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.