22 April 2014

Military Times: VA "Games" IOM Investigations

      Note: this was reported by Patricia Kime, Military Times Reporter. The significant point is that VA not only carefully words its "charge" or detailed specifics of a proposed investigation into veterans' health, but also attempts to influence the results of the Institute of Medicine committee work while underway. Veterans have long complained that the IOM process leaves the VA in too great a control over issues: (1) VA choses whether or not to order a study, (2) choses the specifics about the study and very carefully choses the words of the IOM "charge," (3) decides how much to pay for it, and (4) then decides whether to even accept the study's conclusions and recommendations. 
     Four acknowledged significant controls over what is generally misunderstood as being an independent process. Kime reports on another, a fifth control over the IOM process.       
     Here, the questionable influence was exerted by officials of the Veterans Benefits Administration, but the "charge to the committee" was issued to the IOM by a different organization, the Veterans Health Administration. Reporter Kime illustrates how one top official in the VA exerted influence over the IOM's activities in a manner apparently meant to direct the "independent" OM results into a form more acceptable to VA perspectives.     
     Kime did not note the sixth control VA exerts: VA refuses to honor Freedom of Information Act requests, denying the IOM and interested parties all essential unclassified information regarding its studies, resources, communications, and other relevant documents. For years VA has simply denied C-123 and other veterans' FOIAs by claiming information exists, not even their own web pages. Lawsuits forcing release of the information are resolved years after the IOM studies conclude, thus tainting the scientific record with incomplete data. 
     Veterans can only trust in the integrity of the IOM committee staff and members. Veterans and the public trust that, regardless of appropriate – or inappropriate – influence by VA, the IOM will seek the truth and the cleanest science in its activities
After the Institute of Medicine in March recommended using the term “Gulf War illness” to describe symptoms affecting more than 200,000 Persian Gulf War veterans, a top Veterans Affairs Department official expressed concern that such a change would imply a direct causal link between service in the 1990-’91 conflict and long-term illness.
That potentially explosive news was contained in an email sent by an IOM staffer to panel members who made the recommendation, including chairman Dr. Kenneth Shine. A copy was obtained by Military Times through a third party and later verified as genuine.
In the email, the IOM staffer said Allison Hickey, VA’s undersecretary for benefits, questioned the use of “Gulf War illness” rather than the VA-favored “chronic multisymptom illness” in a briefing on the report, “Chronic Multisymptom Illness in Gulf War Veterans.“
Hickey “was concerned that changing the name from CMI to GWI might imply a causal link between service in the Gulf and poor health which could necessitate legislation for disability compensation for veterans who served in the Gulf,” according to the email.
The statement appears to confirm what many ill Gulf War veterans have long suspected: VA has dodged references to Gulf War illness and research into the condition because officials fear a flood of new disability benefits claims and costly payouts — greatly complicating VA’s highly publicized goal to eliminate its backlog of benefits claims by the end of 2015.
Further fueling some veterans’ suspicions: Why was Hickey, VA’s top benefits official, weighing in on what is, at its core, a health issue?

21 April 2014

Clarification: IOM C-123 Study INCLUDED with other projects. Doesn't cost $1.8 million as we first reported

Thanks to the watchful eyes at the Institute of Medicine, we have both the opportunity and responsibility to correct a mistaken impression: The IOM C-123 study will be included with other issues in the cost we reported earlier: The C-123 study only costs a portion of what we first claimed.

Repeat: the actual IOM contract is for $1.7 million, and the C-123 study was tagged onto an existing contract and doesn't cost the public the higher figure we stated in earlier posts.

As for the utility of the study. The issue moves towards resolution and that's obviously a good thing from our perspective, as we insist we have science, medicine and law behind our claims.

Because the question of our exposure claims is, after all, resolved per the law, in this case our concerns were expressed because the months consumed by the study means ill veterans will continue to be barred from VA medical care when there is no legal excuse for that VA restriction.

