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?

VA's Rules on Agent Orange Effects Voided

May 09, 1989|PHILIP HAGER | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge on Monday overturned Veterans Administration rules for deciding claims of injury from the chemical defoliant Agent Orange, ordering the agency to reconsider its denial of benefits to 31,000 Vietnam veterans since 1984.
U.S. Dist. Judge Thelton E. Henderson held that the VA has been demanding more proof than required under federal law that the herbicide, widely used during the Vietnam War, injured servicemen.
The agency failed the law's mandate to give veterans the "benefit of the doubt" in assessing disability benefit claims, Judge Henderson said in a 48-page opinion made public Monday.
"These errors compounded one another, as they increased both the type and level of proof needed for veterans to prevail," the judge said. "They sharply tipped the scales against veteran claimants."

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