M21-1MR. As I read it, we'll have to provide proof of duty aboard C-123s at some point between 1972-1982, and evidence of an Agent Orange-recognized illness. We have JSRRC confirmation available as well!
We found a hero last year in the VA when Paul Bailey's exposure claim was approved by a Manchester New Hampshire DRO. VA was right then, even though the DRO decision was made without the recent IOM report, the moral and scientific validation was still in place. We need a hero again in the VA to get the ball rolling, notify the VAROs that these claims can be approved with proper evidence, and get our folks into the VA medical system.
• Denied claims now awaiting appeals - can these be reconsidered rather than wait out an appeal?
• Current claims "postponed" decisions - can these be released for final evaluation?
• All claims - can we hope for another fast-track? There will be so few it won't burden VA!
• Denied claims past one year appeal date such as Aaron Olmsted's - can they be resubmitted with "new & material evidence?"
• Effective date of awards?
• Can any sort of "provisional" approval be given urgent cases?
• Invite C-123 veterans to the Agent Orange Registry and physical?
To all who've helped, especially the scientists and journalists, God Bless.