29 August 2015

C-123 Veterans' Agent Orange – Mission Complete

We're done here!

• In April 2011, C-123 veterans from Westover AFB began pursuit of Agent Orange exposure disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs for toxic injuries resulting from duty aboard the former Operation Ranch Hand spray aircraft between 1972-1986.

• In January 2012 the CDC informed VA that C-123 post-Vietnam veterans had been exposed to harmful levels of Agent Orange, and that the planes were so contaminated aircrews should have been flying in full HAZMAT protection.

• In March 2013 the DOD Joint Services Records Research Center confirmed C-123 veterans' Agent Orange exposures to VA's Agent Orange desk in Veterans Benefits Administration, which opted to disregard the input despite VAM21-1MR and the Veterans Claims Assistance Act.

• In August 2013, VA approved via DRO the only C-123 veteran's claim to ever be approved without resort to the Board of Veterans Appeals (LtCol Paul Bailey.) Every C-123 claim before and since has been denied, all with VA insisting it considered each "on a case-by-case basis"without mentioning that VA HQ ordered every C-123 claim denied

• In January 2015 the Institute of Medicine, acting under contract from the VA, issued its report to Secretary Bob McDonald confirming the C-123 veterans' exposure and likely toxic injuries.

• In June 2015 the Secretary issued his interim final rule acknowledging the IOM's conclusions, and provided formal veteran status to C-123 veterans with diagnosed Agent Orange-related illnesses, with benefits to date from June 19 2015 forward, but blocking retroactive compensation and other benefits otherwise due claims in process before the interim final rule. The first C-123 veteran's disability claim under this scheme was processed within sixteen days (LtCol Ed Kosakoski.)

• In August 2015 the Secretary of Veterans Affairs announced a compromise of a one-year retroactive disability compensation scheme. This concluded all issues of concern to the C-123 Veterans Association. [NOTE: BIG MISTAKE. A FEW DAYS LATER VA STAFFERS EMAILED US. VA "MEANT TO SAY" NO TO RETROACTIVE PAY.]

Mission Complete. 
• We accomplished most objectives, with failures along the way including four years intolerable delay by VA which we were unable to overcome. 
• We must count as failure the suffering and loss of our veterans these last four years.
• The final failure was the inability to persuade VA to award full retroactive disability compensation due veterans with claims submitted before the interim final rule, settling instead for the compromise of one year retroactivity.

This very difficult effort, led only by Westover's veterans with some financial help from other units' members, served all the men and women who flew C-123s at Westover, Rickenbacker and Pittsburgh as well as scattered Active Duty units and airmen. We did the best we would, we achieved more than experts thought possible, and we won a small measure of success when VA agreed to at least a one year retroactive program.

I believe at this point our only work is to assist fellow C-123 veterans with their claims and to serve the needs of veterans in all situations.

Thank you everyone for your support, especially the encouragements and help covering some of the expenses. As Senator Burr said, "this shouldn't have taken this long or been this hard." If I'd known how bad it was going to be when I first worried about this mess back in 2011, which was when I picked up the phone to call Paul Bailey and see how he was doing, I'd never have gotten started! I wish Paul was still here to see how things resolved for our crewmates.

Today the Dean of the School of Law at Yale said we were "fierce, strategic and unrelenting." We shouldn't have had to be – no veteran should have to self-advocate or waste years of medical retirement struggling to get VA to do its job. Four years ago VA should have called us with some reasonable solution to this horrible problem. They didn't call. Instead they fought us every step of the way. 

Our duty is to make certain no other veteran faces VA alone.

God Bless America.

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