10 August 2017

Book review: Dr. Alvin Young's "The History, Use, Disposition and Environmental Fate of Agent Orange"

 Dr. Jeannie Stellman strongly supported our argument that C-123 veterans were
exposed to 
Agent Orange residue in our aircraft. Besides her presentation at the
June 2014 Institute of Medicine hearing, she
co-authored a scientific analysis of
the C-123 contamination
. Here Dr. Stellman reviews Dr. Alvin Young's extensive
publication on Agent Orange.
Perhaps the best summary of his book is her simple, short sentence: "Science also
seems to have ended in the 1970s and early 1980s for Young."
Logo of envhper
. 2010 Jun; 118(6): A266.
PMCID: PMC2898884
Book Review

The History, Use, Disposition and Environmental Fate of Agent Orange

By Alvin L. Young, New York:Springer, 2009. 339 pp. ISBN: 978-0-387-87485-2, $99  
It has been nearly 50 years since the United States initiated a military operation that sprayed approximately 20 million gallons of phenoxy herbicides and arsenicals on South Vietnam including Agent Orange, a formulation that was contaminated with dioxin. Alvin Young has been a major player in measuring and monitoring these herbicides since the 1960s. Retired from the Air Force (AF) and now receiving support from the herbicide manufacturers Dow and Monsanto, Young remains a governmental spokesman in post-conflict remediation dealings with Vietnam. His “new” book on the issue—actually, a largely unacknowledged compilation of his and others’ writing and research—contains some valuable information. This value though, must be weighed against a number of serious deficiencies in scholarship.
Young’s book contains a gold mine of data on the herbicides, some of which have been out of public view until now. But caveat emptor: Page after page of text and many illustrations and photographs are taken directly from Young’s prior publications without proper citation. There are also many lengthy direct quotations from other authors that appear without quotation marks or indents. Setting aside issues of copyright, the difficulty for users who wish to cite this book’s contents will be the absolute requirement of locating all references to distinguish original from reproduced text.
A second caveat: Many quotations are taken out of context, emphasis has been added without acknowledgement, and other authors’ work has in some cases been misinterpreted. For example, Major General John Murray—who evaluated military records aspects of the now abandoned Agent Orange Study—is quoted as seeming to urge abandonment of all military records–based studies with Young’s emphasis-added, capitalized, and boldfaced “NOT.” A check in the source material, though, will show that Murray’s very next sentence reads “It is, of course, understood that eight (8) other studies which require determinations of the likelihood of Agent Orange exposure conducted by the Veterans Administration and for which the Joint Services Environmental Support Group will provide exposure determinations and military record abstractions will rigorously continue” (Murray JE. 1986. Report to the White House Agent Orange Working Group Science Subpanel on Exposure Assessment. Washington DC:Office of Science and Technology Policy). Palmer’s work is cited as supporting the notion that science cannot contribute to understanding health effects of Agent Orange, because there are too many “quality of life issues.” A check of source material (Palmer MG. 2005. The Legacy of Agent Orange: Empirical Evidence from Central Vietnam. Soc Sci Med 60:1061–1070) reveals that Palmer did not say this; further, the year of his paper is incorrectly cited.
More recently, Young has proposed a new theory to support his contention that no U.S. troops were directly sprayed upon. He asserts that because there were no reports of U.S. casualties resulting from attacks by the fighter planes that escorted the spray planes, no troops could have been in harm’s way, and he cites Flanagan, a retired AF pilot who wrote of his varied experiences in Vietnam. In fact, Flanagan’s description of a spray mission disparages the Army recordkeeping on which Young relies: “Failure was never recognized … friendly casualties could be failures, but they, too, were never identified” (Flanagan JF. 1992. Vietnam Above The Treetops: A Forward Air Controller Reports. New York:Praeger).
In the interest of full disclosure, Young describes our methodology for updating and correcting herbicide spray records as demonstrating a “woeful lack of understanding” of AF reporting procedures. We must point out in response that our work (Stellman JM, Stellman SD. 2003. Characterizing Exposure of Veterans to Agent Orange and Other Herbicides Used in Vietnam: Final Report. Washington, DC:National Academies Press) was performed in collaboration with the persons at the Department of Defense (DoD) who were the most knowledgeable about these procedures—the Center for Research on Unit Records—and co-authored by Col. Christian (retired), former director of the DoD Joint Services Environmental Support Group. Young discounts the ability of spray plane navigators to know where they were or pilots to accurately spray their targets—thereby dismissing the utility of the voluminous spray records available, despite much evidence to the contrary.
Some assertions in the book either are disingenuous or contradict Young’s earlier work.

