06 June 2015

Full of Errors! VBA C-123 Briefing, September 2013

The use of this VA-produced Post-Vietnam C-123 Aircraft Agent Orange Exposure presentation is unclear. The document was released under FOIA and appears to be for internal use, given the wording of the final pages which touch on policy. This wouldn't have been done for outsiders: the chart seems an internal presentation, perhaps to the Secretary or USB.

The errors are woven through the entire presentation. Dated September 2013, six months had passed since Compensation & Pension/Agent Orange Desk received the JSRRC director's confirmation of C-123 veterans' exposure. JSRRC input is "primary" in terms of VA's reliance upon it, which forces the question, why is it missing?

Few other sources of information speak with such authority in the VA claims process as does a JSRRC response. VBA's decision to withhold it from this presentation is a fatal flaw. Neither does VBA mention the other federal agencies confirming the veterans' exposure. 

Veterans' claims are not supposed to be an adversarial process in VA, and fact, its governing statutes require VA to be pro-veteran, granting the benefit of the doubt rather than a higher standard of proof as in civil or criminal proceedings. Here, VA's determination becomes clear: VA excludes all evidence supporting the veterans' exposure claims and includes only materials preselected to confirm to VA's policy against the veterans.

CDC, NIH, US Public Health Service and many others supported the C-123 veterans' assertions of exposure aboard their transports. Dozens of physicians and scientists had contacted Secretary Hickey through Columbia University's Concerned Scientists and Physicians to support the veterans. That fact is twisted here as VBA dismissively mentions "one scientific advocate" advancing the veterans' claims, and "the majority of scientists on record" supporting the VBA's insistence on no exposure having occurred.

Apparently "the majority of scientists on record" agreeing with VA is just a handful, consisting of the VHA Post Deployment Health Section, the VA Agent Orange consultant Dr. Al Young, and the two scientists funded by Dow and Monsanto for their input regarding C-123 issues. On any reasonable balance scale, VA's policies against the C-123 veterans is firmly challenged. Indeed, the January 2015 Institute of Medicine report to Secretary McDonald firmly showed VA in the wrong on its science.

VA is just as wrong in this presentation. Cherrypicking only evidence to make its case against veterans is not science. Instead, it is misguided policy, and here, a policy violating the Veterans Claims Assistance Act and other statutes.

VBA insisted it had a mythical "overwhelming preponderance of evidence" against C-123 veterans' exposure, when in fact, that preponderance of evidence argued that veterans were exposed and harmed thereby. VA was wrong. In admitting only facts conforming to its policy, VBA disserved the veterans, failed in its fundamental mission, and revealed scientific dishonesty.
3. On the second point, DOD and VA found it easy to use Air Force flight records to identify aircrews, and other Air Force records to identify maintenance veterans. Difficulty finding vete ans is no reason to deny benefits.

On the the third point, VA's mention of "other Ranch Hand C-123s tested" fails to include the fact only four were tested before tests were ordered stopped for financial reasons (testing was very expensive.) Two of the four selected were contaminated and none of the remaining C-123s were tested. VA suggest special solvents and rubbing were needed to find the contamination, when only standard tests for such toxins were used.
4. "One scientific advocate" was in fact, dozens of physicians and scientists agreeing with the veterans, plus othe federal agancies including the CDC/ATSDR, DOD, NIH, US Public Health Service, VA physicians and scientists, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program. CDC/ATSDR also concluded C-123 veterans experienced a 200-fold increase in cancer risk, and experienced a dioxin exposure exceeding 180-times screening values established by the military. VBA opted in this chart not to mention any of that.

"The majority of scientists on record" apparently consists of the staff at Post Deployment Health in VHA, plus VA's $600,000 no-bid sole source contractor, and two scientists sponsored by Dow and Monsanto for their input on C-123 issues. It hardly seems like any majority when compared to those advocating the veteran's exposure claims.

As to exposure, VA conceded to the findings of the IOM C-123 committee that exposure via inhalation and ingestion was possible and that the veterans were exposed.
7. This chart shows VA's greatest failure – failure to consider perhaps the veterans were right.

Of the options suggested for VBA to address C-123 exposures, no mention is made of the correct one...approval of the exposure claims, which is how the issue was finally resolved. The January 2015 Institute of Medicine C-123 Committee report suggested exactly that, and in March 2015 Secretary McDonald agreed. Since the first claims from C-123 veterans, the preponderance of proof argued for exposure rather than against it, but VA policy overrode science and law to establish a blanket policy of denying the claims.

As the IOM C-123 report concluded, approval of exposure claims was the proper choice, rather than force more years of delay, but VBA excluded the only proper option from their chart.

The suggestion of a preponderance of evidence against the veterans' exposures was unscientific, as it simply wasn't true. A formal training letter to that effect would have been as dishonest and inaccurate as every other such assertion VBA made.

The second point reveals VA's deception. For several years VA insisted it gives every C-123 claim "a case-by-case" evaluation, and that it has no "blanket policy" against the veterans. Here, it suggests implementing exactly that...a training letter to the VAROs instructing them that no justification exists for approval of C-123 exposure claims.

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