02 February 2016

VHA Duplicity: Environmental Hazards Training & Briefing Materials

In 2013 and 2014, Dr. Terry Walters, then Deputy Consultant Post Deployment Public Health (part of VA's Veterans Health Administration) conducted a series of training meetings to address contemporary environmental threats faced by veterans. For the most part, the training was informative and accurate.

But the part dealing with C-123 Agent Orange contamination fell far short of VA's standard for scientific accuracy...so far short it was more deception and policy statement than science. Although VA now provides C-123 veterans with presumptive service connection, this slideshow was VA's last word on the issue and still negatively impacts vets being examined and treated by VA physicians.

VA's policy: prevent C-123 veterans' disability claims. To do so, VHA used Dr. Terry Walters' PowerPoint presentation to train VA staffers and in 2014 modified it for presentation to the Institute of Medicine C-123 committee of the National Academy of Science.

Of the two slides dealing with C-123 issues, eleven specific points were offered.  All but two of these points were policy, not science and were wildly inaccurate –  the first point was somewhat accurate: the statement "a small number of these C-123s" did the spraying was actually 34 aircraft, about 10% of the entire fleet used in Vietnam. The second point was simple and accurate, as indeed the C-123 aircraft return to the US at the end of he Vietnam War.

From that point on, VA policy against C-123 claims overwhelmed any resemblance of fact. These are deceptions, and I use that because the staffers in Post Deployment Health were true experts in this field: these experts knew the facts involved but twisted them for policy fulfillment. As experts who were responsible for our care based on their assessment of the issue, their charts and opinions should have reflected only scientific accuracy. These can't be called simple mistakes – rather, these are twisted details perverted for VHA policy.

Remember that these folks in Post Deployment Health would never accept our flying them aboard a C-123 as poorly done as their science about the C-123! They'd rightfully demand the best the best from us because lives are at stake. Same with us and our C-123 Agent Orange exposure – our lives are at state, but we encounter a VHA that for years was determined to keep us from their hospitals! Also, their policy of preventing our valid claims can't compare to our dedication in getting our mission accomplished.

Let's look at the deceptions...or to be  less critical, misrepresentations. (for clarity I've added numbers as the slides had just bullet points.)

3. Wrong. Veterans cite test results on Patches completed by AF toxicologists in 1979 and 1994 which determined it was "heavily contaminated by dioxin on all test surfaces" and "a danger to public health." The slide mentions "a" wipe sample when, in fact, all wipe samples were positive for the toxin. Veterans also rely on tests completed at Davis-Monthan AFB on 16 of 17 surviving aircraft, all of which were positive for dioxin contamination.

4. Wrong. This is a bland prevarication. True, one test of only four aircraft showed these results, but the slide avoids mention of other numerous tests showing far wider scope of contamination. In fact, the Air Force eventually opted to destroy all remaining  C-123s as toxic waste.

5. Incomplete: Few tests involved air sampling. Those tests which were done were unreliable as the last Vietnam spray missions were done 37 years, but C-123 veterans began flying the planes one year after Vietnam when air samples would have been more accurately assessed the exposure. Further, the last air test were done after the planes had been parked for a quarter century.

6. Wrong: disproved by the 2015 Institute of Medicine C-123 Report

7. Irrelevant: the IOM recognized post-Vietnam veterans have a unique long-term low-dose exposure.

8. Irrelevant: misleading because it is irrelevant, and infers that post-Vietnam veterans were also unaffected; Wrong in that the Institute of Medicine does agree Ranch Hand vets do suffer a wide range of health issues, now recognized by VA as presumptive service issues.

9. Wrong. IOM data and data from the American Cancer Society show significant increases in health problems. In particular, the American Cancer Society and VA published research proving Agent Orange exposure results in twice the rate of highly aggressive prostate cancers.

10. Wrong. The populations cannot be compared, plus Ranch Hand veterans DO have increased health hazards recognized by VA itself. Wrong also in that post-Vietnam C-123 veterans had different exposures than Ranch Hand veterans...six to ten years aboard the toxic aircraft vs. a year or so in-country for Ranch Hand. Further, VA had been informed by the CDC two years before this graph was created that post-Vietnam C-123 veterans have a 200-time greater exposure to dioxin than military limits, and will experience a 182-times greater cancer risk as well. Other agencies confirming veterans' exposures include the National Institutes of Health and National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, as well as the Concerned Scientists and Physicians.

11. Wrong: VA deceives the reader because it published prohibitions against C-123 grants, provided training like this arguing against exposures, refused to accept all other government and scientific input confirming exposures, and never permitted a single claim to be granted. Some very few (less than ten in the five decades involved) were approved in an appeals process.

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