Further, the question boils down to one of the law, which clearly states exposure needs to be proven by non-Vietnam veterans, not medical nexus, for inclusion in the presumptive category.

Thanks to M.P. for the opportunity to correct our statement.

20 April 2014

Jewish War Veterans Support C-123 Veterans!

Apologies! And thanks to our JWC brothers and sisters in arms.

Overlooked last year was the very kind and meaningful support offered by the Jewish War Veterans in their Congressional testimony. It is gratefully acknowledged, with apologies for not being aware of it until today, Easter Sunday, 2014.
In June 2013, JWV National Commander Sheldon Ohren issued the following statement calling on Congress to address C-123 exposure claims:
    Agent Orange remains a concern, as thousands of veterans exposed to the toxin are left behind when it comes to vital treatment and benefits. JWV remains committed to ensuring all veterans who served in areas of exposure receive recognition and treatment for conditions linked to Agent Orange. Time is running out for those veterans not designated as having “boots on the ground” during the Vietnam War. JWV urges VA to work with DoD to finally complete the list of exposure locations outside Vietnam, including the C-123 K transport aircraft, Thailand and other supporting areas of the Vietnam theater, as well as Korea.  
Jewish War Veterans

    JWV urges continued close scrutiny by the Institute of Medicine into Agent Orange, Gulf War illness and other concerns. When problems are identified, VA must act swiftly to ensure current compensation and treatment is based on the most recent scientific findings.

19 April 2014

C-123 Exposure Study by Institute of Medicine – More Details Emerge

The National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine has been handed a contract by the
Department of Veterans Affairs to evaluate the C-123 Agent Orange contamination and exposure concerns raised by veterans. The study has its first committee meeting May 15, and the final on June 16, with a report due back to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs by the end of September. Veterans hope that, with such a narrow study focus, the report might be finished earlier.
A full description of the VA assignment, the IOM plans for its meetings, and committee members is available at the IOM website or here.

18 April 2014

Vets Love VA Medical Care - if they can get through the doors!

WASHINGTON — The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), an independent customer service survey, ranks the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) customer satisfaction among Veteran patients among the best in the nation and equal to or better than ratings for private sector hospitals.   The 2013 ACSI report assessed satisfaction among Veterans who have recently been patients of VA’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA) inpatient and outpatient services.   ACSI is the nation’s only cross-industry measure of customer satisfaction, providing benchmarking between the public and private sectors.

16 April 2014

A Vet's Daughter Writes The C-123 Veterans Association

I guess God put you here, pouring your heart and soul into this for others in need

Thank you for all your hard work.

Her father had both Army and Air Force service. He was a combat veteran before he could vote, and flew hundreds of hours in "Patches."  He died in 2013.

Review of VA Claims Statistics...Improving!

VA & USAF Defy FOIA – VA & AF Hide Data & Threaten IOM Study

(updated 24 April 2014) An Institute of Medicine investigation of C-123 Agent Orange issues will begin June 16 – but with essential, unclassified VA and USAF data withheld. Although directly relevant to the assignment given IOM by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the committee will not have vital information for their studies. Without all available C-123 information made available to the IOM, their committee report will be fatally flawed, and the affected veterans harmed.

Both VA and AF have relevant, unclassified information about this 60-year old airplane and its Agent Orange history. This information has been improperly refused release to the public in defiance of Freedom of Information Act. Complete and valid requests go back over a year in each case, but they have been ignored.

In stark defiance of the Freedom of Information Act, it is clear that both Departments prefer at least some documents demanded by the veterans not to be released and available to the IOM. Although relief has been sought through the US District Court of Washington D.C. to force release of the materials, there is no possibility of court action before the June 16 workshop. 

This leaves the IOM C-123 committee tackling their VA assignment but with VA withholding information, years of its own investigations, all specifically relevant to the issue at hand. 

