A Department of Veterans Affairs announcement regarding new Agent Orange benefits for Air Force reservists who flew on C-123 transport planes in Pittsburgh and elsewhere has been delayed again until next week. (note: a subsequent email from VA further delayed the announcement and stated that no date has been set.)
The announcement by Allison Hickey, undersecretary of benefits for the VA, was supposed to be last week and then was moved to this week, but it's been pushed back once more because the details are still being worked out, a VA spokesperson said. A fleet of the giant C-123s was used in Vietnam to spray Agent Orange defoliant.
After the war, the Air Force removed their spray tanks removed and supposedly decontaminated the planes before returning them to duty in the U.S. at the 911th air base here and two other bases in Massachusetts and Ohio.
Some 2,100 crew members, flight nurses and mechanics who flew on the C-123s or serviced them from 1972 to 1982 have long suspected that the planes remained contaminated with dioxin, the toxic chemical in Agent Orange, and that their medical problems are the result of exposure. They say they should be eligible for the same Agent Orange benefits that all veterans who served on the ground in Vietnam receive, but the VA has denied most of their claims over the years.
A recent report by the Institute of Medicine, however, concluded that C-123 reservists were probably exposed to dioxin.
The VA is expected to announce that Agent Orange benefits will now be extended to all C-123 veterans who are eligible.