24 July 2014

House Blocks Veterans Health Care Bill..."Collapsed" Says Senator Bernie Sanders

In its move to prevent improved veterans' access to vital medical care, the House today rejected plans for a conference committee to meet and resolve differences between House and Senate versions of legislation. By waiting until virtually the last moment before Congress adjourns, this effectively destroys any hopes for addressing the core problems so well revealed in the current scandals involving the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The budget-focused House, and the veterans-focused Senate, now look at veterans with a "blame the other fellow" grin, both proud of saving money on the backs of, and at the expense of, disabled veterans who will continue to be refused care. It seems only the veterans committees of each house truly wanted to help...everyone else gleefully took advantage of the problem and made political capital.

from the Washington Times, July 24:

Negotiations on the VA reform bill imploded Thursday morning as House negotiators planned to introduce their own bill rather than work with senators in a conference committee.
Sen. Jon Tester, Montana Democrat, said six weeks of negotiation have been stalled by GOP posturing in an election year.
“Republicans today will announce that they’re foregoing the veterans conference committee and introducing a bill of their own,” Mr. Tester said on the Senate floor. “I had real hopes that this conference committee could rise above the political process.”
The House and Senate both passed bills that would allow veterans waiting too long for an appointment or living too far from a VA facility to seek private care. The bills cost about $44 billion and $35 billion respectively, and negotiations stalled over if and how to offset the huge cost after one meeting weeks ago.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee announced that lawmakers involved with negotiating the compromise veterans reform bill would meet Thursday at noon. But a spokesman for Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent and chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said the meeting would not involve Senate negotiators. Instead, the meeting is a chance for Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, to introduce his “take-it-or-leave-it gambit,” the spokesman said.
“This is a sad indication that the House leadership is not serious about negotiations. We don’t need more speeches and posturing. We need serious negotiations – 24/7 if necessary – to resolve our differences in order to pass critical legislation,” Mr. Sanders said in a statement.
Mr. Sanders offered Mr. Miller a $25 billion compromise bill last week, that would include private care and increased firing authority for the secretary, as well as other provisions in the Senate bill like hiring more doctors and changing the G.I. bill.
The disagreement does not bode well for finalizing a bill to send to the president before Congress leaves Washington at the end of next week for the whole month of August.

Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/jul/24/veterans-affairs-reform-bill-collapses-capitol-hil/#ixzz38PdbO8gY

23 July 2014

Why C-123 Veterans Are Affected by Institute of Medicine C-123 Agent Orange Study

In what turned out to be a critical change in VA Agent Orange policy, Public Law 102-4, the Agent Orange Act of 1991, transferred the advisory function regarding dioxin and herbicides from the VACEH to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The NAS, an independent and highly regarded scientific body, then took the responsibility of reviewing the scientific literature concerning the association between herbicide exposure during Vietnam service and each health outcome suspected to be associated with herbicide exposure. Since responsibility for a scientific review was formally passed to the NAS, VA terminated publication of the scientific literature review mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Following receipt of the NAS reviews, the Secretary has 60 days to determine which, if any conditions evaluated will be recognized as service-connected. The legal standard that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs must use to evaluate what conditions should be presumptively recognized for service connection is described in Chapter 6 – Disability Compensation. The standard differs from the cause-and effect.

Further, the Agent Orange Act removed the requirement that veterans of the Vietnam War must prove both exposure and medical nexus...these are now presumed to have been proven. For veterans who've been exposed to Agent Orange in situations other than Vietnam's "boots on the ground," they must prove exposure. Once exposure to Agent Orange is established, they need not prove medical nexus for any of the Agent Orange-recognized illnesses.

Thus, the IOM study is only tangentially of interest to C-123 veterans because VA carefully chose the assignment wording to avoid asking whether nor not C-123 vets were exposed.

Instead, clever wordsmithing by VA's Post Deployment Health Section gave the IOM an assignment which asks whether or not "excess" risk can be proven. So they IOM can return a finding that the risk is excessive, yet VA continue their present refusal to acknowledge our exposure and thus exclude us from coverage. If IOM returns a finding that our risk cannot be established, VA will seize upon that as definitive "proof" that we are not eligible at all.

