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!