28 February 2015

Retired Military? Agent Orange Exposure May Qualify You for Combat Related Special Compensation

Many things have changed regarding military retirements and VA disability compensation, and how they relate. Agent Orange is considered a "weapon of war" and thus may affect one's eligibility for "Combat Related Special Compensation."

VA disability compensation is tax-free, of course, and most military retirees pay tax on retirement pay. Military disability retirement is also taxed, unless the veteran entered service before 1978.

Combat Related Special Compensation (CRSC) is a program that was created for disability and non-disabled military retirees with combat-related disabilities. It is a tax free entitlement that replaces retired pay that was waived to receive VA disability compensation for combat related disabilities.

Eligibility. To qualify for CRSC you must:
• be entitled to and/or receiving military retired pay or be a reservist that is at least 60 years old or retired under Temporary Early Retirement Authorization (TERA) AND
• be rated at least 10 percent by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs AND
• waive your VA pay from your retired pay AND
• file a CRSC application with your branch of service

To learn more about this, visit HERE.

26 February 2015

First News Report of C-123 Agent Orange Coverage Revealed by VA Secretary McDonald

Lewis Wallace published the first announcement of C-123 Agent Orange coverage in his Ohio-area WYSO report.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says it will make an announcement next week about treatment for Air Force reservists who may have been exposed to Agent Orange after Vietnam. Ohio U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown has joined the chorus of voices asking for a policy change.
As many as 2,100 people who worked on C-123 cargo planes in the Air Force reserves could have been exposed to Agent Orange residues in the 1970s, after those planes had been used in Vietnam to spray the toxic defoliant. The planes weren’t thoroughly cleaned before being reused in the reserves in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. One C-123 that was finally retired to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force was decontaminated by contractors in the 1990s before going on display inside a hangar.
Rickenbacker Air Force Base in Columbus is one of the sites that flew C-123s for medical and other missions, and a growing group of former reservists has been asking the VA for recognition for health conditions that could be related to dioxin, the toxin in Agent Orange. Currently, anyone who was on the ground in Vietnam and has any of a list of diseases associated with dioxin is eligible for what are called presumptive benefits, including disability benefits and money for survivors. But many of the C-123 reservists never went to Vietnam, and almost all have had their claims related to Agent Orange denied by the VA.
Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown says he talked to VA Secretary McDonald about the issue personally.
“How do we make this up to them in the quickest, best possible way?” he said in an interview with WYSO.
In a Veterans Affairs committee meeting Thursday morning, McDonald for the first time publicly promised answers following a question from Senator Brown that referenced WYSO’s national reporting on the issue. The statement came after years of pressure from reservists, who say the VA had the information it needed years ago to reassess the status of C-123 vets.
After a recent report by the Institute of Medicine confirmed the possibility that C-123 reservists were exposed to Agent Orange in hazardous amounts, the VA updated its website encouraging vets to file claims. Still, veterans involved in advocacy have been pushing for the VA and the Air Force to be proactive about finding the people who could be affected, and offering them the same presumptive benefits given to those who were in Vietnam.
McDonald said the VA is working to identify the people who could have been exposed, and Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey will make an announcement on the issue next week.

C-123 Veterans! Secretary McDonald Stated This AM that VA Would Announce Next Week!

Thank you, Mr. Secretary!
Under Secretary Hickey will announce the VA coverage next week. Secretary McDonald answered an inquiry from Ohio's Senator Brown with the promise that Secretary Hickey would do the honors, wrapping up our four year struggle getting to this point.

We owe everything to the kindness of the media, legislators, scientists and other veterans. Thank you!

American Legion Magazine Reports on C-123 Agent Orange Saga

The American Legion was the first service organization to stand with us in advocating Agent Orange benefits for our exposed C-123 veterans. Introduced to us by Columbia's Dr. Jeanne Stellman, Legion executives presented and the membership approved a resolution calling on the VA to recognize our toxin exposures.

Support from America's largest veterans organization is something that certainly got attention and respect from the Air Force and VA.

Continuing their focus on our C-123 issue, this month's Legion magazine carries an article by author Tom Philpott on page 19. Like the American Legion, Philpott is very familiar with C-123 issues, having begun his coverage of us in 2011 when we began our efforts. His coverage of the January 9 2015 report from the Institute of Medicine was very comprehensive, and carried through Gannett's chain.

Philpott has been covering military issues longer than most veterans served...over thirty years as a journalist, including his tour in the Coast Guard.

This month, he surprised us with his full page report in the Legion: we had no idea it was in the works. He certainly surprised me with his kind words, which are much appreciated as we anticipate wrapping up these four years of arduous work.

