07 February 2015

C-123 Vets Renew AF Public Affairs Complaint First Submitted - but ignored - in 2011

Last week leaders of the C-123 Veterans Association renewed our 2011 complaints about Air Force Public Affairs operations at Hill AFB UT and Davis-Monthan AFB AZ. We alleged Air Force deceptions, both by commission and omission, regarding the April-June 2010 destruction of the toxic C-123 fleet stored at Davis-Monthan.

Stored at Davis-Monthan's Boneyard since 1982 and in special HAZMAT quarantine for a decade by orders of the USAF Surgeon General, the airplanes were all quietly shredded and smelted in response to their Agent Orange contamination. The press release, however, did not cover that fact. The press release did not mention Agent Orange at all.

And in fact, the well-crafted press release was never released. A whole fleet of airplanes with a unique 40-year history, considered by many the embarrassment of the Air Force, disappeared and the media took no notice.

They were not meant to. Air Force Public Affairs word-smithed their press release to make it as innocuous as possible, then placed in a desk drawer in case some inquiring reporter raised a question. Base officials and their outside consultant had word-smithed out attention-grabbing words such as "Agent Orange, toxin, TCDD" and other accurate descriptions of the event. Officials also wrote about their concern that, unless the event were kept "below the radar," exposed veterans could apply to Veterans Affairs for treatment of Agent Orange illnesses.

The very mention of this concern...expressed by the consultant, base officials and those up the chain of command...is inappropriate. Instead, the Air Force should have been accurate in its communication with the public, and with the veterans who'd served faithfully but had been exposed to Agent Orange. There is no excuse for such a coverup...no wonder the Air Force fought Freedom of Information Act requests about this for three years, finally releasing mostly redacted white pages, devoid of content.

No questions were raised by local media because they Air Force took pains to insure nobody knew. If somebody found out, a deceptive press release was ready to give them, but no inquiries ever came.

A parallel would be if an aircraft crashed on base and PA typed out a press release saying there'd been an unscheduled mass casualty exercise followed by a test of the unit's voluntary blood donation program, after which the base returned to normal operations. And then put the press release into a drawer in case some newsperson noticed a plume of smoke rising from the base and one less airplane.

This whole scheme abused the First Amendment right of reporters in the area by denying them information about a significant military activity. It abused the duty those reporters had to the public by keeping from their readers information about the conduct of the American military and its expenditure of treasure and peoples' lives. The lives spoken of are ours...the veterans who flew these airplanes, and from whom information was kept from us by deceptions of Air Force Public Affairs at Hill and D-M, which was in violation of Air Force and DOD operating instructions, and also in violation of Air Force ethics and the ethics expected of professional...not marketing communications...public agency public affairs operations.

Lies? Not directly.

Prevarication? Absolutely! In the Air Force, a prevarication is a lie.

Impact? Information about our health kept from us for over a year and the evolution of disability claims with VA delayed for four.

Media and the public which depends on them to be informed about our government? Neither can trust USAF Public Affairs with this as an example of deception possible from military officials. And the veterans affected also have a loss of trust and confidence in our Air Force, knowing it willingly deceives us in issues involving our health to prevent our claims with the VA.

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