The deck is stacked – against us! No wonder Professor Peter Kahn called the whole process unethical, despite the sincere efforts by dedicated scientists on the IOM C-123 committee. At the June 16 2014 IOM meeting, the C-123 Veterans asked the committee to exercise its independence and report back an additional answer to an unasked question...were the C-123 veterans exposed or not?

That is the only question under the law. Besides, we have already established that exposure through juried scientific articles, opinions from dozens of scientists and physicians, as well as opinions from federal government agencies such as the CDC.

We were exposed. We are barred from VA care today because of the personal preferences of VA staff in Post Deployment Health...nothing more.

22 July 2014

Military/Veterans Affairs Writer Tom Philpott Details VA Budget Issues

by Tom Philpot, Military Update:
A report by the Department of Veterans Affairs' inspector general and a separate "access audit" of appointment scheduling practices across VA health care facilities confirm system-wide abuses to distort wait times for care, which have put patients at risk and shaken confidence in how VA hospitals and clinics are staffed, managed and resourced.
Yet even as the acting IG and another senior VA official confirmed the depth of the patient wait-time scandal at hearing Monday of the House veterans affairs committee, as well as possible criminal activity by some administrators, they cautioned irate lawmakers against sending thousands more VA patients into the private sector for health care needs.
The caution flags haven't slowed Congress. On Tuesday, the House unanimously passed the Veterans Access to Care Act (HR 4810) from Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), VA committee chairman. It would require VA to offer non-VA care to enrolled veterans who cannot get an appointment within VA wait time goals or who live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility.
On Wednesday, the Senate voted 93 to 3 for similar language as part of a more comprehensive bill, the Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (S 2450), from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), VA committee chairman, and John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Veterans are right to worry that multiple schemes to address the VA's problems will all blend together into sticker shock or fast-fixes going nowhere. Much depends on the Secretary-Designate and his immediate mastery of budget issues and creation of an effective upper and middle-level management team.

VA Backlog Down - VA Appeals Through the Roof!

While Backlog Drops for Disability Claims
Backlog for Appeals Jump Dramatically

And now another serious problem facing the VAWhile there are clearly some doubters most people think that the backlog for disability adjudications has dropped dramatically. Indeed, this week the VA proudly announced that they had just adjudicated their 1,000,000th claim for this fiscal year. However, this is predictably leading to another backlog increase. There is now a backlog for pending appeals of denied claims… as well as increased delays in other claims matters.

One of the areas that have suffered while most of the VA’s focus has been on adjudicating initial disability claims is the simple job of changing the number of dependents that is covered by a claim. The VA’s own figures show that the number of claims to change the status of a dependent has risen from 35,734 at the start of 2012 to 191,464 on June 28 of this year.

As of June 28th the number of pending appeals has reached
279,435. This has been seen as a growing problem since 2012 when the VA’s Inspector General (IG) suggested that the VA "revise productivity standards" to ensure review officers get credit only for work that moves an appeal forward, according to the most recent IG report to Congress. That has not yet happened.

Laura Eskenazi, Principal Deputy Vice Chairman Board of Veterans' Appeals U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and this the executive in charge of the Board of Veterans' Appeals, said appeals rates have held steady for nearly 20 years, but the total number has risen as more claims have been filed. "If the expectation is a short time frame [to get a decision on an appeal] that would require some trade-off in the due process," she said.

The average time for a denied claim to work its way through the VA’s appeals process shot up to more than 900 days last year After staying 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 is a 37% jump in one year, from 675 in fiscal 2012. The VA’s long time goal is for an appeal to take 400 days to resolve.

It should be remembered that veterans have a provision in our appeals process that almost no one else has. It permits all appellants (veterans, survivors or their representatives) to submit at any time in the appeal new evidence or information. That triggers a fresh review of the entire appeal. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals can grant, deny or remand the case to one of the VA’s regional offices for additional review. This of course slows appeals down but it is a terrific advantage for the veteran and his/her family.