I believe the next report from Tom Philpott will announce (to use a naval metaphor) a terrific "sea change" in the way VA has evaluated our disability claims. That will be my favorite Philpott article ever! I can't wait!

24 February 2015

Little-Known Benefits From a VA Disability Rating

Our focus, of course, is always on establishing our eligibility for VA medical care: No medical care means terrific suffering and financial hardship for veterans unfairly denied earned care.

For 100% disabled veterans, VA's embrace is wonderful. Ophthalmology, audiology, counseling, rehab, dental, prosthetics, pharmacy, specialty clinics, general medicine...a wide range of vital services to help a disabled veteran recover, or improve as much as possible seeking the greatest quality of life possible.

And, of course, there is compensation. It is called that because of the philosophy of replacing, with some financial adjustment, the veteran's lost earning capacity. It is not a pension, it is not charity, it is not taking something more properly due another deserving veteran...it is earned by each veteran with a recognized service-connected illness or injury. There is no means test, of course: that's something required for a pension, but not service-connected compensation.

But there is more that veterans should be aware of (but I'm no expert...check with the VA for details!)

• State benefits, typically property tax relief, veterans bonuses, automobile licenses and waived auto fees, state veterans' homes, cemetaries, college tuition waiver, children's college tuition waiver
• Veterans Cemetery Administration. Burial in a national cemetery, state veterans cemetery. Burial allowances for service-connected deaths
• Priority One for VA medical care, with no co--pays
• Educational benefits for children; continued medical care for children disabled before age 18
• Transportation costs for medical care beyond a certain distance from a veteran's home
• Contract medical care in the community
• Long-term health care (this gets tricky...VA needs to explain if you're interested) in VA facilities or contracted local facilities; VA assistance with state nursing homes which charge fees
• One year of fee-waived VGLI (must be applied for) 
• Clothing allowance for clothing damaged by medicines, prosthetics, wheelchairs, etc.
• Independent living assistance, sometimes including home modifications, quality of life issues
• Access to VA's War Injury and Illness Treatment Centers
• Combat Related Special Compensation. Adjusts taxes on military retirement, in some cases to zero, because Agent Orange is a "weapon of war"
• Some commercial firms, like Lowes and Home Depot, offer discounts 
• Survivor's benefits, including CHAMP-VA

Black History Month - American Veterans! American Heros!

Time to Remember. Time for Respect!
Notice: US Army Distinguished Service Cross on each soldier.

23 February 2015

Considering a C-123 Agent Orange claim? Claim in now? Claim denied? Claim in appeal process?

I need help identifying C-123 veterans who don't have Vietnam "boots on the ground' service and who are aircrew, aircraft maintenance, AGE, life support, AME, flight surgeons, ACM, life support, CAMS, aerial port...to give me your name, telephone and email.

There is a chance we can get assistance on these claims very soon but we need to identify who needs help. 

In any case, even if you are not one of the folks who need help with an Agent Orange C-123 claim, pass the request along, please.

Yale School of Law Seeks C-123 Veterans – Read Their Offer of Free Assistance

Yale School of Law, under Dean Michael Wishnie, offers a terrific veterans law clinic that has been instrumental in addressing C-123 veterans' Agent Orange claims. At great expense to the school, they've stood by us for several years as we presented our claims to the VA.

Their C-123 report on presumptive service connection is top-quality legal scholarship and persuasive to any fair-minded VA claims adjudicator. They want to help you. Free. Very good help, and very free. They want to hear from C-123 vets who did not serve in Vietnam - Vietnam vets are already qualified for benefits Yale seeks for the rest of us.

Dean Wishnie and his team also represented a Westover veteran at the Boston VA for a Decision Review Officer hearing...you can imagine the impact as the veterans' representatives were introduced to the VA folks.

Yale wants to keep helping. They are reaching out to all veterans and survivors to discuss certain legal strategies which can apply to us individually as well as our association.

Who: Primary fight crew, ACM, AGE, aerial port, AME, CAMS, life support, flight surgeons...personnel serving between 1972-1982 who had occupational duties on the C-123...that means hands-on, inside the airplane type of duty. Westover, Rickenbacker and Pittsburg units, plus Panama rotation.

The leaders of the C-123 Veterans Association ask each of you to cooperate. Doing so won't change any arrangements you may have for representation with a veterans service organization. Yale's powerful assistance to individuals and to the association is offered pro bono, of course. Other veterans legal clinics and some wonderful private law firms have also stepped up to represent our folks, all as a service in recognition of the sacrifices already made by C-123 veterans and our families.

