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.”
VA wrote that it was done Somewhere. Sometime. By somebody. No details seem to exist. It has never been located or summarized, even in a detailed search supervised by the US Department of Justice and certified to the US District Court, Washington DC. Might it never have been done?
Perhaps the benefit of the doubt should favor C-123 vets on this point.
What was completely improper was VA’s unfair, unsympathetic, and adversarial push-back, contrary to VA values and duties. Why is this a huge issue?
Because if VA is going to lock C-123 or any other veterans out of VA hospitals, they’d better be totally, completely, absolutely, without a doubt, overwhelming accurate and CORRECT in their decision.
What we got was VA
“friendly fire"Because, As IOM put it, VA was WRONG!
In the end, I believe it will be concluded that I was mostly in the right and that the individuals in VBA and VHA who made it their mission to stop us were not right. They abused our trust. They were in the wrong and left us with the full four years’ penalty for their mistakes, however innocent or intentional they were. Being in the right could only mean really something if we were truthful, and truth has moral value I treasure. We certainly earned that treasure, but at VA’s expense.
I loved that Air Force Times editorial, “A Bellwether Moment for the VA.” Best line: “VA’s latest success in embarrassing itself” was holding up our C-123 claims. We’d never have earned the AF Times editors’ trust without being right.
Washington Post, Huffington Post, Virginia Pilot, ProPublica, Tom same at military.com, Springfield Republican, The Oregonian, NPR’s All Things Considered, Boston Globe, Oregonian, McMinnville Register, Pittsburgh Gazette, all the service magazines such as The Officer and DAV, Associated Press, Standard-Examiner, US News, Stars & Stripes, countless websites – all trusted us enough to tell their readers what VA was doing to us.
Turning to the experts with what proof we had, we were joined by CDC/ATSDR, NIH, US Public Health Service, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and even the DoD Joint Service Records Research Center chimed in...not with confirmation but with its official notice to VA per VAM21-1MR that adequate evidence had been gathered to substantiate our exposures. One NIH head was so amazed at VA resistance she flew to Washington to “‘splain things” to General Hickey.
It should also be concluded that our entire effort was necessary but shouldn't have been. VA had ample evidence by April 2012 to see that exposure argument was valid and even had CDC confirmation, but despite VCAA, they were determined to, as one official was quoted by Associated Press, "Draw the line" and block our claims regardless of the evidence.
We don’t see any “draw the line” in VCAA, VAM21-1MR, “I CARE,” and most certainly not in Lincoln’s Second Inaugural promise.We don’t see any “draw the line” in VCAA, VAM21-1MR, “I CARE,” and most certainly not in Lincoln’s Second Inaugural promise.
* Amazingly Parallel: Paul Bailey and I were (1) the same age, (2) both Army brats from Fort Lewis, (3) same high school in Tacoma and (4) neighboring high schools in France, (5) both Army vets, (6) same enlisted AFSCs, (7) we lived in neighboring towns and carpooled, (8) Paul was my student and I was his FE, (9) we started and stopped flying C-123s at the same time, (10) got commissioned as line officers the same day in 1980, (11) and had identical cancer diagnosis at the same time.
Paul and I never pieced all this together until in conversation couple years after we met at our squadron. Also, I danced at his daughter’s wedding and he was a groomsman at mine.
Note: as proof of VA’s inconsistently is even on virtually identical claims based on the same evidence, Paul’s claim was approved in 2013 with full retroactive benefits in 2013. My claim was denied and approved only in October 2015 with the new rules and without any retroactivity. The battle remains joined for retroactivity for all C-123 vets!