C-123 Webmaster: It should also be noted that claims can take a year or more from a veteran already ill with cancer or heart disease to be approved, or denied. Submitted then to the BVA the issue can sit on somebody's desk for three or more years, and the veteran's cancer isn't going anywhere in the meantime and VA will continue to refuse to treat the illness unless the vet is eligible for some other reason or injury. Years pass with no pharmacy, no rehab, no prosthetics, no counseling, no pension, no medical care at all. Board of Veterans Appeals make sad reading as claim after claim is resolved in one way or another for the survivors because the veteran has died waiting for the VA.

21 July 2014

Retired Enlisted Association Confronts VA, But Stall Continues Blocking C-123 Claims

TREA Meets With Undersecretary for VBA

Last week TREA (The Retired Enlisted Association,) represented by Deputy Legislative Director Mike Saunders, met with Undersecretary for Veterans’ Benefits Allison Hickey to discuss the claims backlog and other claims-related issues. This was unrelated to all of the recent news surrounding the lack of access veterans have been dealing with related to the Veterans’ Health Administration (VHA).

·         The C-123 issue is currently being actively reviewed by VBA. This is the issue about the planes that were contaminated by carrying Agent Orange toVietnam; crew members who worked on those planes years later are suspected to have been exposed to dioxin from Agent Orange. No final decisions have been made yet.

Actual Result: Stall. Stall until we die. Amazing that VBA wants to "actively review" the C-123 issue. To us, not an issue but a threat to our lives, and amazing that VBA feels it must "review," instead of following the law the way it is written today.

New VA Scandal Revealed ... Veterans Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Critcized

from Steve Straehley, AllGov.com
Timing is everything. Steve Muro, the VA’s Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs, retired June 20 after more than 35 years with the agency. A month later, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Inspector General issued a report (pdf) criticizing Muro for improper personnel practices.
The report charged that Muro created a job for a friend in violation of civil service regulations; that he had an improper relationship with a contractor for the National Cemetery Administration (NCA), which he managed; and that he improperly gave that contractor business for educational services that were already available through VA channels.
Muro’s friend, whose name is redacted in the report, originally planned to retire in 2003. Muro gave the friend retention incentives and other raises over several years to dissuade him from retiring. Eventually, Muro created a job at a higher civil service rank and ensured it would go to his friend, thus enhancing the friend’s pension by $400 a month.
Muro’s relationship with contractor Patricia Noonan was deemed improper by the IG. He continued contacting Noonan after being advised to stop, he used his position improperly in giving her a letter of recommendation and improperly supported her efforts to win VA contracts. The IG report tersely described it as "less than arms-length relationship."
In addition, NCA gave Noonan contracts to provide over $374,000 for services for recently promoted NCA employees or those who were seeking promotions. The services involved professional coaching in giving presentations and completing individual development plans. Noonan received $250 an hour for providing that coaching, which was already available internally through VA’s Learning University.
This isn’t the first time problems have been found in Muro’s domain, according to The Washington Post. A 2012 VA review discovered that sets of remains were buried in incorrect graves and some grave markers were missing or incorrect. Muro worked to correct those issues by the following year.
Since Muro has retired, the recent IG report recommended no punitive action against him. The report urged that VA to investigate whether corrective action should be taken in regards to two applicants who did not get the job given to Muro’s friend, and to review any contracts still in force with Noonan to ensure there is no conflict of interest or other problems.

note: he may be beyond the VA IG, but certainly not beyond the US Justice Department!!

VA Contractor Contradicts Himself Regarding C-123 Dioxin Deterioration? Determined to Block Exposure Claims?

A big controversy has come up about VA deception with test results for C-123 dioxin contamination, as all such tests were taken well after the veterans flew the former Agent Orange spray aircraft. It seems VA/USAF use whatever interpretation or arguement best fits the situation to prevent veterans' exposure claims. VA freely switches back and forth on fundamental issues of exposure and personnel hazard. This is simply deceptive, with veterans paying the price for the deception.

Basically, VA and USAF maintain that the lower test results from 2009 investigations offer accurate retrospective views of contamination levels for the years the C-123s were flown by the veterans, 1972 to 1982. Both the USAF and VA rely on their consultant, A. L. Young Consultants of Cheyenne, Wyoming for this conclusion because it best argues against any possible exposures of those veterans., and this consultant historically insists on the harmlessness of Agent Orange exposure, a reliable perspective quite attractive to the VA and USAF as they seek to prevent veterans' exposure claims. 