09 August 2017

LtCol Al Young earned Legion of Merit in 1984, helping VA block veterans' Agent Orange disability claims

In the 1983-84 time frame, VA firmly opposed all veterans' Agent Orange disability claims, insisting the only possible ailment was chloracne. Dr. Al Young was on loan to VA from the Air Force where he'd spent years defending and promoting the infamous herbicide. At VA he labored mightily to continue its defense, but it was an uphill struggle because science and Congress sided with the vets. Still...Dr. Young gets fair credit for blocking veterans as long as they were.

Let's be clear...earning one of the military's most senior decorations shows how faithful and successful Dr. Young (then a lieutenant colonel) was in fulfilling his duties. It was his sduty at VA, not the faithfulness with which he performed his duty, that has a stigma.  Young was assigned (81-83)  to head up VHA's Agent Orange Projects Office.

It may hard to credit Dr. Young with personally obstructing the claims of tens of thousands of sick Vietnam veterans...perhaps full credit doesn't fall on him, but his inventiveness, contemporary comments and writings on Agent Orange are quite suggestive.

I find it impossible to accept that "Dr. Orange" would have earned his Legion of Merit for advancing veterans' claims of illnesses due to Agent Orange exposure. He, and the VA through his leadership were suggesting sick vets were mental cases or trying to exploit pensions, or merely suffering the results of aging and poor health choices. Anything but Agent Orange! Young suggested that at least "a few" sought "public recognition for their sacrifices in Vietnam" and "financial compensation during economically depressed times."

Dr. Young, who was considered the government's ranking expert on Agent Orange, said the VA had not found any adverse health effects "clearly related" to dioxin exposure among 85,000 veterans. He was not one to be swayed by statistics suggesting otherwise, not even in recent years. He seems to never waive from his mantra about Agent Orange issues arising solely because of social, legal or political reasons, not science and medicine. At the time, VA savored such words as reinforcement to their wall against exposure claims. Young's message spread far and wide, thanks to events such as his Nightline interview, Air Force book and point-man influence throughout the VA.

I find it more likely that VA so appreciated Dr. Young's years successfully spent opposing our claims that the Legion of Merit was his proper due. At most, as he told the New York Times, "We just don't know," and the issue is only a "controversy." Thus his opposition to AO disability claims then, and ever since. Another quote from Young fits well here: "I was wrong." (as he said following Harvard's disproving Young's critical hypothesis that dioxin quickly degrades in soil.)

Back in those years he spent at VA, a staff member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee derided Dr. Young as "a glorified weed-killer" who is "not qualified to discuss the health effects of exposure to Agent Orange."

So congratulations are due for his demonstrably successful years of hard work in service to the USAF and the VA. It took an act of Congress in the form of the 1991 Agent Orange Law to overturn VA's obstruction of vets' claims. LtCol Young's qualification for the Legion of Merit..." senior leadership/command positions or other senior positions of significant responsibility" is obvious, but it grates to consider he earned it by working against Vietnam veterans' claims.

From the Agent Orange Review Feb 1985 (ironic, right?)

• Here's a contemporary article: what role did Dr. Young and his position on Agent Orange have on the type of systemic anti-veteran VBA rules overturned by the US District Court? Why did 31,000 vets have to suffer, finding relief not at the VA but in the courtroom?

05 August 2017

"Hype and hysteria" insisted VBA Agent Orange "expert," Mr. James Sampsel

In March 2017 VBA's Agent Orange point-person and "subject matter expert" James Sampsel flatly dismissed the hazards of Agent Orange exposure. 

Hoping to help block further expansion of disability benefits due veterans sickened by exposure to the toxin, Sampsel insisted to the VA Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation (ACDC) that Agent Orange is all "hype and hysteria." "Hardly anybody" disagrees with him, Sampsel told the committee.

Perhaps VBA "experts" like Sampsel should ground themselves better in the history of the issue. Not only had CDC, US Public Health Service, EPA, the National Toxicology Program. WHA, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and virtually every other authority already condemned Agent Orange, but so had DOD and the VA itself.

