28 April 2015

VA Secretary McDonald's March 17 Memorandum on C-123 Agent Orange Veterans

We haven't seen it but have had references from various sources. We've heard enough to be disappointed.

We'll have faith that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs meant for VA to respond effectively to C-123 veterans, but his Office of General Counsel (OGC) has been very effective in preventing any impact that matters.

Apparently responding to the January 8, 2015 report to the Secretary by the Institute of Medicine C-123 Agent Orange Committee, Secretary McDonald has issued a memorandum summing up the VA reaction and plan going forward, but his plan was created by OGC in defiance of the committee set up by the Secretary to recommend his response. The committee recommended a much more reasonable course, but the OGC felt it best to prevent veterans' care with their own plan.

Our first response to the Secretary's action is that we're grateful that the memorandum acknowledges the IOM report, and concurs with its finding of exposure and harm to the C-123 aircrews and maintainers.

Our next response is one of bewilderment. While the VA now agrees we were exposed and harmed flying the former Agent Orange spray aircraft, the Office of General Counsel developed its extra-legal approach which prevents any medical care or benefits. Widows, widowers and disabled vets whose claims have been in for years are blocked from any VA care.

How? By the OGC decision to limit service connection from March 17 going forward, and just to those Reservists who happened to develop their prostate cancer over the weekend duty. By limiting all benefits to Reservists whose ALS developed during their two-week annual training. By limiting benefits to Reservists whose soft tissue sarcomas, or any of the other recognized Agent Orange illnesses, developed during, and only during, their Reserve duties.

But there likely aren't any aircrew or maintenance personnel affected by the Secretary's memorandum because science and medicine know perfectly well these Agent Orange illnesses take decades to manifest themselves. Thus VA yields nothing, concedes nothing. Cares about nobody. Saves VA money.

We've learned that VA's OGC approach endangers today's Guard and Reserve forces. Reserve Component volunteers who deploy on some hazardous situation in which they are exposed to horrible diseases such as ebola and return to civilian status when the mission has been completed, will be refused care and benefits from the VA when the disease completes its two week incubation period and the Reservist is struck with horrible illness.

VA has responded to the four year C-123 thorn in its side with courtroom adversarial lightning bolts. VA found a clever way to say "We care" while simultaneously preventing care for all C-123 veterans as well establishing a new and magnificent barrier to all future pesky Reserve Component disability claims.

Dengue fever, malaria, ebola, burn bits, insect bites, dirty water, any and all other environmental hazards which present an illness taking time to develop...VA will care only for personnel (read none, except sudden-type situations like snake bites or chemical burns) who develop the illnesses while on duty. If a disease in its natural course takes a few days or weeks to develop and the Reservist has returned to civilian life in the meantime, too bad. VA announced April 16 it save money and keep appointment lines in its hospitals shorter by refusing any and all benefits with firmly-expressed appreciation for their service and regrets that the volunteer dead or dying servicemembers aren't real veterans.

OGC's inventive but certainly extra-legal approach has been challenged by Senate and House leaders, by veterans service organization, legal scholars, and C-123 veterans themselves.  At this point, things seem to have stalled for weeks. The Secretary's actual plan, announced to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee as ready for implementation by early March, still flounders.

And veterans are still refused care. And OGC has developed a whole new way to prevent care sought by today's veterans exposed to harmful biological or toxin agents. Real Perry Mason stuff, this!

By the way, let's hope the VA informs DOD of their decision, because somebody has to tell the Reserve Component servicemembers still volunteering for such duty placing them in harm's way without VA at their back.

Maybe some firm should market a special health insurance scheme for the US Army Reserve, US Marine Corps Reserve, Navy Reserve, Coast Guard Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard and Army National Guard.

As soon as those volunteers learn that once finished with their Reserve duty, VA won't care for them and neither will DOD's health care facilities, they'll either be out of the military or well-advised to insure themselves: DOD and VA won't.

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