Last week two C-123 veterans notified me that they'd arranged Agent Orange Registry exams, and one said he was refused. Today I phoned eighteen VA medical centers to speak with their Environmental Health Coordinators to see what responses they'd offer to inquiries about C-123 AO exposures. (Note: one of the two Agent Orange exams mentioned above was cancelled this morning when West Roxbury VA telephoned the veteran to cancel her appointment, saying "official word had to come down before such exams were authorized.")
For years, Post-Deployment Health explained that C-123 veterans are not eligible for the Agent Orange Registry exam because they already determined we were never exposed. I've double-checked this personally but that was a year or more ago. After last week's meeting at the Senate Russell Building and with VA officials at 1800 G Street, I'd hoped more accurate information would be offered our veterans asking about the Registry exam.
Results: In five cases I left messages as their phones were unanswered, and two returned my calls.In ALL but one call where I was able to speak directly with the Environmental Health Coordinator, I was told that Reservists without Vietnam, Korea or Thailand service are ineligible for any Registry exam as well as ineligible for any other VA medical care. I spoke with Vermont, New York, Colorado, Florida, Arkansas, North Carolina, Arizona and other states.
The reason cited (in all but one case) was that the Agent Orange Registry is for active duty veterans only, not Reservists who only served in CONUS or Europe.
One coordinator asked a few questions and I explained I had cancer which had spread rapidly before my recent surgery. She still said I wasn't eligible for any care at all without service in Vietnam, Korea or Thailand. While I am already 100% service connected for other issues, she didn't ask any qualifying questions but wished me well. I didn't offer but only two coordinators asked for my social security number which would have led to their offering specific advice as to VA care for which I'm eligible.
The first return call was from Little Rock. He asked if I'd served in Vietnam, Korea or Thailand, and I mentioned post-Vietnam C-123. He then said as of 15 March VA is waiting for Congress to act and until then I'm not eligible for the exam. No other questions although I volunteered I had cancer surgery. He wished me well as he hung up. A Georgia VA facility said he'd have to wait until the Institute of Medicine report was acted upon by VA to permit me to have an Agent Orange Registry exam. Like the others, he asked no questions and made no suggestions regarding care.
One coordinator explained that the Registry exam played no role and said I could submit a claim without it. Two said they'd check further and get back to me.
Only the Asheville (NC) VAMC offered what I understand to be the correct answer: C-123 vets who believe themselves exposed can request the Agent Orange Registry exam. Priscilla offered to read or mail to me the VA web pages, and also told me how to find them myself. She asked for my last four which would have led her to my overall eligibility. She clearly wanted to be sure I was properly informed. Overall, whatever the official VA view is on Agent Orange Registry exams, clearly our C-123 veterans will not succeed in getting the exam.
Conclusion: C-123 veterans will most likely be refused the VA's Agent Orange Registry exam, even if the VA environmental health coordinator is told the veteran has an AO-recognized illness. There seems to be no recent guidance by VHA and Post Deployment Health's earlier order refusing the tests is still in effect.