But Sampsel instead seeks counsel from his favorite consultant, Dr. Al Young. Also, from Young's clients Dow and Monsanto, and from Young's associates such as retired Professor Mike Newton at Oregon, who wanted to use "gifts" of many barrels of Agent Orange from Young, spraying Oregon's forests to aid in timber harvesting.* 

Speaking to the March ACDC, Sampsel summarized their contrary input as his "overwhelming preponderance of evidence" in dismissing all other experts, including CDC and USPHS. Using that phrase, he refused VA medical care for sickened veterans.

The Vietnam veterans' 1988 lawsuit against the herbicide manufacturers brought out this same push-back by the chemical industry years earlier and was quickly dismissed by VA's own leadership. Here, the issue referenced was the 1985 decision to include soft tissue sarcomas to the list of recognized AO ailments:

"The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs based its recent decision to compensate and treat military veterans for soft tissue sarcomas not on any scientific basis, they say, but only "to put the affair to rest by compensat­ing the veterans." The fact is, however, that the action by Veterans Secretary Derwinski was based on: (1). the recommendation of his specially-appointed science advisory panel that has been convened for more than a decade of study; (2). a investigative report by his special assistant, Retired Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr., who had ordered much of the Agent Orange applica­tion during the Vietnam War and who reported to Secre­tary Derwinski that there had been widespread fraud perpetrated in government and industry human studies in order to avoid compensating veterans; and (3). the report of a blue ribbon panel of independent experts that exposure to TCDD could be plausibly linked to a cancer".

(Note: VA is now considering adding more illnesses to the list of recognized Agent Orange problems.)

*...from: Proving Grounds: Militarized Landscapes, Weapons Testing, and the Environmental Impact of U.S. Bases, about Dr. Al Young helping spray Agent Orange in Oregon:

Finally...a Marine in place to help run VA: Assistant Secretary Brooks Tucker

He stood by us from the start.

Retired Maine LtCol Brooks Tucker served on North Carolina Senator Burr's staff. He was our first advocate in 2011 and stood with us for years until final victory in June 2015.

Last week Mr. Tucker was confirmed by the Senate as VA Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs. Congratulations!

02 August 2017

VBA claims expert offers gracious apology for dismissive remarks about Agent Orange as "all hype and hysteria."

From the VA Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation:

"Chairman Martin reminded attendees that any opinions expressed at the meeting were solely those of the individuals providing them, and did not necessarily reflect the position of ACDC, VA, or the federal government. He read a letter from Jim Sampsel, who briefed the Committee at its March meeting on Agent Orange-related issues, and whose remarks were published in the media. Mr. Sampsel expressed regret over raising the issue of hypertension and recognized the debate on related legal, scientific, and factual issues. He apologized for any negative effects his presentation may have had on the Committee or its mission. Several members praised Mr. Sampsel for his long-time dedication to Veterans’ issues. The Chairman said the Committee welcomed frank and open discussion."

My Public Comments to the Committee:
"Wes Carter spoke on behalf of VVA, the C-123 Veterans Association, and the United Veterans of Colorado. He objected to Mr. Sampsel’s presentation on Agent Orange at ACDC’s March meeting, which he felt had dismissed legitimate concerns over Agent Orange exposure as hype and hysteria. The presentation failed to mention that several institutions, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), had concluded that Agent Orange exposure was harmful. The CDC had informed VA that someone (having flown former Agent Orange C-123s) exposed to Agent Orange was 200 times more likely to have cancer.** see correction  
Mr. Carter also objected to being mentioned and having his medical situation discussed in Mr. Sampsel’s presentation. Mr. Sampsel had noted Mr. Carter’s 100 percent disability rating, and commented that he guessed that was not enough. Mr. Carter responded that it should not be enough* and that he deserved acknowledgment that his cancer was due to Agent Orange exposure. 
Mr. Carter was disturbed that Mr. Sampsel validated the claims of a consultant VA had paid $600,000 to oppose him at an Institute of Medicine hearing. This consultant had previously referred to Mr. Carter and similarly situated Veterans as trash haulers and freeloaders, and had taken a contemporary photograph of a C-123 airplane and passed it off as a 1971 picture which he represented as evidence for why VA should keep its hospital doors locked to C-123 Veterans. 
Mr. Carter added that a group of Veterans’ organizations had written a letter protesting VA’s reliance on the consultant, and that ProPublica and Stars and Stripes had written articles criticizing Mr. Sampsel’s conclusions. 
Mr. Goldsmith asked if statements found to be untrue should be stricken from the record. 
Dr. Vvedenskaya said that ACDC’s meetings were open to the public and that any comments made became part of the public record.  Dr. Jones argued that it was contrary to ACDC’s charter to refer to individual Veterans by name at Committee meetings; if a presenter violated that policy, the Committee should make it clear that such remarks were inappropriate. Dr. Granger agreed that personal health information was private and should not be shared in a public forum without the individual’s consent. Chairman Martin thanked Mr. Carter for his comments and his service."

