|T. Murphy, VA Acting Undersecretary for Benefits|
So, as a problem topped with another problem, in comes Mr. Thomas Murphy (himself a veteran, moving up from his Director, Compensation and Pension in less than a year to become Acting Undersecretary for Veterans Benefits.
Mr. Murphy is a hard worker, and came to his earlier position at Compensation and Pension in 2010 where he oversaw VA's entire program for reviewing veterans' disability claims for approval or disapproval. His business background was at Home Depot.
Why is Mr. Murphy a problem? Because his six years at Compensation and Pension are fairly judged to be a relative failure in serving America's veterans. We'll focus here on two of these failures.
First, his determination and success in "holding the line" against Agent Orange claims. The two most visible groups he's fought on this are the Blue Water Navy Veterans and the C-123 Veterans Association.
In 2012 Mr. Murphy wrote his denial of a C-123 veteran's Agent Orange exposure claims after the Portland VARO said they wanted to approve...Mr. Murphy put a stop to that! "In conclusion, there is no conclusive evidence that TCDD exposure causes any adverse health effects." He wrote that to dismiss expert input from the CDC confirming the veteran's exposure.
TCDD, the toxin in Agent Orange, is recognized by science to be the most toxic of the toxins, and definitely causes "adverse health effects." VA itself (but not Mr. Murphy) understands that it is a highly toxic substance. Likewise, NIH, EPA, WHO, NIEHS, US PHS and other health authorities understand TCDD ain't good for you.
His was no mere typo. Mr. Murphy's three-page denial blocked compensation and medical benefits to a veteran C-123 aviator. Four years later, VA itself conceded that veteran and other C-123 vets actually had been exposed to Agent Orange and could receive benefits.
At least, those who survived that long despite Mr. Murphy's policy of blanket denial by VA all C-123 claims would receive benefits.
Of course, Mr. Murphy assured veterans and legislators that VA had no such policy of blanket denials and instead promised to review all C-123 claims on a "case-by-case basis" – he just never bothered mentioning his assurance actually meant VA's case-by-case denial of every single claim submitted by every single veteran who flew the C-123.
Mr. Murphy must have been determined to deny this C-123 vet's claim. He rejected input confirming the vet's exposure not only from the CDC, but also from the National Institute of Environmental Health Services, the NIH, and numerous university-based scientists and physicians all supporting the vet's claim.
His denial opinion was read back to him, and he merely said he couldn't be familiar with everything leaving 1800 G Street over his signature. He hasn't made any correction to his 2012 statement, even with the last four years of confirmation of C-123 exposures.
In conference with C-123 veterans and his own staff, Mr. Murphy firmly explained that Veterans Benefits Administration had already determined none of the C-123 veterans were ever exposed, and no amount of proof from scientists or government agencies would raise the claim to VA's "as likely as not" threshold. All claims would be denied, he said.
But, of course, only after his "case by case" evaluation and automatic denial! It took four years and the Institute of Medicine study to get VA to begin permitting benefits for surviving C-123 vets. While that may have been a disappointing shift from the blanket denial policy VA still pretended not to exist, at least the department drew satisfaction in the money saved by blocking medical care and benefits for so many years.
A note: if Mr. Murphy's 2012 claim denial letter was written by a staffer for his approval, the staffer was most likely Mr. James Sampsel, manager of VBA's Agent Orange desk and liaison to the Joint Services Records Research Center (JSRRC) in DOD. Mr. Sampsel was also the staffer who drafted Secretary Shinseki's error-laden letter and deceptive C-123 Fact Sheet.
Mr. Sampsel, a Vietnam veteran himself, made his own perspective quite clear in a related email to Mr. Murphy. Mr. Sampsel determined that "the real problem" in denying C-123 veterans' claims is the amount of evidence confirming those exposures.
Get it? VA's "real problem" is that the veterans' proofs must be ignored by VA so as to deny the C-123 exposure claims. Mr. Sampsel, labeling CDC, NIH, US Public Health Service as "the real problem" in his email to Mr. Murphy, insisted VA had "an overwhelming preponderance of evidence" against the vets. He cited input from the VA consultant and VA's own web site, pretending that VA putting their policy statement online was "overwhelming evidence" sufficient to ignore the other federal agencies and dozens of independent scientists and physicians establishing the veterans' exposure injuries.
No legally required "benefit of the doubt" was even to be permitted. No contrary evidence was acceptable to VBA, Mr. Murphy or Mr. Sampsel...their policy overrode every regulation, law, Federal Register statements and assurances to Congress. Their anti-veteran preference overrode everything.
Even the DoD had tried to tell Mr. Sampsel it had credible evidence from many sources supporting the veterans. Mr. Sampsel, in response to DoD, put blinders on and was improperly very highly selective about what evidence it would acknowledge – if evidence supported C-123 claims it was immediately ruled unacceptable. As for VA and its campaign against C-123 claims, Mr. Sampsel would not request a JSRRC finding or permit one to be issued on C-123 veterans (note: this violates procedures described in VA's own regulation VAM21-1MR, as well as the Veterans Claims Assistance Act.) He then refused to acknowledge any JSRRC input he had not first requested...thus, no requests = no JSRRC confirmation = denied claim.
Mr. Murphy thanked Mr. Sampsel for his input.
Mr. Murphy's thanks were for Mr. Sampsel's success in denying all such claims for another three years. It wasn't until the Institute of Medicine's C-123 report was published that VA finally acknowledged the aircraft contamination and the aircrew's exposure.
Just as the CDC had said back in 2012, when more of the vets were still alive.