For us lunkheads who never took Latin, that means free. I looked it up. Trust me. Jokes aside, the results these folks seek are vital and we can't get to our objective without your cooperation. Give them an email at c123.project@yale.edu.

22 February 2015

VA & DOD Cooperated To Block C-123 Aircraft From "Agent Orange Site Lists" & Deny Exposure Claims

Several times since 2013, the C-123 Veterans have sought addition of former Ranch Hand aircraft to the DOD list of Agent Orange sites the VA utilizes in evaluating veterans' exposure claims.

Each time, the requests have been denied. We've sought this from VA, but they referred us to the military. Identifying the Pentagon agency responsible, we asked there three separate times, and a fourth time directly to Secretary Hagel.

That last one worked, to a point. The Secretary was inclined to approve but convinced to drop his support, with the staff describing the issue as a "hot potato." Staff even stated they'd made a mistake responding to the requests with their denial, rather than ignoring them altogether. Their annoyance dealing with persistent requests was frequently described in VA memos released last week under FOIA, and also in earlier messages released by DOD FOIA results. The hot potato stayed hot.

Indeed it was. Absence from the DOD list is cited by VA as reason to deny non-Vietnam Agent Orange exposure claims per VA regulation VAM21-1MR. No service at one of the DOD sites means a denied claim. Its one of those "no information" equals "negative information" misconstructions.

What veterans find disturbing is that our C-123s were destroyed in April-June 2010 because they were toxic, and because...at many documents explained...veterans might learn of the contamination and seek VA medical care. That's why the destruction was "below the radar' and kept from the press.

But veterans learned of the contamination, which we'd been assured years earlier wasn't possible, and the January 2015 Institute of Medicine confirmed that contamination and our harmful exposures.

Regardless, DOD and its agency, the Armed Forces Pest Management Board, refused to consider adding C-123 Ranch Hand aircraft to the list, which was originally prepared by Dr. Al Young. Dr. Young himself recommended destruction of the C-123 fleet in 2009, and he also testified before the Institute of Medicine in June 2014, insisting veterans were never exposed. The IOM found otherwise.

The recent release of VA documents under our FOIA lawsuit in the US District Court of Washington DC included a very troubling email. We asked VA, and then we asked DOD, to list C-123s as exposure sites, but each agency passed the buck to the other.

Released last week was an email showing that DOD and VA agreed between themselves not to list the aircraft...they coordinated refusal to help us, with much of their determination based on that mythical "overwhelming preponderance of evidence" phrase invented by Compensation and Pension Service. Their joint objective: assure denial of veterans' exposure claims.

Amazing revelation, and it helps us understand why both VA and USAF fought our Freedom of Information Act requests for years, and even still responds only with documents having hundreds of pages without copy...everything redacted.
Yossarian was lucky...he wasn't in a C-123!
They present us with a perfect Catch 22 situation. Exposure claims are not honored because the C-123s are not listed on the site list. CDC told VA and USAF that the C-123s were so contaminated crews should have been wearing full HAZMAT.

Nonetheless, DOD, although its toxicologists determined the planes were contaminated and "a danger to public health," won't list the aircraft on the list prepared back in 2006, all as part of the scheme agreed on back in 2013. "Just because" seems to sum up their justification to themselves.

One government hand points to the other and we are left with a perfect Catch 22 mess.

Just as intended. These folks aren't amateurs at blocking veterans' claims. They've had decades of experience, plus millions of dollars to spend against us.

Early VA Actions "Stacked the Deck" Against C-123 Veterans For Years

"Overwhelming preponderance of evidence against veteran"...

(VA Claims Motto??)
Wow. An "overwhelming preponderance of evidence "against a veteran's claim for Agent Orange certainly spells defeat for the vet. But it was a deception and there was no such "preponderance," much less an overwhelming one.

In fact, it was the reverse, with veterans' evidence being truly overwhelming but sneared at by VA.

Reading it aloud even now, it sounds like a VA must have had a tidal wave of facts and proofs to outweigh anything the veteran submits to substantiate a disability claim, rendering the claim completely without merit.

VA was aggressively opposed to C-123 claims, and annoyed that veterans continued to press their case and gather even more support...yet no matter how much proof veterans presented to VA, nothing budged its predetermination that anything conflicting with VA policy is useless, no more than a trifling and unpersuasive treatise.

That "overwhelming preponderance" catch phrase is one which stands out...shouts out... in reading hundreds of documents forced from VA's records via court action enforcing several Freedom of Information Act requests. VA initially denied all access to these records, then tried to deny access by charging thousands of dollars, and then simply refused to release anything.

