12 September 2016

C-123 Veterans Association Comment – VA Proposed Rule for Camp Lejeune Exposure Victims

Submitted today to the Federal Register:

"The C-123 Veterans Association congratulates Secretary McDonald on his decision to implement an interim final rule for the Camp Lejeune exposure victims. We urge it's prompt enactment to prevent further deaths and suffering of Camp Lejeune victims thus far so unfairly treated. We note the sense of urgency conveyed in the press release concerning gravely ill potential beneficiaries of this rule.

Our own exposures to Agent Orange aboard our aircraft left us contesting with the Department of Veterans Affairs over whether our aircraft were contaminated, then whether we were exposed, and finally whether we were harmed. At each step we found VA opposition, rather than support. VA insisted it had "an overwhelming preponderance of evidence" against our claims, but in fact all it had was the preference by handful of employees to tolerate no more Agent Orange claims, facts and VA M21-1MR be damned.

It took a review by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences to show the VA and the Air Force that their science and mathematics were mistaken and clearly policy driven. The same IOM report made clear VA had all the science in hand from DoD, other federal agencies and several universities to make the proper decision years before they were moved to final action. Those four years left our aircrew in maintainers denied disability compensation, medical care and other benefits.

Like us, Camp Lejeune victims had confirmation of their situation from ATSDR but faced a hesitant VA monolith. Such hesitation beles the department's oft-stated commitment to be pro-veteran and non-adversarial. Observers of the Camp Lejeune CAP Committee see this quite clearly. VA was most certainly adversarial!

The Secretary's decision to act last week was based on the same science available to VA years ago, so how can VA justify its delay?. The apparent intrinsic and extrinsic ethical failures must be examined on this and all other exposure situations where the VA's action is found hesitant or even downright anti-veteran.

The 2015 Institute of Medicine C-123 Report on our own C-123 veterans' exposures to Agent Orange contained a telling statement just as true for Camp Lejeune victims as for us: Reports "from those in the military or associated with the VA tend to minimize the possibility of an increased risk of exposure and adverse health outcomes." In plain language, the VA lowballs their assessments rather than consider "worst case"  or even typical case appraisals. That's not scientific...that's anti-veteran policy.

Examining how the VA treated our air crews and the Camp Lejeune veterans can only lead a critical observer to conclude that the VA is untrustworthy, deceptive, and comfortable refusing life-saving medical care to veterans eventually shown by the facts of the matter to be fully qualified for the appropriate service-connected disability rating. There is no catch-up for denied family benefits, essential medical care, housing and education benefits and all the other programs designed to help a disabled veteran have the quality of life similar to those who opted against service in the defense of the Nation. 

Post-Deployment Public Health in VHA must carefully re-examine its values relative to those expected of the Department of Veterans Affairs by veterans and the public at large. 

To repeat, we offer our strongest support for this measure by the Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of Camp Lejeune personnel and their families. We further urge the Secretary to do the right thing on retroactive compensation for the reserve component servicemembers."

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