He's the go-to-guy for exactly what the VA needs whenever claims need to be blocked. No wonder that on June 27 2014 the six major veterans organizations objected to the harm done and demanded that the Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs investigate this contractor's input immediately, especially VA awarding $600,000 to block exposure claims.

Very few others have that mistaken viewpoint and thus A.L. Young Consultants can be used to block all input from the EPA, NIH, CDC, National Toxicology Center, WPA, US Public Health Service, universities, VA and private physicians, independent toxicologists and others who submit evidence supporting veterans' claims, which in the VA's view justifies their no-bid award of $600,000 to that firm, at $300,000 per year running through the last days of the IOM project...just to make sure the IOM report is properly worded to block claims also. 

VA also welcomes paid input from Dow and Monsanto to argue against the veterans...but that's not news and their input no surprise. Maybe the VA feels the government can't trust expert testimony unless they pay for it and select the input from someone whose views are already formed and inline with VA policy. Otherwise, VA wouldn't be buying policy reinforcement and veterans might get clean science instead.

So A.L. Young informed the IOM that 2009 test results represent non-existent 1972-1982 test results and therefore no harm was possible to the aircrews at that time.

But the consultant five years ago told the Air Force exactly the opposite! It seems the firm will tell its client whatever the situation requires.

The problem has two components, and a side issue:
I. The consultant, the VA and the USAF together insist in testimony to the Institute of Medicine C-123 Agent Orange committee that low to moderate dioxin contamination test results in 2009 prove that veterans who flew the C-123s earlier had no possibility of exposure. This position is best summarized in the report A. L. Young Consulting/Veterans Benefits Administration submitted to the Institute of Medicine for its current C-123 exposure studies. Young insists that dioxin in UV-restricted situations, on metallic and other surfaces, would degrade very slowly if at all, thus 2009 test results showing low dioxin contamination means veterans in 1972-1982 encountered similar low levels and were thus not exposed and suffered no health effects and are due no care for any Agent Orange-associated illnesses.  Disregarding the multiple source documents detailing base efforts between 1972-1982 to clean the aircraft which gradually removed contamination significantly before the 2009 tests, Young informs the IOM that a retrospective conclusion can be made that 2009 test results roughly equal what tests would have shown in 1972-1982, had such tests been made.

Young insists that the dioxin shown present in 2009 was the same low toxicity as when the veterans flew during the decade 1972-1982, and thus no exposure or health effect.

II. But the same consultant in 2009 assured the Air Force exactly the opposite: that decades of harsh desert storage of the quarantined  C-123 fleet greatly degraded its dioxin contamination. A. L. Young repeatedly assured, via several memoranda to different Air Force officials that the dioxin remaining on the aircraft had degraded significantly from earlier tests and represented no hazard to recycling personnel given their brief exposure.  He was credited by the Air Force as the strongest proponent for immediate destruction of the airplanes with no further testing, but he also warned the Air Force following regular procedures increased the risk of public attention. The CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry also reached this conclusion, with its Director stating, "TCDD levels on-board contaminated aircraft were likely higher in 1972-1982 than in 1994 when samples were taken. 

Oh, and the CDC also concluded the C-123 veterans had a 200-fold greater cancer risk because of our exposures!

The truth: more likely than not, contamination of the former Agent Orange spray aircraft was more intense, and more dangerous, in 1972-1982 than tests performed decades later would suggest. This is the generally-agreed upon consensus, disputed only by Young, the Dow/Monsanto writers, and some of the contributors to the 2012 USAFSAM report...other contributors to that report agree with the ATSDR, and without any facts to substantiate that perspective.

The side issue: After the C-123s were destroyed in April-June 2010, every official involved seems to have forgotten one of the principal reasons cited for their elimination: the threatened $3.4 BILLION fine from the EPA for illegal HAZMAT storage. The aircraft were considered HAZMAT material until eventually shredded, at which point EPA loopholes no longer applied that label. The Air Force JAG calculated the EPA fine to continue at $30,000 a day until the destruction, and mentioned the good fortune the AF had thus far in preventing Arizona or Federal EPA from learning of the storage scheme of quarantined C-123s in that remote part of the Boneyard, out of sight from inspectors.