The June 18 IOM C-123 project is only the third such study on a unique population since the Vietnam War. Veterans who flew these airplanes which the AF tested as "heavily contaminated" claim their exposure to Agent Orange residues. Since becoming aware of the C-123 toxicity, and also responding to the C-123 veterans' inquiries, both AF and VA have completed studies, exchanged correspondence and conducted meetings and conferences. 

This extensive background of materials has been demanded under their rights expressed in the Freedom of Information Act. The materials are particularly relevant to the IOM investigation because VA has used it for years as justification for denying all C-123 veterans' exposure claims.

Both VA and AF have refused compliance with their own regulations requiring prompt release of non-sensitive materials such as the veterans' seek. The President of the United States has described FOIA as a fundamental American right, as have the courts. But neither VA nor the USAF seem to have been impressed.

According to the USAF FOIA web page:
"The principles of government openness and accountability underlying the FOIA are inherent in the democratic ideal: "The basic purpose of the FOIA is to ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption and to hold the governors accountable to the governed."

The Air Force, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, have determined that the democratic ideal can be best realized by their disregard of the FOIA and the rights of veteran citizens.

Can't IOM or other interested parties contact AF and VA for prompt release of the FOIA materials without any unnecessary court action? 

IOM, Irvine, CA   (16 Jan 2013)
If such vital information is withheld from the veterans and the IOM with the resultant incomplete report so vital to the veterans' health, it must be known to senior leadership of both Departments as well as the public.  

It should be made known that from a legal basis, budgeting for the IOM C-123 Agent Orange review is potentially wasted money. Not only is there no component of the IOM charge involving the complete legal qualification of the C-123 veterans seeking Agent Orange exposure benefits (detailed in the Yale Law report,) but VA and AF are withholding large amounts of data relevant to the committee's investigation. 

IOM's final report will be flawed by being incomplete, by design...by the calculated defiance of the FOIA, as VA prevents essential documentation from being evaluated by the Institute of Medicine.

12 April 2014

Newsweek Correspondent Jamie Reno: C-123 Exposures "Tip of the Iceberg"

 (from Newsweek correspondent Jamie Reno, 7 March 2014)

A VA spokesperson said that due to the consideration of possible long-term adverse health effects from potential exposure Agent Orange in C-123 aircraft crewmembers post-Vietnam, VA has formally asked the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine to study the issue and report back to the department.

Rick Weidman, executive director for policy and government affairs at Vietnam Veterans of America, said that many veterans were exposed to Agent Orange after the Vietnam War – and not just on Johnston Island. “Everything Army veteran Steve House (who recently won his VA exposure claim appeal) has shared with us about his experience at Camp Carroll in Korea is credible and authentic,” Weidman said. “He is telling the truth. He has the documentation, a lot of it.”

But the paradigm for veterans exposed to Agent Orange after the Vietnam War may be about to change in their favor. A study published last week in Environmental Research found that airmen who flew and maintained the C-123 Provider aircraft long after the planes were used to spray Agent Orange over Vietnam were exposed to dangerous levels of the dioxin that remained in the aircraft.

The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans organization, responded to this news last week with a new call for VA to extend disability compensation benefits to former C-123 aircrews. “I believe this new study will blow a big hole in the DOD and VA’s story,” Army veteran Steve House said.

 “Now there’s proof that vets were exposed well after the Vietnam War. But the C-123s are just the tip of the iceberg.”

Note: The C-123 exposure issue was well-covered in the recent Air Force Times article, about which the Times editors also delivered a hard-hitting editorial calling on the VA to act on the veterans' exposure claims. "Callous and tone deaf" were the editors' description of VA intransigence

"Unscientific" was the conclusion of the Committee of Concerned Scientists and Physicians in their letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.

"No dioxin expert" observed the director of a major federal science agency, referring to the staffers who created the Veterans Health Administration's unique redefinition of exposure, developed to block all C-123 veterans' Agent Orange disability claims. 

