15 May 2015

How VA avoids its duty for "case by case" C-123 claims decisions (& also violates patient privacy at the same time*)

Here's how they do it. Here's how Veterans Benefits Administration and Veterans Health Administration/Public Health Section dooms a veteran's claim to denial followed by three to five years waiting for the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) to "remand" the claim for minor errors to be corrected...all adding up to years in which the Department of Veterans Affairs prevents all medical care and other benefits.

Below is an email between VA employees in their Veterans Benefits Administration and Veterans Health Administration. It was released last week through the Freedom of Information Act and under supervision of the US District Court/Washington DC. The court got involved because VA fought tooth and nail to prevent these things coming to light, and only the court's intervention forced VA to comply with the law.

VA's VAM21-1MR explains that regional offices will forward to the VA's Agent Orange Desk in Washington all Agent Orange disability applications for its opinion when the veteran claims an exposure but wasn't in Vietnam. VA will inquire through the Department of Defense Joint Services Records Research Center (JSRRC) for any official records which might substantiate the claim.

JSRRC has detailed my Agent Orange exposure proofs to the VA, but VA has ignored that response altogether because such confirming JSRRC responses don't fit with VHA's objective of denying C-123 veterans' claims.

The VA email above explains that VBA will be refusing my own claim for Agent Orange exposure. The law, and VA's published procedures in the Federal Register, clearly state the only requirement of exposure, and not medical nexus. I provided nearly 100 pieces of supporting evidence and expert medical and scientific opinions, which the VA email dismisses as "his PhD supporters."

The VBA writer said he was weighing my supporters against the VHA Public Health website evidence. The website was the product of two VHA physicians, one VHA toxicologist, and a VHA veterinarian also with a PhD in Public Health. VA's references were selected to argue the VHA position and all references which helped prove the veteran's' exposure were disregarded. VA dismissed any peer review.

This is called cherry-picking, not science. It is called policy, not medicine. The VA error is clearly evidenced in the January 8 2015 Institute of Medicine C-123 report to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, in which the IOM (under VA contract) confirmed the C-123 contamination and the exposure and harm done the veterans who flew and maintained those planes.

Dismissed like my JSRRC confirmation or simply ignored among my submitted proofs were expert opinions (all unpaid) (plus my private physicians, not listed here) including:
Dr. Jeanne Stellman, PhD, Columbia University
Dr. Fred Berman,  DVM PhD, Oregon Health Sciences University
Dr. Arnold Schecter MD, University of Texas
Dr. Tom Sinks, PhD, CDC
• Dr. Linda Birnbaum, PhD, NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Science
Dr. Christopher Portier, PhD, CDC Director Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry
Dr. Mark Garzotto, MD, Portland VA Medical Center/Oregon Health Sciences University
Captain Aubrey Miller, MD US Public Health Service
Rear Admiral R. Ikeda, MD US Public Health Service
Concerned Scientists and Physicians – dozens of experts who submitted a group letter to VA

The EPA did not provide their own opinion but they concurred in the NIESH opinion of Dr. Birnbaum. Thus agencies represented in affirming my exposure claim were EPA, NIH, NIESH, CDC, and USPHS. Opposing the claim was the Public Health Section, Veterans Health Administration and its staff of four. They did this simply by typing up a web page for the VA's website on which they said, based on their personal views, C-123 vets weren't exposed. Thereafter, rating officials, BVA and even CAVC cited the fault-laden website as somehow proof itself.

The law requires VA to give a veteran's claim every benefit of the doubt. "Resolving all doubt in favor of the veteran" is how VA is supposed to work, yet here and probably in many other unrelated cases VA personnel develop their own policy and bend all science, all rules, all laws to that policy. Here the policy was to prevent C-123 claims, and the policy has worked perfectly from 2007 to this very day.

The same VA players are still in place, feeding the Secretary of Veterans Affairs deceptive reports, having him sign misleading, dishonorable and error-laden letters to the Senate.

It is samo-samo. An uphill struggle where VHA expects veterans to wimp out at trying, discouraged by the barriers VA invents, the landmines used to blow up all protections in VAM21-1MR and other regulatory and statutory protections which should be extended veterans.

They can wait us out...after all, we're the old and ill veterans beating our heads against the wall at 810 Vermont. They simply close the door and lock us out until we die off or go away.

* PS...about the patient privacy. Read the email at the top of this entry. See how casually VBA sends over to VHA staffers information about a veteran's name, claim, disability status and personal medical information. As well as his personal observation that "100% must not be enough." Does this staffer think my spinal cord injuries, cancers and heart disease are "enough?" Is VA annoyed with my claim? Is this why this staffer disapproved my claim by dismissing all proofs and also by insisting that Agent Orange is harmless?

Note: Title 38 USC addresses this issue: (1) Any officer or employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs, who by virtue of his or her employment or official position, has possession of, or access to Veterans Affairs records which contain individually identifiable information the disclosure of which is prohibited by 5 U.S.C. 552a or by § 1.575 series established thereunder, and who knowing that disclosure of the specific material is so prohibited, willfully discloses the material in any manner to any person or agency not entitled to receive it, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined not more than $ 5,000

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