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!

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