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.

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