White House unveils expanded support for military, vets' caregivers

(note: while respectful of generous support for post 9/11 veterans and their families, veterans of other conflicts note the very careful exclusion of them from this vital program)

Apr. 11, 2014 - 04:23PM   |  

By Patricia Kime
Air Force Times Staff writer
The White House continued its focus on veterans and military families by announcing new programs Friday to expand support and services available to those who care for injured or ill troops. 

In a Joining Forces event at the White House that brought together military family members, First Lady Michelle Obama, former First Lady Rosalyn Carter, former Sen. Elizabeth Dole and Jill Biden, wife of vice president Joe Biden, Obama announced several programs to support caregivers, from training, financial and legal guidance to employment opportunities. 

The expanded opportunities follow the release last week of a Rand Corp. study that found many of the one million caregivers of the nation’s post-9/11 veterans face challenges ranging from isolation and financial strain to poor health and inadequate training.

The study said these caregivers, who help veterans and medically retired troops with dressing in the morning, making doctors appointments, managing households, serving as sole providers and much more, save taxpayers more than $3 billion a year by offsetting the cost of home health care and medical aides.

“The burden these men and women bear for our country is real and they shouldn’t have to shoulder it on their own ... we are here to show that we have their backs,” Obama said.

11 April 2014

Vietnam Veterans of America Annual Report Report for 2013

Faces Of Agent Orange Link

BY HERB WORTHINGTON, Vietnam Veterans of America Committee Chair
2013 was a record year for educating the public and veterans about Agent Orange, the other rainbow agents, burn pits, and depleted uranium use by the government both domestically and overseas.
More than twenty-one town hall meetings have been held, with attendance ranging from one hundred to almost five hundred people. At each meeting Agent Orange folders are distributed that contain information on how to run a town hall meeting, copies of individual stories (The Faces of Agent Orange), a copy of the Agent Orange Self-Help Guide, a report from our Communications Department, a report on the impact of Agent Orange on U.S. veterans after forty years, the Agent Orange/Dioxin Committee position paper on birth defects, a report on male mediated studies, a list of all ships recognized as exposed to Agent Orange, an information paper from the Department of Defense on herbicide tests and storage outside of Vietnam, and a report on proposed legislation for veterans' families for research and treatment.
The committee continues to work with the National Birth Defect Registry and has adopted two resolutions. The first deals with the C-123 Pilots and Aircrew Association and the second with the Blue Water Navy Association. We continue to advocate for Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange in locations other than Vietnam—Thailand, Laos, Okinawa, the Philippines, Johnston Island, Korea, Cambodia, Guam, and many military installations within the United States. We have reached outside of the VVA and AVVA membership and have held town hall meetings in conjunction with other organizations. All have been very successful, and we have noticed an increase in local membership once a town hall meeting is completed.
Scheduling town hall meetings for 2014 has begun. May and much of June already are booked. States that have scheduled meetings so far this year: Florida, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Tennessee, North Carolina, Michigan, Nevada, Alabama, and Maine.
We are endorsing Sen. Richard Blumenthal's (D-Conn.) legislation, S.1602, which calls for all veterans exposed to toxic substances to be diagnosed and treated, along with their progeny. We will host a meeting on the Hill on April 10 with as many members of Congress as possible to introduce and urge passage of S.1602. Attending this briefing will be VVA Board members, state council presidents, AVVA members, and children of veterans who have been exposed to Agent Orange.

10 April 2014

C-123 Veterans' Freedom of Information Act Requests Noted by The FOIA Project:

