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.

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