My correction to the ACDC minutes:

1.* I never have had or expressed objection to my VA 100% disability rating being "enough," but only to Mr. Samplel making that sarcastic suggestion to his colleague.
2. CDC/ATSDR reported to VA and the IOM that C-123 veterans face a 200-fold greater risk of cancers. The minutes incorrectly state that CDC reached that conclusion about all Agent Orange veteran exposures.

29 July 2017

More famous quotes from VA's favorite Agent Orange "expert," Dr. Alvin Young

Having spent two full careers (even more) specializing in Agent Orange issues, Dr, Al Young has plenty of simply amazing quotes attributed to him.

Amazing, that is, only in revealing how much harm was done to exposed veterans.

His twenty-year USAF career as a scientist mostly focused on weaponizing Agent Orange, followed by attempting to explain away its dangers as its use was suspended in 1971. While at Brooks AFB in 1979, Young told the media that dioxins (the toxin in Agent Orange) released into the environment seem to be "much less hazardous than lab tests suggest."

The USAF later loaned him to the VA where he was under Dr. Shepard first head of their Environmental Medicine section (Agent Orange Projects Office,) and responsible for fending off the early wave of Vietnam vets' exposure claims. That's right – the same guy who weaponized Agent Orange was given a desk at VA and told to block exposure claims.

He led the VA's fight for years, but Congress grew frustrated at their obstructionist foot-dragging and passed the 1991Agent Orange Act to settle the issue. 

Retirement from the Air Force brought Young out of the VA to the White House. His duty: director of the Office of Technology Assessment. He coordinated the evaluation/policy of the effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam veterans, and general issues involving Agent Orange affecting various other federal agencies.

One of his 1983 statements was that he didn't think dioxin constituted a national problem, but it might pose a problem in specific parts of the country. Yeah, "might." A year later he contradicted himself when testifying before a Congressional committee, saying, "I think it definitely is (harmful.) I think the data certainly harmful to humans. One of his most frequent quotes: "We just don't know." In 1984 he was quoted in Toxicity Material News saying, "Dioxin poses no health problems."

2014 brought Dr. Young before the Institute of Medicine C-123 Agent Orange exposure committee. There we saw a great number of his truly interesting statements:
1. First, telling the IOM he wasn't representing the VA. In fact, he was still operating under his $25,000 per month consulting contract to support VA's resistance to Agent Orange claims.
2. Next, asked why the C-123s were destroyed if not contaminated, he said it was because USAF needed the storage space and the planes were unsaleable. Young skipped revealing the key point about how in 2009 he'd repeatedly recommended their destruction because of Agent Orange, and because we vets might apply for exposure benefits for our illnesses. 
3. What was he thinking?? Dr. Young presented IOM a set of photos of C-123 #664 supposedly taken by the Air Force in 1971, saying they showed the superb restoration and decontamination after Vietnam. His photos were indeed of #664, but were taken in 2004 by the Pennsylvania-based Air Heritage Museum who did the restoration themselves. Young simply lifted the photos right from the museum's web site.
4. Dr. Young stressed to the committee that no Agent Orange spray missions were done with the ramp doors open. But –  just two weeks later the Sunday Boston Globe had a front-page photo of a Ranch Hand C-123 doing exactly that in Vietnam.

But for most of us, our all-time favorite Al Young quote came in 2011: C-123 vets "are hoping they can cash in on  tax-free money" and are "trash-haulers." C-123 vets are "concocting exposure stories about Agent Orange hoping that some Congressional member will feel sorry for them." He concluded, "I have no respect for such free loaders. If not freeloading, what is their motive?"

Great thoughts fron Young, who between 2012-2014 profited from his no-bid sole-source $600,000 contract with VA to help block our claims.

Another word from Dr. Al Young, VA's famous Agent Orange "expert"

Agent Orange:  A veterans' issue, but one of only "questionable importance." So said Dr. Alvin Young, who offers us a wealth of such amazingly off-center and anti-veteran views.