As reported in The FOIA Project:
    C-123 Veterans Association submitted a FOIA request to the Department of Veterans Affairs concerning its policies on secondary exposure to Agent Orange. The agency acknowledged receipt of the request, but after hearing nothing, the Association submitted an administrative appeal. The agency indicated that it had searched its records but found nothing responsive to the request. Believing that VA had misinterpreted its request, the Association filed another appeal, but finally filed suit.
    Issues: expedited proceedings, improper withholding, adequacy of search, disclosure of non-exempt records, grant fee waiver, attorney’s fees
Docket   Complaint   Complaint attachment 1  Complaint attachment 2  Complaint attachment 3  Complaint attachment 4  Complaint attachment 5  Complaint attachment 6  Complaint attachment 7  Complaint attachment 8  Complaint attachment 9
    C-123 Veterans Association submitted a FOIA request to the Department of the Air Force for records concerning its decision on the Association’s members’ exposure to Agent Orange in a “Consultative Letter.” The Association also requested a fee waiver. The agency acknowledged receipt of the request and denied the Association’s request for a fee waiver. After hearing nothing further, the Association submitted an administrative appeal. The agency indicated it would take longer to respond to the request, but the Association finally filed suit.
    Issues: improper withholding, disclosure of all records, attorney’s fees
Docket   Complaint   Complaint attachment 1   Complaint attachment 2   Complaint attachment 3   Complaint attachment 4  Complaint attachment 5   Complaint attachment 6      Complaint attachment 7Complaint attachment 8   Complaint attachment 9  Complaint attachment 10   Complaint attachment 11   Complaint attachment 12

09 April 2014

VA Announcement of IOM C-123 Agent Orange Study

Thanks to Les Howe for sending this in

California-Style Veterans Fund Raiser

Veterans Mario Rodriguez and Julie Carruth raise funds for other California vets at surfing event

Veterans Appeals Process Disastrously Flawed – deliberately!

