29 August 2016

It needs to be repeated: From the very beginning, VA science and policy were 100% WRONG on C-123 Agent Orange

In fact, VA was wrong and was determined to prevent our disability claims as a matter of policy regardless of the science involved. From the very beginning our search for help, VA ignored it's fundamental obligation to us as veterans.

No other veteran or veterans organization, supported in the scientific claims for harmful Agent Orange exposure by the CDC and other federal agencies as well as dozens of independent positions and university based scientists, has faced such an automatic VA opposition.  Today's perspective, 18 months after the release of the Institute of Medicine C-123 Report, clearly shows VA opposition was policy-based. VA simply had no scientific or legal basis to oppose the claims – yet they did.

Rather than permit us the benefit of the doubt required by law and M21-1MR they immediately took an adversarial position. That was most perfectly expressed by Mr. Thomas Murphy (Director, VBA Pension and Compensation) when on February 28 2013 he insisted no amount of proof from whatever source would be accepted by VA to support our claims.

Mr. Murphy explained that Veterans Health Administration Public Health decided upon our first inquiries back in early 2011 that, no matter what, C-123 vets were not exposed and VA would deny every claim. VA would do this while insisting that every claim would be considered on a case-by-case basis... and then automatically denied.

As regards the requirement to give us benefit of the doubt, VA reserved it for itself and denied it to the veterans. Even after support for our exposures was submitted to the VA by the CDC ATSDR as well as the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, DoD JSRRC and dozens of independent physicians and researchers VA stuck to its illogical and unscientific as well as blatantly anti-veteran position

Nothing illustrates the deception VA used against us better than the simple comparison of the May 2011 VA position statement (below, formulated by Dr. Terry Walters and her colleagues in VHA Public Health) and the final report on us published by the Institute of Medicine in January 2015.


Let's look at VA's five bullet points:
1) Correct, but irrelevant. The 1991 Agent Orange Act requires VA to treat all veterans exposed to Agent Orange if they have relevant illnesses. VA repeatedly assured Congress and the public via the Federal Register that it would do so.
2) Deceptive. There is only the issue of exposure, not the kind of exposure. For the purpose of opposing our claims, VA introduced the idea of remote/secondary exposure and claimed it made proven contamination of our aircraft no different than the theoretical contamination of the equipment used in Vietnam.
3) Ridiculous! VA stated it would ignore all proof of exposure from whatever source such as the CDC. We did not know it for years but VA had unscientifically redefined the word exposure to require bioavailability for exposure to be recognized. VA created its own unique redefinition of exposure to block our exposure claims, and were criticized for doing so by leaders in other federal health agencies. Even under this redefined exposure, VA should have acknowledged the bioavailability of the C-123 Agent Orange contamination when the CDC informed of them that veterans had a 200 times greater risk of cancer. VA uses Dorland's  Illustrated Medical Dictionary as the standard text of definitions... except for the word exposure.
4) Deceptive. The 1991 Agent Orange Act eliminated the requirement that a veteran establish medical nexus of illnesses associated with Agent Orange and instead provided a presumption. The scientific evidence suggested as missing was already established by the Institute of Medicine and it's numerous earlier reports. Further, as with the first point, VA have a legal obligation as well as the duty under its own regulations to treat all veterans with a proven Agent Orange exposure.
5) The last bullet point is perhaps the VA's most blatant policy driven deception. The opinions referenced as supporting our claims came from the CDC ATSDR, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and dozens of university scientists and independent physicians. Rather than acknowledging this volume of proof, the VA Agent Orange desk in Veterans Benefits Administration simply asserted that it had "an overwhelming preponderance of proof" against our exposures. In fact there was no such proof against our exposure claims and VA insistence otherwise was merely a policy statement. The IOM C-123 Agent Orange Report relied on the same body of evidence to reach an opposite conclusion – veterans were indeed exposed!

VA Conclusions Rigged Uo To Deny Claims For Five Years:
1) "Even though residual Agent Orange may be detected in C-123 aircraft by laboratory techniques years after Agent Orange use, it must be remembered that there is no bio-availability of TCDD in these aircraft. "
2) "The potential for exposure to Agent Orange and TCDD and subsequent development of any adverse health effects from flying in potentially contaminated C-123 aircraft years after the Vietnam War is essentially zero."
Terry J, Walters, MD MPH: Director, Environmental Health, VHA

BUT, the Institute of Medicine concluded after studying the same data:
1)  Veterans suffered bioavailability of the dioxin aboard the aircraft by all three possible routes (dermal, inhalation, and ingestion.) IOM specifically disproved the VA theory of no bioavailability of dried dioxin advanced by VHA Post-Deployment Public Health. That flawed concept was earlier advanced by Dr. Alvin Young who actually argued against any hazards of Agent Orange in his article "Environmental fate of TCDD and Agent orange and Bioavailability To Troops in Vietnam."  A frequent VA and DoD consultant, Young was beneficiary of a no-bid sole source $600,000 consulting contract most of which focused on our aircraft.
2) "Reservists experienced increases in their risks of adverse health outcomes." In fact, the CDC told VA veterans had a 200 fold greater risk of cancer.

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