"Overwhelming" prejudice would be a valid characterization of VA's approach to C-123 claims.

Finally, the C-123 Veterans Association suit in the US District Court of Washington DC prompted some cooperation. Over the past several months VA has given our attorneys at least some of the materials we sought.

"Overwhelming preponderance of evidence" is a thread running through many of these FOIA documents. Apparently the phrase was created by VBA's Agent Orange desk, and used by VA's Post Deployment Health Section in Veterans Health Administration as well as throughout VBA. It referred to, and summarized the conclusion of VA's facts against C-123 veterans' evidence about Agent Orange contamination and exposure.

But there was no such tidal wave of VA evidence. Rather, there was an "overwhelming preponderance of evidence" confirming C-123 veterans' arguments, all ignored by VA. Rather than permit evidence submitted by C-123 veterans to be fairly evaluated, Post Deployment Health trivialized it into insignificance against VA's evidence, using that characterization to assure senior VA leaders that C-123 veterans were completely in error and must be opposed.

To better avoid its non-adversarial, pro-veteran obligations, Post Deployment Health dismissed completely...even calling it "unfortunate, " all expert input from:
• US Public Health Service
• "Concerned Scientists & Physicians," Dr. Jeanne Stellman, Corresponding Scientist
• VA physicians
• Veterans private physicians
• Independent researchers with peer-reviewed articles establishing veterans' exposure

What was Post Deployment Health referring to with that phrase "overwhelming preponderance of evidence?"
• A letter from a Dow-sponsored scientist
• A letter from a Monsanto-sponsored scientist
• A VA contractor who had earlier denigrated C-123 veterans and who tailored reports to VA policy
• VA's own web pages, cited as their own authority, and which referenced only materials fitted to VA policy
• An inconclusive USAF report, later determined to have relied in part on poor math to reach its conclusions

Now that the Institute of Medicine C-123 report is on the Secretary's desk, VA should examine its initial knee-jerk reaction against the veterans' exposure claims, a position hard fought by VA from 2007 until January 2015. From the very first interaction with veterans in 2011, VA Post Deployment Health has clearly had a policy...perhaps a policy only among certain staff...that these claims were to be opposed.

The FOIA documents, and incidents through the years, show that VA predetermines veterans' claims to be denied yet still claim to offer a "case by case" evaluation. The record shows that such an evaluation actually means VA won't deny a claim until it is submitted,  and then it will deny it. Deny all such claims. But on a case by case basis, of course.

Statements were made by VA staff that C-123 claims would not be approved. The Associated Press was told, "We have to draw the line somewhere." Disability claims were denied – VA medical care refused to veterans seeking help – with language:
 "VA regulations do not allow us to concede exposure to herbicides for Veterans who claim they were exposed to herbicides after the Vietnam war while flying in aircraft used to spray these chemicals"
In fact no such regulations exist. When veterans' legislators challenged this, VA conceded that no regulations actually exist, but that claims denied using that language were still denied. VA ordered claims adjudicators to use different phrases...but continue denying the claims.

VA even cited "scientific studies" by VA Public Health which turn out to be a handful of staffers selecting literature to fit their policy of blocking all claims. Finally, even the Secretary of Veterans Affairs tried to reverse the only C-123 veteran's award ever permitted by VA, looking for CUE as a basis even though every single requirement in VAM21-1MR was met, and continues to be met, by all such claims.

"Overwhelming preponderance" was used and repeated throughout VA to the point the entire agency was convinced that C-123 claims were to be denied. The phrase became its own proof, cited to refuse veterans vital medical and other benefits.

Due Process was ignored, and didn't factor into VA's "overwhelming preponderance of evidence" because VA predetermined all veterans' materials worthless and claims were ordered denied. So much for VA's own regulation VA M21-1MR...ignored by VA in its blanket denial of C-123 veterans' claims. The creators of "overwhelming preponderance" were successful in their goal of 100% blanket denial...on a case by case basis, of course!

We're not making this up: read the hyperlinked references, call VA leadership, ask the reporters, scientists and veterans.

This was a skillful, deliberate, persistent (the word VA used to describe me...I'm credited with being "persistent") exercise in denial of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause as regards VA's refusal to fairly evaluate veterans' qualified claims.

The question still on the table...what about other veterans' issues where VA does the same thing but without persistent self-advocacy by the vets? Dirty water, burn pits, immunizations, radiation, toxins, blast injuries, and all the other joys attendant to military service...what about them? Will VA reach out to veterans, or sit back and deride vet's claims with its all-too-prevalent "not on my watch" attitude?