 — The average time for a denied claim to work its way through the actual goal of postponing claims as long as possible is worsening.
A cumbersome Department of Veterans Affairs appeals process shot up to more than 900 days last year, double the department’s public long-term target, but perfectly in line with VA's actual goal of as much delay as possible.
Much of the backlog in appeals developed from VA's push to reduce claims backlogs. It proved so simple to process claims by denying them, rather than evaluating them. Most denied veterans don't bother appealing, so VA achieves savings there, and claims which required any thoughtful evaluation were more easily "tossed upstairs" by denial for eventual appeal, again achieving VA goals in reducing its claims backlog while simultaneously avoiding any awards. 
From a VA rater's perspective, any time spent evaluating a claim is wasted time, much better spent denying that claim to make time to move on to the next claim to be denied. And certainly, if any error is made it is far, far better made against the veteran's claim, rather than in favor of it. That would be absolutely unacceptable to VA, the very worst of employee errors.
While there might not be official encouragement to make errors against veterans' claims,
there must be particularly severe employee reprimands for any errors favoring a veteran's claim. The former is okay, the latter is a career-ender.
A careful perspective of VA claims backlogs should more realistically consider the combination of claims and BVA appeals and its growth over time. Further, a separate tracking of claims resolved not by award, but by the death of the veteran while waiting should be made public.
This purposeful delay awards Veterans Health Administration tremendous savings by preventing expensive medical care needed by already-ill veterans. The longer the delay in awards, or in appeals, the more money saved by VA.
And there's alway's VA's hoped-for best solution, death of the veteran before any award at all. More frequently, VA is able to engineer BVA claims into a remand situation, the better to stall even longer. 
While backdated checks for eventual decisions might someday arrive in a veteran's mailbox, VA does not refund the cost of medical care the veteran covering him/herself over the years spent begging to be admitted into a VA hospital. Veterans realize that the BVA process, designed to bring justice to veterans' claims, actually is used to postpone those claims and prevent VA health care for otherwise eligible disabled veterans.
After hovering between 500 and 750 days for the past decade, what the VA refers to as its “appeals resolution time” hit 923 days in fiscal 2013. That was a 37 percent jump in one year, from 675 in fiscal 2012, according to a review of the department’s annual performance report.
The department’s long-term goal is to get that figure to 400 days, although the trend over the past decade has been in the other direction.
Asked about the slowdown during a conference call to discuss the VA’s appeals system, the department said it has been reviewing the measure to see if it’s the most meaningful one to convey to veterans how long the appeals process might take. The department also said it was continuing to look for ways to make the process more efficient.
Laura Eskenazi, the official who oversees the department’s Board of Veterans’ Appeals, cautioned that the long processing “time is not at all indicative of inactivity.” She said the many layers built into the system prompt many of the delays.
The VA organized a conference call Thursday with reporters to explain its complicated, multi-layered appeals delay process, which begins when a veteran’s claim for disability benefits is denied in full or in part.
Disability benefits are awarded to veterans who suffer physical or mental injuries during their military service. They range from $131 a month to $2,858 a month for a single veteran.
The VA has been engaged in a very public battle to reduce its overall backlog – the number of claims awaiting an initial decision. By 2015, the department wants to get the backlog to zero. That would ensure that no claim is pending for more than 125 days. That’s the elusive goal receiving the most attention from Congress, the administration and veterans groups.
Veterans who appeal their decisions go into a separate system designed to extend those waits far longer.
That appeals system has evolved in layers since it was adopted after World War I. It allows veterans, survivors or their representatives to trigger a fresh review of the entire appeal at any time by submitting new evidence or information, the VA said. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals can grant, deny or – most commonly – remand the case to one of the VA’s regional offices for additional review and planned delays.
According to the most recent VA performance report, published in December, the VA’s “strategic target” – essentially a long-term goal – for total appeals resolution time is 400 days; its short-term goal is 650 days. The unofficial goal...as long as possible without Congressional backlash. 
Three years now and with any luck, VA hopes for four years or even longer. That's a six to seven year delay, insuring fewer vets survive to someday be allowed into VA hospital wards to seek care.
BVA hasn’t hit its publicized goal  650 target in the last five years, although it got close in 2010, when the average appeals time was 656 days, records show. Then concerned that the process wasn't slowing claims appropriately, leadership stepped in to extend delays closer to actual objectives of at least three, and hopefully four, years before awards or remands.
Advocates said that the VA’s intense focus on reducing its backlog could help explain the jump in appeals processing times.
“As the VA has pushed to end the backlog, there’s been a diversion of resources from the appeals system to tackling the backlog,"  reported one veterans' advocate. As legislative attention was drawn to the delays in the disability claims process, VA achieved much of its goal in delaying claims by shifting them into the appeals process for long waits and remands, rather than decisions. 
This process is wholly controlled by VA and the delays involved work completely to its benefit, never the veteran's. 
Only when years of a veteran's efforts are exhausted lost in the VA claims labyrinth can actual justice be received from jurors on the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. There, independent judges apply laws and delivers fair treatment, finally free of the VA's political agenda.

more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/02/27/219665/vas-time-to-resolve-disability.html#storylink=cpy

08 April 2014

How To GUARANTEE Denial of Any VA C-123 Agent Orange Exposure Disability Claim


Partial Solution to VA Claims Backlog Proposed

Here's an idea: Legislation, or Presidential Directive, forcing VA to pay for whatever medical care a veteran has between the period of diagnosis of a service-connected illness, and the final VA approval of a claim.

The VA's present claims process is carefully designed to prevent providing medical care and other benefits for as long as possible, stalling any claim approval or, even better, denying the claim altogether. Delay=VA savings!

We can change that, for the better! Tell the veteran to simply save his receipts and compel the VA to reimburse medical expenses once the veteran's claim is approved. Faced with no longer being able to force the veteran's medical expenses onto the vet's shoulders and faced with having to pay the bill anyway, VA will speed the process up to get the veteran into the VA facilities where services can be provided (or denied) less expensively.

Presently, VA's tremendous reward is by preventing costly medical care for veterans who've presented serious illnesses such as ALS, soft tissue sarcoma, heart disease and other ailments. Vets submit their disability claims but faced with such serious health challenges also seek immediate medical care through whatever health care system available to them: Medicaid, Tricare, private insurance, charity. Or they might be forced to postpone vital care altogether. VA saves money by stalling their claim and forcing years of medical care elsewhere...anywhere but the VA at the VA's expense.

