04 December 2015

Department of Justice Confirms: VA Never Did Claimed C-123 "Scientific Review" Before Rejecting Veterans' Claims

VA claimed they'd conducted a "scientific review" of all things relevant to C-123 Agent Orange exposure, and on the basis of that review determined that none of the veterans were ever exposed and that none of their Agent Orange claims would be approved.

Honest. OPH did a scientific review! Honest!
The problem: There was never any"scientific review." Rather, staffers in VHA's Public Health/Post Deployment Health Section (OPH) looked over selected reports, chosen only to refute veterans' exposure claims. OPH simply pretended away reports confirming C-123 veterans' exposures sent to VA from the CDC, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Toxicology Program, the US Public Health Service, and dozens of skilled scientists and physicians around the country. All pro-veteran science was ignored, only anti-veteran materials permitted consideration. That's not science. That's raw policy.

That's not how VA should decide to deny medical care to sick and dying veterans seeking help.

The process was so casual the Department of Justice reports that no notes were taken, no approvals sought from supervisors or other authorities, and the only work product from OPH was typing out the web page by which VA refused to honor the veterans' claims. Does sound like careful research??

Not much of a "scientific review." But it was all the VA needed to block essential medical care and other benefits. Why? Because, as the Associated Press reported in their interview with VA's Dr. Terry Walters, OPH "has to draw the line somewhere" against Agent Orange claims.

And they did.

Disputing the scientific input from all these experts, OPH staff didn't even take notes. Their determination to forbid VA medical care to C-123 veterans, even in the face of other federal agencies' strong support for the veterans, was a process that didn't even require notes, or a meeting summary, or an email between staffers. No recordings, no peer review, no memos, not even a sticky note. No doodles, post-its, credit card charges for the office pizza. Nothing.

And Nothing was all VHA needed for VA to block all medical care due C-123 veterans between 2011 and 2015. OPH didn't bother running it past VA Office of General Counsel, or anyone else. It seems the only step was to tell their webmaster what to put up on the VA's web site.

OPH staffers didn't even take notes. Theirs was never what they told legislators and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee constituted a "scientific review,"or "investigation." Instead there was merely the free-wheeling OPH anti-veteran policy decision against the aircrews and maintenance vets who'd been exposed to Agent Orange on the C-123s transports for a full decade.

Here's how the VA described their non-existent "scientific review:"
"Scientific Review of Agent Orange in C-123 Aircraft"
VA's Office of Public Health has investigated the potential exposure to Agent Orange among crew members of C-123 aircraft used previously in spraying missions during the Vietnam War. Although residual TCDD – the toxic substance in Agent Orange – may be detected in C-123 aircraft by sophisticated laboratory techniques many years after its use, the Office of Public Health concluded that the existing scientific studies and reports support a low probability that TCDD was biologically available in these aircraft.  
Therefore, the potential for exposure to TCDD from flying or working in contaminated C-123 aircraft years after the Vietnam War is unlikely to have occurred at levels that could affect health. To address the concerns expressed by crew members, the Office of Public Health reviewed available scientific reports and peer-reviewed literature related to potential adverse health effects, such as:
• Physical properties of TCDD (2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin)
• Routes of exposure (inhalation, ingestion, dermal) and bioavailability (ability to enter the body) of TCDD over extended periods 

• Known levels of safe exposure and threshold levels of TCDD toxicity"
But on December 1,  2015, the Department of Justice reported to C-123 veterans that VA had greatly overstated their so-called "scientific review." DOJ described the OPH effort:
"The review of the scientific evidence to which the OPH website referred was done by Dr. Irons and Dr. Dick (who is no longer with VA).  They read all of the reports separately and met with each other to discuss the weight of the evidence verbally.  No reports were rejected and there are no documents that would show their analysis of each study.  The content that they drafted for the website was reviewed internally within OPH, but this was not done in a formal manner that would have been kept as proof of an official approval."  

VA would never accept such an informal, casual, opinion-based "review" to support a veteran's disability claim. They'd toss the veteran's claim out in a New York nano-second for such useless drivel. But they had no problem denying C-123 veterans using their own useless drivel...what OPH glorified as their "scientific review" and "investigation."

Actually...NO! Not at OPH.
Now DOJ has helped show VA's scientific review and investigation to be nothing more than staffers' personal preferences used to create and defend baseless policy decisions, Policy decisions by a handful of staffers pursuing their own anti-veteran agenda shouldn't have been allowed to block VA medical care to thousands of C-123 veterans for so many years.

Readers might remember earlier postings where Major Marlene Wilson and I reported on our face-to-face meeting with Mr. Tom Murphy, VA Director of Compensation and Pension Services. Mr. Murphy said VHA had already determined no C-123 claims would be permitted...that OPH had already determined that no Agent Orange exposure occurred and informed him all such claims were unacceptable. I asked Mr. Murphy what proof, how much proof he would need to reconsider our claims. He responded that no amount of proof from whatever source would be permitted to challenge OPH's "scientific review," and he deferred all questions to Dr. Terry Walters in OPH.

Our quest for VA medical care was to remain frustrated for three more years based solely on this non-existent OPH "vapor-ware."

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