His "expert" opinion above is from "back in the day" while helping form VA opposition to veterans' exposure claims.

26 July 2017

VA acts to correct new regulation that "forgot" about C-123 veterans' Agent Orange benefits

It is a brand-new core document: "VHA Directive 1601A.02, ELIGIBILITY DETERMINATION."

It is important. VHA issued the newly revised directive to its offices nationwide, with the stated purpose:
"This Veterans Health Administration (VHA) directive updates Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) information on determining eligibility for VA health care benefits."

So it's pretty important because VA personnel will refer to it when deciding whether or not someone needing care is an eligible veteran or not.

Important, but flawed...they forgot about us C-123 veterans! For whatever reason, VHA didn't include our thousands of C-123 Agent Orange veterans in the description of vets having presumptive eligibility.

Solution? On Sunday afternoon I dropped a note to Acting Deputy Secretary Scott Blackburn and by Wednesday morning, Dr. Ralph Erickson called to acknowledge the problem and promise a quick fix. Erickson is VHA's Chief Consultant for Post Deployment Health Services and a retired Army doc.

And very importantly, Dr. Erickson was an Army flight surgeon who understands us when we seek his help!

What a change in his function: for four years his predecessor led VA's efforts to block our exposure claims. But now, he oversees VA's efforts to ensure vets like us are properly cared for as per law and regulation.

Thanks, VA and Dr. Erickson!

22 June 2017

C-123 Work in DC: June 19-21

Thanks to generous burden sharing by other C-123 vets on the travel expenses ($1731) involved, I was able to meet for two days with the VA Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation in Washington DC.

This committee reports directly to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Even if items not specifically on their agenda are being discussed, getting our information into the minutes of their meetings is a way to directly inform the Secretary of our issues.I call this my "grain of salt" trip.

My speech was prompted by an article in ProPublica published on June 12. In it, the manager of the VA Agent Orange desk spoke negatively about me and about our C-123 issues. I felt he needed correction so I had an appointment with the Committee to make presentations on Tuesday and Wednesday.

I began by placing one-pound Morton salt bags at each end of their conference table. I said they would be wise to take anything the VA said with a grain of salt. But the containers are sealed this morning and they should stay sealed because everything I say is as truthful as I can make it...We don't pick and choose the facts to support our arguments, and we tell the whole truth.

VA, on the other hand, has carefully selected facts and figures to support their policy and disregards everything else. That's why I said at the beginning of my talk and at the end, the committee would have to take everything the VA says with that grain of salt plus a healthy amount of skepticism.

But that is totally wrong! We need to be able to trust VA to give the complete and balanced presentation about an issue plus their conclusion. However, at the March 7 meeting of the committee, VA told a completely distorted and misleading story about Agent Orange and the dangers to veterans.

My point was made to the committee when I reviewed how the VA on March 7 told them the "hysteria" about Agent Orange was due only to an opinion from "some Harvard scientist or somebody" and "hardly anybody bought that," VA said.

Actually, the speaker knew perfectly well that In addition to the Harvard scientist, the CDC, US Public Health Service, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH, and dozens of university medical schools and schools of public health had already informed him four years earlier in 2011 that our aircrews and maintainers were exposed and harmed by duties aboard the C-123s. 

But cheating a little to make his point, the VA Agent Orange
subject matter expert opted to avoid mentioning all that pro-veteran and vital scientific information to the committee. Simply put, he was deceptive, and for that, the committee needed "a grain of salt"...needed to listen with skepticism rather than the trust one would hope to offer a government "expert."

The VA fellow had described Agent Orange to the committee as nothing more than – his words – hype and hysteria. He exhibited once again the VA tendency to ignore evidence supporting veterans' claims and instead construct his own negative view on their claims.

That was Tuesday's talk, and on Wednesday I had the opportunity to discuss VA ethics. They've been in free-fall for quite some time. I offered examples where our medical information had been shared inappropriately and our claims discussed sarcastically.

Interesting: Before the committee began work on Wednesday, a letter of apology from the VA Agent Orange Desk manager about his statements in March 2017 was read aloud.

I was privileged to give these presentations on behalf of our C-123 Association, the Vietnam Veterans of America and Colorado's 460,000 members of the United Veterans Committee. The Wednesday presentation on ethics had not been discussed with these other organizations and thus I spoke solely as a member of the C-123 Veterans Association.

