13 May 2015

VA worked & spent $$$ to oppose Institute of Medicine C-123 result

Documents released today under supervision of the US District Court Washington DC provide all the details: VA submitted the C-123 exposure question to the Institute of Medicine for evaluation, but then worked behind the scenes to insure the IOM gave only the desired conclusion...the conclusion VA staffers felt best met their own policies. Thank God (and IOM staffers,) IOM didn't fall for VA's tricks.

This week, after years of delays and obstruction by VA, hundreds of pages of internal correspondence and emails were released dealing with the C-123 Agent Orange exposure concerns of over 2100 veterans who flew these transports following Vietnam. The aircraft were contaminated, but VA from the beginning took extraordinary steps to prevent exposed veterans from receiving vital medical care and disability compensation.

The efforts seem to date back to 2007, when LtCol Aaron Olmsted's Agent Orange exposure claim was denied by VA on the basis he had no proof his C-123s were the ones actually used in Vietnam for spraying Agent Orange. Records show Olmsted flew hundreds of hours in these aircraft, but VA's legal "duty to assist" was viewed by the Department with disdain.

No effort was made by VA to locate readily available records to confirm Olmsted's assertions, something veterans themselves did with a simple phone call and two days' waiting for results from the Air Force Historical Records Agency. VA could and should have done this in meeting its duty to help the veteran locate records, but their victory over his claim was more important. Even when proof of Olmsted's claims was finally offered the VA, it was ignored by the BVA, by the regional administrator, and by the attorney who opposed Olmsted at the BVA hearing.

In more recent years, VA's tricks included paying its principal consultant while he appeared before the IOM to "defend the VA's science" and most certainly, to oppose the great volumes of science supporting the C-123 veterans. The consultant had been awarded his VA no-bid sole source $600,000 contract, the work product of which focused on obstructing C-123 exposure claims. The contract, and its obvious conflict of interest (or certainly the suggestion of that possibility) was not revealed to the committee by VA or the consultant.

Note also that in 2011 the consultant labeled C-123 veterans with disdain as "trash-haulers, freeloaders looking for a tax free dollar...I have no respect." One senses this profoundly negative attitude even better endeared him to the VA, rather than disqualifying him as it should have from any effect on the health care of these 2100 exposed veterans he dislikes so much.

His 2009 role in having recommended destruction of the stored surplus C-123s as toxic waste and to prevent veterans from learning of the contamination was not discussed with the IOM. It should have been...so many things should have been revealed, both to the veterans and the IOM.

Previously a paid consultant to both Dow and Monsanto in their efforts to fight veterans' claims, and with years as an Air Force officer manning VA's own Agent Orange desk helping prevent such claims, the consultant was the perfect go-to guy for VA's Veterans Benefits Administration and Veterans Health Administration, whose senior staffers personally opposed expanding Agent Orange coverages to anyone.

Records now show that VA coordinated closely with their consultant, who nonetheless insisted he wasn't before the IOM to represent the VA. Not only did VA pay him $600,000 for work including monographs attacking the veterans' claims, but he was under that lucrative VA contract even at the time. IOM's questions to the consultant were answered only after first being passed by the VA to insure they met the Department's policy objectives, before being released to the IOM:

In the following email, the consultant writes the US Air Force and clearly states he is presenting to the IOM C-123 committee "on behalf of Compensation Service and the (VA) Office of Public Health." No, not independent at all, but he was presenting to the IOM as VA's voice:
The VA consultant referred frequently to his many monographs being "peer reviewed." This is highly questionable, as no researcher is permitted to select the reviewers as was done here. Peer review is meant to be a critical challenge to protect the scientific record, not this buddy-stamp from close associates holding identical views. Despite VA's own high standards for scientific research, this was allowed to pass without challenge to its many violations of VA Directive 0005 (Scientific Integrity.)

This attitude persisted into more recent years, as detailed in this week's FOIA results. VA expressly sought to "counter" scientific materials with paid-for input from selected sources, rather than letting science and the IOM proceed independently:
Besides contracting with its preferred "go-to" Agent Orange consultant, Veterans Health Administration also paid Sandia Labs to construct arguments against the many scientific experts whose professional opinions were universally in support of C-123 veterans' exposures;
Veterans have tried to stress the fact that of the dozens of independent scientists and physicians who concluded the veterans were exposed and harmed, none were paid.

VA didn't waste a penny seeking any independent views or opinions which might agree with the veterans' claims, but spent hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of dollars to insure the defeat of those veterans' hope for VA recognition of Agent Orange exposures. Hardly "pro-veteran, non-adversarial, every benefit of the doubt rests with the veterans." 

Rather, we see the firm, steady determination to prevent C-123 veterans' access to medical care by spending VA dollars, bending rules and procedures, creating obstructions, implementing personal policies, and the deception of senior VA executives by staffers by feeding them error-laden memoranda to sign.

VA staff and contractors even tried to deceive IOM and senior VA leadership with data from tests performed on "Patches," the USAF Museum's former Operation Ranch Hand C-123. The contractor stressed a point about "only two areas" being TCDD contaminated. In fact, the testing officials determined that there were two "hot" spots but the majority of the C-123 interior was not contaminated, or was an area not tested for lack of accessibility. Big difference.

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