28 April 2015

"To render a decision which grants every benefit that can be supported in law while protecting the interests of the Government"

VA Office of General Counsel (OGC) considered the needs of C-123 Agent Orange veterans and, skillfully skirting the requirements of law expressed above for policy reasons, ruled the VA would not care for them in any way. Other than the Secretary of Veterans Affairs' memorandum acknowledging their exposures and the harm cause by Agent Orange, OGC felt the most they could stretch the law was to simply say "no."

As regards VA's statutory "duty to assist," it is hard to consider the $600,000 no-bid, sole source contract awarded an opponent of C-123 veterans' claims as assistance in any form. Rather, VA has provide none since we first approached them with our exposure concerns. Perhaps, at some distant BVA or COVA hearing, VA will permit me to see my C-file, and consider that satisfaction of their legal duty to assist me, and those like me, in our claims.

"Grants every benefit" quoted above from the statute has instead meant OGC must prevent any benefits at all, and they are great courtroom attorneys.

They were faced with their own binding OGC opinion which has stood for over a decade, which they dismissed by saying it was flawed. Blithely, they ignored expert legal input from Yale School of Law which perfectly detailed C-123 veterans' eligibility for "veteran" status per federal statute and entitlement to VA care and benefits.

OGC smiled at all the legislative and political pressure directed at them to do right by C-123 vets, but then dismissed all the authority granted by Congress to the Secretary, as well as his obligation to do all duties prescribed by law, by saying it was best left to the Congress to get around to the veterans' needs perhaps someday in the future. Also, OGC ruled it best to use VA's proposed legislative language which blocked any benefits for widows, widowers, and vets whose claims have been in since 2007. Studies eventually showed VA's  proposed weak legislation won't affect any C-123 vets at all...objective met!

Yup, best to do nothing. That was their superb courtroom approach. Problem: we aren't in a courtroom and this is a non-adversarial process. Actually, OGC should be helping the Secretary find, rather than avoid, a path forward to care for us.

Certainly, if VA was attempting to fight something for which their OGC precedential opinions and statutory duties were favoring the VA, VA would cite everything possible to get their way.

But not here. Rather than being the veterans' advocate by serving the Secretary well, OGC seeks to save VA money to help build the Denver VA hospital, and meet other needs, by ensuring Post Deployment Health's position against C-123 veterans' claims remains denied today, just as in 2011.

VA OGC Mission: Prevent claims when possible, delay claims in all cases, and PROTECT THE INTERESTS OF THE GOVERNMENT as best fitted to Post Deployment Health policy.

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