08 December 2015

VA Leadership CONTINUES Fighting Veterans' Exposure Claims

Today's Camp Lejeune toxic water claimants would do well to remember the anti-veteran words of Mr. Brad Flohr, VA's Senior Advisor for Compensation Services. In 2013, Mr. Flohr commented on an Agent Orange disability award for a C-123 veteran, LtCol Paul Bailey (note: all affected C-123 vets were eventually provided presumptive service connection via an Interim Final Rule promulgated by the Secretary effective June 19, 2015.)
From: Flohr, Brad (SES EQV), VBAVACOSent: Monday, August 26, 2013 8:40 AM
To: Murphy, Thomas (SES), VBAVACO; Bilosz, Mark, (SES), VBAVACO; Black, Paul, VBAVACO
Cc: Flynn, Mary A. (SES), VBAVACO; Sampsel, James, VBAVACO
Subject: RE: VASec Wants to Know How We Granted SC for AO Exposure for a Vet Who Did NOT Serve in Vietnam
Unfortunately, there is evidence from credible sources, including ATSDR, noting the presence of Agent Orange in the C123 aircraft, so it would be difficult to sever service connection, not to mention politically unpopular."
"Unfortunately" he wrote? Evidence from the CDC and US Public Health Service and nationally-respected scientists and physicians supporting a vet's claim for medical care is somehow "unfortunate?" Evidence supporting a vet's claim is unfortunate AND credible, as he acknowledges. What the heck kind of evidence does Mr. Flohr find acceptable before he trashes a veteran's disability claim? How does he feel exempted from the Veterans Claims Assistance Act? From the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment? Did he get a special pass to trash valid veterans' claims and ignore VA's legal duty to be pro-veteran, non-adversarial and paternalistic?

 Mr. Flohr's August 26 2013 memo was triggered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, who on August 14 2013, asked his staff to account for how LtCol Bailey's C-123 Agent Orange exposure claim was permitted on August 3 2013 by the Manchester NH Veterans Affairs Office...which acted on the evidence but against VA HQ instructions (the DRO told VA HQ he acted on the evidence)...and the background on all such C-123 claims. Here is what Secretary Shinseki asked:
"I hope you are doing well and that you enjoyed your time off.  I have a question regarding disability claims and have no idea who to send it to.  Though you may be able to route me to the correct person. I would like to obtain information on claims for disability compensation based on exposure to Agent Orange during service on c‐123 aircrafts (post‐Vietnam) that were used to spray agent orange.
Specifically, I would like to know the result of such claims and a summary of why such claims are denied or approved.  Also, a summary of claims that were appealed and if the decision was reaffirmed by BVA or overturned.  If overturned, the reasoning for such action." 
VBA and VHA most senior leadership (the "VASec" – General Shinseki and staff) viewed evidence supporting this exposed combat veteran's claim as "unfortunate?" These words of Mr. Flohr leave an even more toxic taste in my mouth when considering the vindication given C-123 veterans by the Institute of Medicine's Agent Orange report in January 2015 and, eventually in June, the Secretary's Interim Final Rule. The C-123 veterans, it turns out, had been right all along...right in the science, right in the law. VA was wrong to have refused these veterans medical care for their cancers and other ailments. As Senator Burr said for his colleagues, "it shouldn't have taken this long or been this hard." And veterans shouldn't have died, denied VA medical care!

Perhaps Mr. Flohr, whose paramount duty should be insuring all eligible veterans are provided benefits earned as per the law, feels credible evidence needs to be withheld, much as VA withheld the JSRRC confirmation of C-123 vet's exposures in March 2013.

His documented background of anti-veteran perspective is enough to disqualify Mr. Flohr in any VA role where he determines whether veterans will or will not be permitted essential medical care and other benefits.

That would be "unfortunate" for Mr. Flohr but a Heaven-sent blessing for the troops! What should our analysis be of the people Mr. Flohr's August 26 memo was distributed to, including Mr. Tom Murphy, Director Compensation and Pension? 

Mr. Murphy, remember, authored the denial order for a C-123 veteran's claim by insisting that TCDD (the toxin in Agent Orange) was harmless! This prejudicial and unscientific comment stood to block the veteran's claim until October 2015. On December 1 2015, the Department of Justice reported that Mr. Murphy's statement "was in error and incomplete." In error and incomplete, but unfortunately it still sufficed for Mr. Murphy's purpose of blocking a claim for as long as he could, and until retroactive benefits were no longer available to the vet.

Finally, why the heck didn't anyone copied on this memo then or since act to correct the harm done by Mr. Flohr's blatant "unfortunate" remarks? Co-conspirators in VBA's objective of, as VHA's Dr. Terry Walters put it to the Associated Press, of having to "draw the line somewhere" should be questioned about exactly how bad such actions have to be before blowing the whistle!

What kind of VA do we have if it sees credible evidence supporting a veteran's claim as UNFORTUNATE? And the staffers get away with this for years! Are they free to disregard VA regulations (VAM21-1MR,) as well as the Veterans Claims Assistance Act and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment?

Mr. Flohr was interviewed by NPR but on a different exposure concern – Mustard Gas: "This is not an easy, not a simple thing," Flohr says. "But we have done everything that we could do, I definitely believe that." This was his weak defense of VA's failure to contact suffering volunteers for early Mustard Gas experiments...his defense was for twenty years of VA failing to honor its commitment to Congress and failure to contact over 75% of those veterans in the two decades since it said it would. Mr. Flohr is aided in VA's efforts to prevent Mustard Gas claims by the fact even the Pentagon says the necessary records have been destroyed. NPR reported, "And yet Flohr insists the VA still needs (lost government) proof in order to grant claims. "I'm sorry, " Flohr says. "But the only thing we can do is follow our statutes and regulations.

He offered much the same over five years ago, in an interview about Camp Lejeune with McClatchy Newspapers. "We're committed to do training for staff dedicated to do these claims." Five years ago he gave that interview and made that promise, yet VA's stall techniques continue to block Camp Lejeune vets still today. Although NPR's librarian found 1200 surviving veterans in just one month's effort, Flohr insisted that VA managed only found half that in over two decades, even with all the resources of the federal government.

"But the only thing we can do is follow our statutes and regulations," Mr. Flohr said.

EXCEPT...when those "statutes and regulations" happen to establish solid proof...credible government proof thrust upon VA by the NIH, CDC and the Department of Defense for C-123 veterans and our Agent Orange exposures, Mr. Flohr then considers proof "unfortunate" and best disregarded by VA.

Can these VA staffers, regardless of their position within the government, freely ignore laws and regulations? Can these staffers continue their quiet, unofficial, and personal vendetta against veterans with exposure injuries simply because they feel, as stated by Dr. Terry Walters to the Associated Press on May 14, 2014, "We have to draw the line somewhere." Echoing Mr. Flohr, she said VA was simply following the law...but now it is clear that these staffers worked hard to misinterpret the law, picking and choosing parts, ignoring other parts, all to block or delay veterans' claims. Were they somehow free to do this? Free to set their own special barrier to keep VA medical care away from these veterans?

Yes. No problem at all. They do it all the time without even having to answer for it. They work for the VA.

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