There are hundreds of files on the most recent VA Freedom of Information Act document release just provided us by our terrific attorneys at Davis Wright Tremaine.
You can read them all in this Google Docs folder...and you'll find an eye full if you read with your eyes wide open, and consider what was written compared to the Institute of Medicine recent affirmation of our exposures! No wonder it took four years to get to the point today, when VA is only now considering how to care for us. And no promises made yet!
A great many of these FOIA files clearly show VA's unending resistance to C-123 veterans' Agent Orange claims. "Not on my watch," is the motto smearing so many of these files, although not in those words.
Not a single file here, or in any earlier documents we've received, has a single question raised about whether our veterans were exposed. Instead, VA puts its brick wall in front of us and invites head-banging, knowing we would get nowhere. Never was a question raised about whether a way could be found to include, rather than forbid, C-123 veterans from entering their wonderful hospital corridors.
No wonder we had to fight in US District Court to get these papers. No wonder, even with so many obviously vital parts redacted, VA didn't want this record made public.
The attitude of is clear, especially in VBA where staffers look for unflattering references in this blog or in correspondence with VA and take umbrage. From 2011 when the issue first appeared at 1800 G Street in Washington, dedicated opponents rose to dispute any C-123 veteran's claim. VA staffers consistently informs others that the 1991 Agent Orange Act was meant only for Vietnam veterans during the time period allowed, but skipped mention of the multiple postings in the Federal Register by which VA assured Congress that all veterans with evidence of exposure would be treated the same as men and women who served in Vietnam.
VBA also insisted that non-Vietnam exposures to Agent Orange, even if fact-proven and claiming Agent Orange-recognized illnesses, must require proof that the illness didn't result from another cause. VA is of course expert with this issue and cannot have made these statements in ignorance, but rather policy. VA folks know the law and regulations dictate otherwise, but why worry about such niggling details which conflict with policy? Even if that policy was unpublished, unofficial, and in the end...in error.
VA regulations provide for inquiries to the DOD Joint Services Records Research Center if veterans claim on-Vietnam exposures. Many times, JSRRC tried to forward documents from other federal agencies, only to have them dismissed by VBA, Reading these files, I find myself described in words I'd consider unflattering, let's say.
Except for persistent. I see persistent a lot in reading these FOIA files.
That begs the awful question...why does any veteran have to be persistent, any more than completing the FDC and speaking honestly about the claim? Why did this veteran, rated by VA itself as "catastrophically disabled," have to spend four of the last few years in my piggy bank of life trying so hard? What about other veterans, other disabilities, other exposures? Are those veterans going to face a VA like the VA which put their brick wall in our faces?
Conclusion about this most recent FOIA release? It is policy that VA was clearly determined to preserve, and that policy was to prevent C-123 veterans' claims.
Compare responses to legislators, governors and state directors of veterans affairs (thank you, Oregon and North Carolina!!) hard with the recent release of the Institute of Medicine C-123 report. Policy, at least the policy of individual players, kept us out of those hospitals for years. We'd be outside still, fingers on the door bell, if not for the skills and care of reporters, scientists and legislators who've stood up for us since 2011.
God bless you all, VA included. Let's take care of veterans from this point forward, okay?
More disturbing facts from the FOIAs:
1. Secretary Shinseki said that Lt Col Paul Bailey's cancer claim shouldn't have been granted and sought opinions on getting it reversed as an error. Some VA staffer asked how Bailey could have qualified as "exposed" with "only two days on Patches." This statement required deliberately overlooking all the flight documents submitted placing Paul on Patches and the other contaminated former Ranch Hand aircraft. Note: Pauls VA award came just before his death...he'd already entered hospice.
2. VA's Agent Orange consultant was persistent (my turn for that word, having noted VA's frequent use of it) in steps to prevent C-123 veterans' claims. He got $600,000 for his efforts through his no-bid sole source contract with VA; we got financial loss, suffering and death.
3. Not a single mention is made anywhere of VA's frequent Federal Register statements about non-Vietnam Agent Orange exposures. VA is held to these publications, but did they feel best to pretend the don't exist?
4. I'm stopping here. You read. You decide if this is how VA promised to treat our veterans. It is depressing to keep writing about.