After getting my appointments with ACDC, on Monday once I'd arrived in DC I asked the other groups if they would lend their voices to mine for greater impact...a helpful last minute idea. I spoke representing nearly a million veterans.

We're coming to the view that one individual in VA has been an extremely negative impact on our years of Agent Orange claims. This person, VBA's Agent Orange Desk manager, can be fairly considered anti-veteran. We find him unacceptable as a key decision maker on our claims and we must bring to the Secretary’s attention his many shortfalls. This fellow was the principal roadblock between 2007-2017, and even on some of our remaining issues.

When I finished, I asked if anyone on the committee felt my presentation and handouts needed "a grain of salt" or if they believed me. The salt bags remained closed, so I guess they trusted me.

On Tuesday morning I had a meeting with Katrina Eagle, the prominent veterans legal representative. That was followed by a meeting with Perkins Cole, the national law firm providing us pro bono assistance on our lawsuit against the Air Force where we seek a line of duty determination covering our exposures back before 1982.

A busy three-day trip!

07 June 2017

03 June 2017

The 1448 Day Stall for Claims at Board of Veterans Appeals – why VA must adopt an initial "presumption of eligibility" on certain claims.

When a vet believes VA has made a mistake on his/her claim, VA welcomes an appeal its Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) to set things straight. GREAT, but the only problem is the VA delay in the process leaves vets "twisting in the wind" – abandoned for four years until the system even considers righting the wrong done the vet. Actually, the delay is even longer if we include the year-long initial disability claim process. REMEMBER, this lengthy process gets started with a vet's claim for cancer, ALS, heart disease or whatever is the issue, and until VA finishes its final decision at BVA, all medical care and other essential benefits are refused the vet (unless otherwise eligible for some reason.) That's the unhappy "twisting in the wind" time. The time a vet has to get by somehow on his/her own. One of VA's most unforgivable delays is in its "Statement of the Case and Certification," which VA says takes under three hours work. Yet the most recent statistics show that this task takes the VA on average 537 days after receiving the Notice of Appeal and that it takes another 222 days before the BVA actually receives the certified appeal, for a total of 759 days. Over two years, with VA hospital doors locked as the process continues. Refusing care for cancers and heart disease...as VA did on my claim by postponing a decision for four years...can be a death sentence. A final decision from VA might come with retroactive compensation but there is no retroactive adjustment for medical care denied or family benefits like CHAMP-VA withheld. That's why VA must adopt a scheme of initial consideration of claims for PRESUMPTIVE ELIGIBILITY FOR CARE. Perhaps not all claims, but at least claims with substantial merit and instances where denying care would endanger life or limb.

26 May 2017

This C-123 Veteran's Agent Orange Essays: Five Years of Honest writing

Honesty and accuracy throughout. Right there is the distinction between VA and us. They mislead, manipulated, prevaricated. VA "Lacked candor."

That is how I characterize our long effort to earn VA benefits. It took 1515 days before VA approved my Agent Orange exposure claim for cancers and heart disease. I was already 100% service-connected disabled from the Gulf War and medically retired, so my Agent Orange illnesses became the “poster-child” C-123 Veterans Association test case. VA rules wouldn’t let me manage anyone else’s claim so I focused on mine and Paul Bailey’s...his claim was purely Agent Orange issues, and we wanted just this little variety in two amazingly identical claims.*

The objective: Work one case through the VA system, do the research, get scientific and government support, resolve problems and make all our eligible aircrews and maintenance folks (or survivors) able to submit VA disability claims for fair consideration. We did not seek “presumptive eligibility,” although that advantageous status was eventually granted by Secretary McDonald on June 18, 2015.

For 1515 days, I wrote. It sometimes felt like both day and night, I wrote. With no budget to do much else, I wrote. The blog alone eventually ran to seven volumes. I wrote and wrote and wrote. When I wasn't writing I did research for the next piece I'd write.

A website, a daily blog. Briefs, letters, proposals, VA 41-2138 statements, PowerPoint presentations, handouts, essays, press releases, YouTube videos, general correspondence. I kept writing. I wrote things like these essays and other papers.

Today is has been 2220 days since starting this campaign and I look back on complete honesty, consistently accurate writing. Nearly everything I wrote is still available to evaluate. I wrote expecting to be challenged; perhaps even in court so I tried very hard for accuracy. I certainly was an assertive advocate and that was wholly proper.