There are new players in VA today, and we can hope for Due Process and the Constitution of the United States to mean something. We can look for a pro-veteran perspective to return to this essential institution. We can look...and hope to find it, for the sake of all veterans.

As for VA and Agent Orange: Never again can veterans be treated this way.
(C-123 Veterans' Motto)

20 February 2015

ABC Investigation: VA Call Centers BLOCK Most Veterans' Calls

VA scandal: Majority of calls to benefits hotline are blocked; kept from getting through to a representative
reporters: Lauren Gilger, Shawn Martin
The ABC15 Investigators found the majority of veterans calling the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA’s) national hotline are not getting the help they need. Most callers are either getting hung up on or getting a busy signal.

Recently obtained VA documents show that in 2014, 55 percent of calls never got through to a representative. And, so far in 2015, that number is even higher, at 59 percent.

“It's ridiculous,” said Tom Boyle, a three-year veteran of the Navy. He was discharged after being injured in the line of duty.

“I was proud to be a sailor,” said Tom. “A lot of work, a lot of dedication, I just loved it.”

Tom told us he felt marginalized by the VA. He said he has called the hotline over and over again, but, most of the time, can’t get through.

“You wait like 45 minutes to an hour,” said Tom. “I got frustrated and hung up because I can’t get through.”

We found, most veterans or their families calling the hotline for help with their benefits can’t either.
Last November, we interviewed two former call center employees who told us they were fired along with several others because they didn’t meet VA guidelines that require employees to spend less than 10 minutes on the phone with each caller.

“I was mad. I was frustrated and I felt that I was being let down and that I had to go, again, through the whole process of doing what every other veteran does, is call the call center and wait and wait and wait,” said Tom.

He said that it is just not right for a veteran to be disconnected like that.

Tom’s connection to the call center goes deeper than most vets. His wife, Arlene, worked at the call center in Phoenix for five years. There are seven call centers around the country.

She recently took early retirement because she was fed up with how she was asked to treat our country’s vets.

“It's not the veteran's fault. They can't keep enough people staffed in the call centers to answer those phones,” said Arlene.

The VA reported that there are a total of 736 employees of the call centers nationwide, but the department could not provide ABC15 with an exact number of employees charged with answering calls on a daily basis.

The department estimated their management consists of about 10 percent of employees on staff. The VA told ABC15 their attrition rate is 3 percent.

In a statement, a VA representative told ABC15, “Although the number of “blocked” calls – an industry term describing calls that are not connected to a Call Center employee due to a full call queue – is high, demand for information from the National Call Center continues to climb.”

But, according to the VA’s own data, the number of people trying to contact the call center was actually lower in 2014 than in the previous three years.

During that time, the VA told us the department increased staff at all seven call centers nationwide by 30 percent. The number of blocked calls was also slightly lower in that time.

“The bottom line is,” said Arlene, “The government is responsible to have enough people there.”
We asked the Veteran’s Benefits Administration for an on-camera interview, but they declined. They did respond to our requests for information via e-mail.

Click: Department of Veterans Affairs response: (admits most calls are deliberately blocked)

The department told ABC15 they have made significant advancements in how veterans can ask questions since 2009. They created the eBenefits platform and created live-chat capabilities on-line.
Arizona Senator John McCain sent ABC15 the following statement in response to our investigation:
"If true, these allegations further add to the VA’s disappointing history of denying timely and quality care to veterans. While significant steps have been taken to fix our broken VA health care system, including passage of historic bipartisan reform legislation last year, clearly the VA still has a long way to go to earn back the trust of our service members. 
Our veterans deserve to have a department dedicated to helping them in every way possible, and I remain committed to making sure that the VA fulfills its promise to care for all of those who have served.”

19 February 2015

NPR Reports C-123 Exposure Story on "All Things Considered"

Dayton-based Public Radio researcher Lewis Wallace expanded his initial January 28 story about C-123 Agent Orange issues into a report carried by National Public Radio on "All Things Considered."  (CLICK HERE for print version.)

Listeners heard Wallace in the Air Force Museum interview a former crewmember, as well as Mrs. Barbara Carson, widow of another C-123 vet, both from Rickenbacker Air Base in earlier years.Mrs. Carson has waited many years since first applying for survivor benefits which remain denied by the VA.

Also heard was Dr. Ralph Erickson, the VA physician chairing the committee of experts from Veterans Benefits Administration and Veterans Health Administration charged with recommending response to the January 9 Institute of Medicine report.

VA also told Wallace that any changes would take several months, but there was no suggestion of what sick C-123 veterans should do in the interim.

