21 September 2015

74/439 AES Annual Dinner, Friday Sept 25 in Chicopee

74AES Executive Committee
Steve Caraker and Rosemary Costa have worked their usual magic to organize another great dinner for everyone this Friday evening at the Munich House in Chicopee Center.

Good friends, good food, and I hear they even serve beer. RSVP to Steve.

Hey – I'm coming in hopes of seeing Steve in lederhosen!

10 September 2015

Master Sergeant Richard Matte Has Passed

Dick Matte has died. 

It hurt a lot to read Steve Caraker’s email with that news, even though it was sure to come. Dick’s long struggle with illnesses showed strength and bravery beyond what most of us can imagine…heart transplant, heart attacks, the loss of his legs and so much more suffering.

It hurts all of us to lose him, and our condolences to his family. He joins Mayleen Adams, Bob Boyd, Giff, Cliff Turcotte, Mike Lieb, Bill Schindler, General Walker and so many others for whom we cared. His arrangements are here.

Matte made the front page of the Boston Globe last June! He was featured in an article addressing the VA’s reluctance to deal with C-123 Agent Orange exposures and illnesses, and that coverage helped bring the public’s attention to this issue and its resolution on June 19. Secretary McDonald’s welcome decision to provide C-123 veterans our disability benefits was due in good part to Dick’s story told so publicly in the Globe.

Thanks to Arch Battista, John Harris and the Yale Veterans Legal Clinic, Dick's VA claim was honored and benefits established even before the VA decision. He and Paul Bailey are the only two C-123 veterans whose claims were awarded before VA decided to care for all of us.

As his friend Steve Carr wrote, we’ve lost a fellow airman and a good soldier. Dick’s faith grew even stronger with all struggles. Now he rests in the peace he knew was ahead. God Bless.

04 September 2015

Study finds link between Agent Orange, bone cancer precursor

Servicemembers exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War are at higher risk of developing the precursor stage of a bone marrow cancer, according to a study published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association Oncology.
The study provides the first scientific evidence for a link between the precursor stage of multiple myeloma — a cancer of white blood plasma cells that accumulate in bone marrow — and veterans exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange, according to the study’s 12 authors, who are associated with medical centers across the U.S. The precursor, called monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance, or MGUS, is not in and of itself a problem.
“MGUS is not a cancer,” said Dr. Nikhil Munshi, who specializes in multiple myeloma at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School in Boston. “A very large majority of patients with MGUS remain MGUS all through their lives with no real consequence.”
MGUS virtually always precedes multiple myeloma, but the mechanisms that trigger its onset are not fully understood, said Munshi, who was not involved in the study but wrote an editorial published in the same issue of JAMA Oncology.
Previous studies have linked other insecticides, herbicides and fungicides to higher risks of MGUS and multiple myeloma.
Agent Orange was used during Operation Ranch Hand in Southeast Asia to clear jungle foliage from 1962 to 1971. It was usually sprayed via aircraft. Since then, Agent Orange has been linked to a host of health problems and diseases in many servicemembers.
The Veterans Administration maintains a list of “presumptive diseases” assumed to be related to military service that automatically qualify them for VA benefits. The Institute of Medicine has identified seven cancers with a positive association to Agent Orange, including chronic lymphocytic leukemia, Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma — all of which have been accepted by the VA as presumptive diseases.
Multiple myeloma is a VA presumptive disease, but it has been classified as having “limited or suggestive evidence” of a link to Vietnam War veterans’ exposure to herbicides, the authors of the JAMA study wrote.
The study looked at specimens from two groups of Air Force veterans that had been collected and stored in 2002 by the Air Force Health Study. A group of 479 veterans who had been exposed to Agent Orange during Operation Ranch Hand were compared with a second group of the same size that had similar duties in Southeast Asia from 1962 to 1971 but were not involved with the herbicide.
The Air Force Health Study had sampled servicemembers in the two groups in 1987, 1992, 1997 and 2002 for exposure to Agent Orange and to 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, or TCDD, which is an unintended contaminant of the herbicide considered the culprit for so many of its adverse effects.
The researchers found that the prevalence of MGUS in Ranch Hand veterans was twice as high as in the comparison group, with 34 of the 479 Ranch Hand veterans having MGUS compared with 15 out of 479 in the control group.
That translated to a 2.4-fold increased risk of MGUS for Ranch Hand veterans over their counterparts when adjusting for factors such as age, race and other physical traits. “That’s an important number,” Munshi said. Researchers also found significantly higher levels of TCDD in the Ranch Hand veterans who had developed MGUS, he said.
Because all cases of multiple myeloma originate from MGUS, the study has provided the first scientific evidence for a direct link between Agent Orange and multiple myeloma, he said.

02 September 2015

Finally Heard from VA – HURRAH

Good work, VA!
Yesterday I received a call from a VA service officer to discuss my Agent Orange claim. First submitted in 2011, it was personally denied by Mr. Tom Murphy's comment that TCDD (the toxin in Agent Orange) hasn't been shown to be harmful to humans. Mr. Murphy wrote that CDC, EPA, NIH, DOD, the National Toxicology Program, US Public Health Service, and the dozens of independent scientists and physicians confirming our exposures were all unqualified to confirm C-123 veterans' exposures.

Mr. Murphy insisted he was right, and the scientists and government agencies, including the Department of Defense, were wrong. In his office on February 28 2013, Mr. Murphy explained the issue had already been decided by VA's Post Deployment Public Health group in Veterans Health Administration and that no C-123 claims were to be approved. None. That's apparently what VA leaders meant by "every C-123 claim evaluated on a case-by-case basis" when the Senate accused them of a C-123 blanket denial policy. Clearly, VA had a universal blanket denial of C-123 claims, however VA chose to describe their 100% denial record.

Mr. Murphy's insistence that Agent Orange was harmless, later referred to by VA officials as "an unfortunate phrasing," doomed the claim despite reams of medical and scientific justification which first led the Portland VARO to recommend approval. Apparently VBA's Agent Orange Desk was the originator of the Murphy opinion, and for years that staffer wrote that VA had "an overwhelming preponderance of evidence against C-123 claims...not because there was any such evidence but because he felt the claims must be prevented. Actually, the overwhelming preponderance of evidence was, as the Institute of Medicine concluded, C-123 veterans were exposed and were harmed.

My claim for Agent Orange benefits per the 1991 Agent Orange Act to address Agent Orange illnesses caused by Agent Orange exposure was denied because Mr. Murphy wrote that Agent Orange is harmless. A great surprise to science and medicine which consider TCDD a potent human carcinogen.

So, too, does the CDC. They wrote VA that C-123 veterans were exposed to Agent Orange at 182-times safety threshold, and face a 200-fold greater cancer risk. Mr. Murphy wrote that CDC was not qualified to comment, nor were any other scientists qualified to comment. On February 28 2913 he explained to me that VA had already determined none of the C-123 claims were to be approved. Regardless of the amount of evidence from whatever source, every claim was to be denied because VHA Post Deployment Health had already decided the issue. Mr. Murphy expressly stated that no amount of evidence would suffice...the decision was already made to deny every C-123 claim.

Compensation and Pension ordered my claim denied. They didn't use those exact words...they just said it couldn't be approved. Seems like the same thing to me. Then VA insisted to everyone that each claim "was carefully evaluated on a case-by-case basis" before it was automatically denied.

So yesterday was wonderful. I had a good conversation with an expert claims worker and now I feel encouraged that after more than four years, my claim seems to be moving along. VA is also looking over my appeals, so perhaps those won't have to wait more years in the BVA queue.