What wasn't at all proper was 1515 days of VA push-back. VA was antagonistic, unfair and not completely accurate in their resistance...sometimes plain deceptive. In the end, though, it didn’t seem to matter how much material I uncovered, nor how smart I was digging out and honestly writing about the truth, the only thing that mattered was VA denying us for four years, dismissing all the facts by insisting VA had an unspecified “overwhelming preponderance of evidence” against us, based on their imaginary “scientific study.”

22 May 2017

How VA Obstructed C-123 Agent Orange Claims, 2007-2015

Maybe it was foolish, or maybe too naïve of us to expect that once we had Agent Orange (AO) contamination proof of our C-123s, we would give it to VA and approval of our disability claims would quickly follow.

That foolish expectation of approved claims died a sudden death! As soon VA heard our first inquiries their barriers went up. VHA’s Dr. Terry Walters told the Associated Press, “We have to draw the line somewhere.” This was in addition to VA ignoring its duties under VCAA and the VA’s regulation VAM21-1MR

Those “lines” she spoke of were all firmly set against our claims. VA kept adding to their list of objections to our claims. VA denied every C-123 claim, all while claiming a “case-by-case” evaluation. The Institute of Medicine C-123 report finally moved the VA to do right by us in June 2015!

Let’s look at the many twists and turns VA put us through, the baseless barriers created to block our claims. It only took a small handful of VA opponents …Compensation & Pension in VBA plus Post-Deployment Health in VHA…maybe seven folks at VA who believed it their mission to refuse our claims. 

In the end, only one VA objection threw at us had any merit: they said, as reservists, we weren’t “veterans” and thus weren’t covered for exposure benefits. This point we're still debating in the courts.

VA issued their interim final rule to provide that veteran status and presumptive eligibility in June 2015. That rule finally protected our vets with Agent Orange-recognized illnesses.

VA’s Long List of empty excuses to block our Agent Orange claims:
1. No Agent Orange on C-123s
2. No medical nexus between C-123 residues and our illnesses
3. VA only considers exposure if to liquid Agent Orange, not dust or solid
4. Exposure threat based on only one airplane (“Patches.”)
5. VA studies show insignificant harm to Vietnam Agent Orange spray crews from Agent Orange, so the less-exposed C-123 crews have no basis for claims.
 6. C-123s may have been AO contaminated but was in a form harmless to crews, requiring special chemicals and hard scrubbing to dislodge.
7. No Joint Services Records Research Center exposure event confirmation
Not statutory veterans.
8. VA regulations prohibit acknowledging C-123 exposure claims.
9. VA does not acknowledge C-123 exposures.
10. Post-Deployment redefined “exposure” in a unique way, requiring proof of “bioavailability” of the toxin to acknowledge exposure. They said,  “Exposure = contamination + bioavailability.” “No proof of bioavailability = no exposure.”
11. VBA Compensation and Pension claimed, “most scientists” disagreed with C-123 exposures (“Most” meant Dow, Monsanto, VHA Post-Deployment Health) Opposing them were CDC/ATSDR, NIH, USPHS, NIEHS, Concerned Scientists & Physicians.
12. Post-deployment health already decided veterans were not exposed
13. VA is unable to document which airplanes contaminated & which veterans flew
14. C-123 reservists aren’t veterans (for the period flying C-123s, 1972-1982.)
15. In addition to typical wait of one-two years to decide a claim and five more before a BVA decision, VA opted to not work C-123 claims until IOM report even after JSRRC exposure verifications in 2013 and 2014.
16. Then-Secretary Shinseki “felt non-Vietnam claims shouldn’t be approved.”
17. VA misled Senate Veterans Affairs Committee with error-laden C-123 “Fact Sheets”
18. VBA paid a consultant $600,000 to “investigate allegations” of Agent Orange exposure; that consultant wrote vets claiming Agent Orange exposure were “trash-haulers, freeloaders” for whom he “had no respect.”
19. VHA told Associated Press “a line had to be drawn somewhere” on C-123 Agent Orange claims
20. Per Compensation & Pension Service, VHA had already decided no C-123 vets were exposed and no amount of proof would permit claims to be approved.

…and many more. We had to argue or disprove every one of these and were denied the claims assistance assured us in its Federal Register announcement about non-Vietnam Agent Orange exposures. Their biggest deception:

"VA will assist a veteran in obtaining any relevant information related to a claim for exposure to herbicide agents."
(Federal Register/Vol. 73, No. 74/Wednesday, April 16, 2008)

HEY VA: Your “Assist” Never happened!