C-123 vets who are ill, all of whom are still refused VA care, should continue seeking medical attention elsewhere. Note there is no reimbursement for any such care. Once VA's plans to address C-123 needs are published, claims submitted will take a year or more to move through their system and veterans must anticipate providing for their own care during that period.

Survivors of C-123 veterans who die during the application process might be eligible for some residual benefits. Some C-123 veterans' claims have been denied and in appeal since 2007, and veterans and even their survivors have died in the interim...General Mike Walker is a painful example of this.

The IOM research, ordered by VA in early 2014, concluded that C-123 veterans of the 1972-1982 era, from Westover AFB MA, Pittsburgh AFS PA, and Rickenbacker ANGB OH, were exposed to Agent Orange residue in airplanes left after Vietnam. Print media also covering the issue included Scientific American, Reuters, LA Times, Washington Times, New York Times, and the AP.

That conclusion overturned VA arguments which had for years improperly blocked C-123 vets' disability claims, and clears the way for aircrews, aircraft maintenance and other veterans to seek Agent Orange benefits from the VA. Dr. Erickson's committee certainly has its hands full of a complex assignment, but we have maintained that all VA has to do is issue a training memo, rather than construct new regulations and other time-killing steps.

Present law, present regulations, present rules all fit perfectly...we now ask VA to follow its own rules in VAM21-1MR, and get our folks into the VA medical system as soon as possible, even if on an interim basis. Normally, such changes are announced in the Federal Register to allow for public comment...a process taking up to seven months.

Fortunately for C-123 veterans, VA has already made three separate Federal Register announcements assuring Congress that VA will treat veterans exposed to Agent Orange with the same presumptive service connection offered Vietnam veterans themselves. Any rule changes or Federal Register postings at this point would merely be announcements that VA will henceforth follow its own rules. Rules which they could use today and permit veterans to receive care, but for some reason additional delays are what VA does best.

Of course, there is significant savings for VA in denying medical care for these men and women for as long as possible, forcing them to seek attention through other insurance or Medicare program rather than in VA hospitals and clinics where lines are already long. While such savings aren't necessarily VA's primary objective in avoiding all C-123 veterans' care for even longer than the years already wasted, that fact works against, rather than for, C-123 veterans' health needs. If veterans pay, VA saves.

C-123 Veterans Association thanks Mr. Wallace and NPR for bringing our concerns to the American public.

CNN Report: Army Officers Routinely Lie - officers' honor code ignored!

Washington (CNN) 
U.S. Army officers often resort to "evasion and deception,"
and everyone at the Pentagon knows it, according
to a new study conducted by the U.S. Army War College.

"In other words, in the routine performance of their duties as leaders and commanders, U.S. Army officers lie," reads the study, which was conducted by the War College's Strategic Studies Institute.
The 33-page report, compiled following interviews with officers across the Army, concluded that the Army's culture is rife with "dishonesty and deception" at all levels of the institution -- from the most junior members to senior Army officials.
The study's results come after Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel -- who officially left his post Tuesday -- had raised concerns over ethics in the military. Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon's press secretary, said two weeks ago that Hagel was "deeply troubled" over a spate of ethics investigations in the military.
"I think he's generally concerned that there could be at least at some level a breakdown in ethical behavior and in the demonstration of moral courage," Kirby said of Hagel.
(note: click here to read the C-123 Veterans 2014 challenge to VA ethical failures, presented at the Society of Toxicology.)
And last week, days before Defense Secretary Ash Carter succeeded him, Hagel wrote a memo to the U.S. military's most senior leaders emphasizing the need for increased accountability and a higher standard for ethical behavior -- including among the military's senior leaders.
"The vast majority of our senior leaders are men and women who have earned the special trust and confidence afforded them by the American people. However, when senior leaders forfeit this trust through unprofessional, unethical or morally questionable behavior, their actions have an enormously negative effect on the profession," Hagel wrote.
    Hagel urged the military leaders to "strengthen your cultures" and "assess gaps and close them."
    The senior officials who received the memo likely didn't learn anything new as the War College's study published this week indicated that senior leaders -- both civilian and uniformed -- also take part in the dishonesty and ethically questionable behavior, or are at least aware of that behavior.
    The study describes a "culture where deceptive information is both accepted and commonplace" and where senior officials don't trust the information and data receive -- such as compliance with certain Army training requirements or forms outlining how a mission was carried out.
    But Army officers are faced with an increasing number of requirements and bureaucratic hoops, according to the study, and rather than work with a rigid military brass to reform a burdensome bureaucracy, officers will simply sidestep those requirements, lying on forms and often rationalizing their answers.
    The result? "Officers become ethically numb," explains the study, which was conducted by Leonard Wong, a research professor at the Strategic Studies Institute and retired Army officer, and behavioral sciences Professor Stephen Gerras, who held company and battalion command roles during his 25 years in the Army.
    "Eventually, their signature and word become tools to maneuver through the Army bureaucracy rather than symbols of integrity and honesty," the researchers wrote. "This desensitization dilutes the seriousness of an officer's word and allows what should be an ethical decision to fade into just another way the Army does business."
    The study also comes after a string of high-profile ethics scandals involving senior military leadership in recent years, from a cheating scandal involving nuclear missile officers last year and a still-ongoing federal investigation into one of the biggest corruption affairs in the Navy's history.

