22 January 2016

Aircrews abandoned, "hung out to dry" for decades of USAF mistakes & deceptions

A couple days ago I blogged about General Haugen's statement that C-123s are "as safe as humanly possible."

Events proved that the airplanes certainly weren't safe. A month before General Haugen's words, the USAF Armstrong Labs had identified military herbicide residue on Patches. Crews had complained about the stench being a safety concern, making crew and passengers alike nauseated.

C-123 Vets
Thus far, the Air Force has taken no steps to protect the veterans who flew the C-123s and were exposed to harmful amounts of Agent Orange. Even when asked to generate Line of Duty determinations for sick veterans, AF refused. C-123 veterans have been "hung out to dry" by AF leaders refusing to make right its decades of errors.

Key points: 
• Veterans followed chain of command, reported issues, obeyed orders, volunteered to fly and maintain the former Agent Orange spray planes
• Air Force generals, scientists and other leadership denied contamination, denied exposures, suppressed information, destroyed airplanes with a concern to prevent veterans' claims, abused FOIA requests, produced flawed C-123 reports cited by VA to block veterans' claims

The Air Force failed to protect its airmen while we were flying the C-123 (1972-1986.) Today, even with VA, CDC and Institute of Medicine confirmation of our exposure injuries, USAF does nothing to protect us or make right its decades of errors.

All the mistakes and deceptions with C-123 contamination were by the Air Force, not the aircrews. We were officially assured our airplanes were safe but they were toxic. USAF indifference has left us to shoulder the burden of USAF mistakes and deceptions. They even refuse Line of Duty determinations covering our exposures.

A. Lets look at what the veterans did:
1. reported a safety concern resulting in the 1979 Conway Report on Patches; the report identified toxins but dismissed exposure concerns
2. worked for years trying to clean residue from the former UC-123K birds
3. accepted the General's assurances, continued to volunteer to continue flying Patches and the others
4. over the years, developed Agent Orange illnesses
5. filed a USAF IG complaint when inquiries were unsuccessful; when the IG complaint was denied filed a similar DOD IG complaint which was ignored
6. gathered scientific information, presented to scientists at USAF School of Aerospace Medicine
7. gathered scientific information from CDC, NIH, US Public Health Service, universities
8. presented veterans' perspective and C-123 knowledge at Institute of Medicine hearings
9. granted VA service connection for Agent Orange illnesses but denied retroactive compensation
10. EVERY assertion by the C-123 veterans has been backed by solid evidence

B. Lets look at what the AF did:
USAF C-123 Policy

1. arranged 1979 Conway Report, opted not to decontaminate AFRES former UC-123K spray aircraft
2. in 1979 continued assuring aircrews and maintenance workers the airplanes were safe
3. completed 1994 USAF Armstrong Labs inspection on Patches, reported it "heavily contaminated with dioxin on all test surfaces" and "a danger to public health"
4. Concerned with foreign sales of contaminated C-123s, USAF Office of Environmental Law directed "all information be kept in official channels only"
5. in 1996 decontaminated Patches at $60,000 cost
6. in 2000, concerned with toxin liability, ordered all C-123 sales halted
7. in 2000, reacting to Davis-Monthan AFB worker complaints, ordered all surplus C-123s sealed, quarantined in special HAZMAT storage area; ordered workers to wear full HAZMAT protection
8. in 2009-2010, destroyed all C-123s as toxic waste; special measures to keep process "under the radar" and of low public interest specifically because consultants and staff noted if Reservists learned of exposures they might file VA claims
9. USAF School of Aerospace Medicine began study of C-123 Agent Orange issue after veterans complained through Senate and newspapers; 2012 report dismissed aircraft contamination and veterans' exposures
10. USAF Surgeon General declined notifying C-123 veterans of potential exposures, stating it would "cause undue distress"
11. USAF declined adding UC-123s to VA or DOD lists of Agent Orange testing, storage, transport sites
12. USAF declined FOIA requests, forcing veterans' lawsuit in US District Court Washington DC in which AF was ordered to comply and pay veterans' legal fees
13.USAF did not respond or comment when Institute of Medicine faulted the 2012 report as scientifically and mathematically in error
14. When Congressional leaders requested USAF Line of Duty determinations for aircrews' exposures, only response from the USAF Congressional Liaison Office was to find loopholes in AFI 36-2910 to block the requested protection. AF pointed to the 180-day limit on Reserve Component complaints of injury, insisting LODs couldn't be done after that. AF failed to note that aircrews did indeed officially complain of the toxins in 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979, but the AF had dismissed the complaints even though scientists identified military herbicide residue (Conway, 1979.)

USAF actions against C-123 Vets
P.S.: Air Force, you can't have it both ways. The Air Force cannot waste these last several decades
fighting us, insisting to us and to the VA that we were never exposed and our airplanes never contaminated, only now that the facts are set straight to insist it must stand silent on the issue of veterans' benefits and can do nothing to set right the situation.

Air Force took on itself an active mission of arguing against C-123 veterans' on our exposure assertions. Now that the CDC and the Institute of Medicine have set straight the scientific and medical facts, it is anti-veteran and disingenuous for the AF to state that only VA can deal with the veterans.
 There are many steps the Air Force can take to help its veteran airmen:
1. Acknowledge that the USAFSAM C-123 report has been challenged by the CDC and IOM. We don't expect AF to disown their report but it cannot be left to stand as the Air Force's last word on C-123 contamination.
2. Publish something like VA's C-123 Fact Sheet, addressing contamination and aircrew exposures. AF history must have some documentation on this controversy.
3. Include the recent events in the USAF Museum C-123 display
4. Recommend that the Armed Forces Pest Management Branch include former Operation Ranch Hand UC-123K tail numbers in the DOD list of Agent Orange testing, storage and preparation sites.
5. Use Afterburner to inform C-123 veterans of the VA Agent Orange benefits
6. On request from affected veterans, conduct Line of Duty determinations to consider whether or not C-123 veterans were exposed. An LOD helps reinforce a veteran's claim when processed by the VA because the VA must concede military documentation as decisive.

VA has insisted the C-123 crews were not qualified per statute as "veterans" during our C-123 exposures and uses their Interim Final Rule to provide that veteran status. Actually, such exposure constitutes an injury under 38 U.S.C. 101(24)(B) and (C).  If an individual develops a disease listed in 38 CFR 3.309(e) as specified in paragraph (a)(6)(ii) it will be presumed that the individual concerned became disabled during that service for purposes of establishing that the individual served in the active military, naval, or air service.

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