Works for the VA! By postponing action on veterans' claims, VA skips those initial surgeries, rehab, prosthetics, all the expensive stuff.

A few years later, once the claim floats through the process, VA can then deny the application as they'd planned all along, keeping VA hospital doors locked to the vet while the Board of Veterans Appeals process cranks along. That cancer or ALS patient thus is somebody else's financial burden. Even when perfectly correct claims are denied, veteran loses, VA wins, because the only justice awaiting the veteran after years of struggle is the catch-up check for monthly disability...pennies compared to the cost of medical care which the VA refused to provide and for which, if the veteran is treated outside the VA, there is no recovery at all. Total veteran loss.

This can change, and via a very simple process. Place before the Secretary of Veterans Affairs the inevitable medical bill, if paid to outside providers, or the cost of less expensive VA medical care, and the VA will see the immediate financial requirement to process claims on a near-immediate basis.

Take away the immense financial incentive for VA to delay, delay, delay approval of veterans' claims, and the incentive to deny perfectly valid claims to stall them in BVA queques, both saving VA budget by refusing VA medical care throughout the claims process.

Take away the very reason, that most-powerful objective built in VA's claims delay schemes and VA will discover ways for the millions invested in their new claims process to actually work.

Might this motivate VA to quickly deny perfectly valid claims? Absolutely...they'd see that as an objective immediately. To counter this, we would need an outside review process capable of a rapid..one or two weeks...review of any application for disability rejected by the VA, and that outside review process must have some motivator for VA accuracy...perhaps, awarding improperly denied veterans' claims double whatever correction is ordered. If a legitimate claim is improperly denied by VA and the veteran's interim medical expenses total $100,000, the outside review process should be able to award double the recovery. This removes any VA incentive to scam the system by blocking claims, and encourages very rapid approval of proper disability applications.

Who knows: it might work!

07 April 2014

US Army Fails to Respond to IG Inquiries: Months Pass Without Action

US Army Inspector General

Problems in Fort Belvoir!

In the Fall of 2012, C-123 veterans submitted concerns via proper channels to the US Army Inspector General regarding the Army's Joint Services Records Research Center, Fort Belvoir, VA. The concerns were the failure of proper interaction between JSRRC and the VA liaison office. VA inquiries to JSRRC were being returned with inadequate documentation which doomed C-123 veterans' Agent Orange exposure claims.

Initially, discovering the absence of JSRRC documentation and the subsequent VA denial of claims based on that JSRRC response, the C-123 veterans delivered in person hundreds of pages of official documentation.

Months have passed. And so have too many veterans, passed waiting for help from the Army!

JSRRC, Fort Belvoir, VA
JSRRC's archivists work only with official documentation. Unit histories, ship logs, after action reports, anything official. In our case, flight orders, C-123 dioxin test results, official correspondence, all such things were provided the Chief of JSRRC in person as well as via repeated emails. We were told they then had enough in hand to respond properly to VA inquiries.

We even provided input from the USAF Historical Records Research Agency regarding Patches and other other Agent Orange spray aircraft. Flight orders, Form 5s, AF test reports, correspondence.

Things seem to have broken down. First, we'd expected JSRRC to update their responses to earlier VA inquiries which had been improperly substantiated. That didn't happen. JSRRC explained they would provide such updates only to military or VA sources.

As of March 2014, VA still has JSRRC material denying any evidence of my own Agent Orange exposure dated 2012, before JSRRC's records were updated. That is because VA's liaison officer to the JSRRC, Mr. Sampsel, very deliberately does not ask for an update – that is to insure that only the initial, negative JSRRC documents are in VA files to insure that the exposure claims and appeals remain denied.
VA Mr. Sampsel informing Portland VA no info or acknowledgement of C-123 exposures; he has been provided that for his own VA files but defers to JSRRC, and then directs JSRRC which info to use or ignore on response

JSRRC info has been updated to adequately substantiate C-123 veterans' exposure to military herbicides. That even includes federal agency (CDC, NIH, EPA, US Public Health Service) interpretations of that AF test data and establishes the contamination and the veterans' harmful exposures. Mr. Sampsel, apparently, has directed JSRRC not to accept that information with his instructions that only MILITARY source documents will be acceptable, and discarding as well all the universities and other scientists who've analyzed the military documents to explain the veterans' exposure.