    15 February 2015

    VA Now Permits C-123 Veterans Agent Orange Registry Exam!

    At first available, then forbidden us, the VA's Agent Orange Registry Exam is now available to C-123 veterans! This is a terrific step for VA to take and important to us. The exam is one of our first requests to the VA, and here it is!

    The first notice I had of this is the Manchester NH VA Medical Center's web page, published on February 11. Manchester is dear to all of us because they are the ones who bravely reviewed Paul Bailey's denied claim, and awarded it to him a month before his death. They stood up to the system and read their rules and regulations fairly.

    The exam itself doesn't qualify a veteran for Agent Orange benefits. However, it is a comprehensive exam by practitioners who know what to look for, and I strongly encourage everyone concerned about their exposures to complete the exam.

    How? Call your nearest VA medical center and ask for the Agent Orange exam people. Here's the text from the Manchester VA web page...wonderful to see it in print!

    VA Asks Our Positive Attitude Going Forward – Makes Good Sense!

    We have a list of very serious concerns that's been given to the highest levels of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and they have executives there working hard to set right the C-123 Agent Orange exposure mess. It will be less of a mess if we work together. VA is on it!

    This is a result of VA pushing for and funding the recent C-123 IOM report, and a result of their embrace of the report's recommendations. It is also a result of four years which veterans spent advocating for justice. 

    That long effort and the very serious impact of the delay in VA permitting us medical care leaves us anxious.

    Word today from VA senior leadership: "We are aggressively working the issue."

    Just what VA does to flesh out the IOM recommendations remains to be seen. Their committee, under Dr. Ralph Erickson, is reported (as above) to be hard at work getting their (OUR!) program in place. We've talked and exchanged emails, but nothing is actually revealed of their plans, worries, timing, scope of coverage...nothing explained yet. They're careful discussing anything they can't deliver.

    Let's give them the time to do this without unnecessary carping or pushing through proxies.

    The particulars of the problems we've placed at the VA's doorstep can be resolved in the near future, without any further urging on our part. "OBE," as the VA puts it – overcome by events.

    We ask that the VA decision on Agent Orange benefits be quick
    and comprehensive, and our views are there already for VA's consideration. If they want more input we're ready at any time. 

    For the most part, VA has always done the best with what its been given. What they're given now is a big chore...pinning down all the AFSCs involved in hands-on support and flying the C-123 fleet between 1972-1982.

    Our view is that present rules and regulations, if followed properly, already cover C-123 veterans. No new law, regulation, or announcement in the Federal Register is needed: that's already been done multiple times and need not be repeated with the sole effect of wasting months.

    We must expect that the attitude of the committee members is supposed to be more "how to include" rather than "how to minimize" coverage of affected veterans. The IOM report was six weeks ago, and we'll remain concerned about whether VA can bring the necessary changes into action sooner rather than later. One more month would be a good goal.

    They've asked, so let's show we can partner with them even if the only role they ask for us is quiet and patient anticipation...for now.

     We are asked to place our faith in General Hickey VBA, in Dr. Erickson in VHA and in their teams – so let's do it and let our gripes about the small stuff "OBE." 

    Time to rely on their leadership...they've offered it to us.

    13 February 2015

    Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sought Reversal of C-123 Veteran's Agent Orange Cancer Disability Decision

    The Secretary wasn't pleased.

    Sunday morning reading his paper and enjoying his coffee, the VA took another hit on the chin with a critical newspaper article. On Page One.

    It had made the Washington Post on August 3 2013. An in-depth report about C-123 veterans and the impossible barriers VA put in front of us when submitting Agent Orange disability claims. The Post's report featured Westover veterans Major Wes Carter and LtCol Paul Bailey in telling the post-Vietnam C-123 Agent Orange exposure saga.

    And it wasn't just a report. It was the front page Sunday edition, plus all of page 14 in the front section. That much coverage isn't mere presentation of the facts, but an editorial statement of the seriousness with which a publisher views the issue. And this was the Washington Post! The paper than can bring down presidents...and has.

    Unknown to reporter Steve Vogel, who'd investigated the problem for months, the Manchester Veterans Affairs Regional Office at about the same time had reviewed Paul Bailey's initially denied claim with a "Decision Review Officer," an optional step in appealing denied claims.

    Manchester assigned a highly experienced senior claims adjudicator who considered Paul's claim with fresh eyes, and that rater saw all the proof needed to award Paul his disability claim, backdated a couple years, on August 4 2013.

    Paul's claim review was moved forward a bit in the VA queue due to the fact his illness was terminal. The rater later explained the Agent Orange exposure claim was awarded on the basis of fact-proven exposure aboard Patches, proof of which Paul provided in the form of flight orders, USAF Form 5s, and sworn testimony by numerous other veterans including mine as his flight examiner. Paul had been a flight instructor with the 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron before his 1980 commission and transfer to Aerial Port duties.

    Amazing! And Vogel and the Post immediately rushed to publish another report on August 8 2013 about Paul Bailey receiving the only C-123 disability award without processing through the several-year appeal process at the Board of Appeals for a decision by a Veterans Law Judge. Although all C-123 claims reaching BVA had been awarded the veterans, all such claims were (and continue to be) initially denied and the veteran forced into a three, sometimes four year wait for a BVA review.

    But not Paul, to the great joy of his family and friends, and the satisfaction of so many legislators and fellow veterans who'd pulled hard for this fine man. Paul had received his "big brown envelope" as veterans term the VA materials mailed announcing an award. It was news his family needed...days before Paul entered hospice

    I know this. He opened his envelope and called me with tears in his voice, this veteran of 33-years service with the 82nd Airborne and the Air Force, both enlisted and commissioned duty, and my best friend for forty years.

    That joy wasn't the kind of emotion flowing from VA headquarters in Washington when Secretary Shinseki read the Post.

    VA records released this week now reveal the Secretary's attempts to get Bailey's disability award reversed. I must say, this was a blow to my heart. For years we'd thought the bad actors in levels between us and the Secretary were at fault, feeding General Shinseki poor staff work and fulfilling their own anti-veteran bias.

    But here was the Secretary of Veterans Affairs himself telling his executives that Bailey's award should be reversed, perhaps on some suggestion of error on VA's part. "Heads up," came the warning. In the newly-released memos, VA's Western Area Director, Mr. Willy Clark recounts to VA's Director of Compensation and Pension the Secretary's demand for an explanation how it happened.

    Fortunately for Paul...and now, his survivors...the political impact of such folly was quickly pointed out. The Manchester authorities explained the solid justification for their decision, however even that was twisted. Veterans Benefits Administration staffers wrote that Paul's decision was highly questionable because of "only two days aboard Patches." This phrase went through many memos and emails. But it was false. Two days?

    That was a single set of order for a two day cross-country mission. To cite that, VA had to overlook hundreds of other documents which also placed Paul as a qualified C-123 crewman, and later, flight instructor. This was an effort by VA staffers to trivialize a veterans' proofs, which they did by carefully selecting one sheet and ignoring stacks of others.

    Paul flew former Agent Orange C-123s for many years, beginning in 1974. Year after year, he performed crew duties, moving ahead to C-123 flight instructor, and flying until 1980 when he changed duties. Six years. Hundreds of C-123 hours officially documented in Air Force Form 5s submitted with his exposure claim. The specific tail numbers of Paul's Agent Orange C-123s was confirmed by the USAF Historical Records Agency.

    Amazing. A C-123 flight instructor but described by VA officials as having but two days aboard the C-123, who pushed to have his claim reversed. A highly qualified and Air Force certified C-123 flight instructor but VA memos say he had two days aboard the airplanes he trained others in. Where did VA think they were taking this except to trash a veteran's well-founded claim.

    I am a historian. Reading the memos about Paul and the way the Secretary reacted, I thought of the American Colonial Congress reaching out to King George one more time, trusting their sovereign would do the right thing if only he knew the facts, and believing to the end that their troubles were due not to him, but the bureaucrats between them.

    I felt such trust in General Shinseki. My trust was misplaced. Thank God the Secretary didn't, or perhaps couldn't, trash Paul Bailey's well-deserved Agent Orange disability award . But he tried.

    He tried to hurt Paul. He would have but for the political consequences pointed out to him by others.