Further, Mr. Sampsel suggests PVARO continue in his own pretense that C-123 exposures were "secondary" or "remote." Not the case. Our exposures were direct skin-on-toxin as well as via inhalation. His clever but deceptive word switcheroo notwithstanding, exposure was direct and primary.

All this was detailed to the IG without response. For some reason, they asked for the details again, and were given it in great detail along with supporting documentation. Complaints went to our congressional representatives, who were told the VA has faithfully asked JSRRC for C-123 information, and told by the JSRRC that they have at least three "acceptable" military source documents to use, but nothing has changed.

Why? VA needs to prevent or at least delay veterans from entering their system, at least, Agent Orange exposed veterans not specified by law as eligible for VA care. The law also provides that veterans outside the Vietnam Boots on the Ground population will be treated if they prove exposure...and using a negative JSRRC response is an important element in VA's ability to refuse care. By keeping accurate JSRRC information from being fed to the VA, VA can deny claims.
JSRRC negative response, dooming VA exposure claim. Amazingly, VA is even referred back to its own incorrect web pages to help deny the veteran's exposure claims. Despite requests to JSRRC and to VA and to Congressional representatives, JSRRC has not updated this 2012 response even though JSRRC acknowledges it now has updated archival materials confirming the veterans' exposures aboard the C-123 fleet, blocked by VA maneuvers to prevent accurate and complete information from interfering with claim denials

Veteran with exposure claim
Obviously this problem might straighten itself out based on the solid evidence once the veteran's claim reaches the BVA, but even there VA wins...they've been able to delay providing care for the three to five years a BVA appeal requires.

From their VA perspective, hopefully the veteran is dead by that time and VA is faced with only the goal of obstructing the survivor's claims and prevent paying burial costs...that's another battle but VA delays, delays, medical care at the most important time.

Another victory using delay tactics, stalling a sick veteran's claim for years: get the vet discouraged enough with the claims that they seek treatment through Medicare or private insurance. Thank them for their service, then show 'em the door. Veterans sick with prostate cancer get their treatment outside the VA system and VA saves costly medical care by thrusting it onto private insurers...or the vet postpones treatment altogether.

VICTORY! Another valid claim denied
Remember: The vet files for VA disability when the vet is already ill. By design, VA has the claimant wait two years or so to have VA issue their automatic denial. The vet then waits two to three years, sometimes five, for Board of Appeals final justice.

Four to seven years, when the veteran has been already diagnosed with illnesses such as ALS, soft tissue sarcoma, heart disease...those years are critical to the patient seeking life-saving medical care, but also critical to the VA seeking to avoid providing that expensive life-saving medical care. The partnership between JSRRC and VA insures millions of dollars in avoided medical care for Agent Orange exposed veterans...and it is a highly successful partnership. To VA, this is a take-it-home and brag about it to the family victory to be proud of. And they are so very proud.

Repeat: The vet is already ill and VA established a delay system preventing any care at all letting for around four to seven years...that saves big, big bucks!

The catch-up financial compensation is nothing compared to costly medical care for a terminally ill multisymptom vet. VA avoids the most expensive part of a veteran's lifetime of medical requirements.

JSRRC still has its two-year old negative response to the Portland VARO inquiry,and no update with correct information.  There has been a very deliberate decision by VA to avoid any request to JSRRC for an update, because that would support the veteran's claim rather than insure it being denied.

Compounding the problem, the Army's IG has avoided any action on an official IG complaint to them for over six months in the face of people being denied VA medical care for want of Army assistance.