19 July 2014

C-123 Veterans Seek Investigation by Office of Special Counsel

On behalf of the 2100 men and women veterans of the C-123 Veterans
Association, we have asked that Senators Bennet, Udall, Merkley and Burr forward the attached request for inquiry to the Office of Special Counsel.

The VA National Center for Ethics in Healthcare, the VA Inspector General, the VA General Counsel and VA executives have not been responsive to our requests. Suggestions that our claims await denial, to then be appealed, are of interest only to our survivors...we will not be around for justice at that point. Delayed medical care is denied medical care.

We are in an intolerable situation of increasing age and disabilities, contesting with the Department of Veterans Affairs for over three years, seeking earned medical care and other benefits associated with our Agent Orange exposures. We simply do not have the years left to squander while VA ponders and stalls, saving money at our expense and maintaining appointment schedules by keeping us out of their hospitals.

The laws now in effect, clarified by multiple postings by VA in the Federal Register, mean we are to be treated for our Agent Orange illnesses now. We are ill now. We have members dead or dying now. The law now qualifies us for care but VA denies us.

The urgency of our need for a solution increases every day, as our illnesses progress and as we continue to be denied access to VA hospitals (unless otherwise eligible for care.)

18 July 2014

Updated C-123 Agent Orange Document Chronology (in reverse order)

Chronology Of C-123 Agent Orange Exposure Documents

(generally newer to older): 
Note: About one-quarter of all C-123K/UC-123K aircraft were used for spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam until 1971. Most Vietnam-based
aircraft returned USAF Reserve inventory in 1971-1972, then flown for regular airlift and aeromedical evacuation missions until 1982 when most were retired to Davis-Monthan AFB AZ for storage with some diverted to museum use.  Three bases were used for these warplanes: Westover AFB, Chicopee, MA, Pittsburgh Airport, PA and Rickenbacker AFB, Ohio. Each base had maintenance squadrons, and Westover AFB and Pittsburgh AFB also had aeromedical evacuation squadrons. Unit commanders and senior enlisted leaders have estimated their veterans total 2100 men and women, mostly aged between 45-80 years of age.

 42% of all post-Vietnam C-123 aircraft had been Agent Orange spray airplanes during the war. VA awards service connection to veterans evidencing a source of Agent Orange contamination, exposure to that contamination, and an Agent Orange-presumptive illness (Title 38 3.09.) VA opposes C-123 veterans by refusing to recognize exposure, redefined by VA to include “bioavailability.”

The C-123 Veterans Association is an informal association of former aircrews (including flight surgeons and aeromedical evacuation crews,) maintenance and aerial port personnel, advocating for recognition by the Department of Veterans Affairs of the Agent Orange illnesses experienced by our members

19 Jul 14: C-123 Veterans’ Request for Investigation by Office of Special Counsel by Office of Special Counsel, Items I & II
17 Jul: Veterans Concerns re: VA Ethics and A. L. Young Consultants; IG complaint by C-123 veterans
1 Jul 14: C-123 Casualty List: Joint press release with Vietnam Veterans of America regarding deaths and illnesses of C-123 veterans with denied Agent Orange exposure claims
30 Jun 14: Errors detailed in VA Input, cited by C-123 veterans to VA A.L. Young Consultant's presentation to IOM 16 Jun 2014
27 Jun 14: Joint Letter to Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs: complaint by VFW, DAV, American Legion, AMVETS, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Vietnam Veterans of America regarding employment of A. L. Young Consultants, Cheyenne, WY in Agent Orange exposure issues
7 Jun 14: VA Office of Congressional Liaison informs Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that Joint Services Records Research Center will begin accepting non-military federal documentation regarding veterans' exposure and PTSD claims re: verification requests from Department of Veterans Affairs
15 May-16 Jun 14: Veterans Health Administration & C-123 Veterans Association: Release of documents to Institute of Medicine C-123 Agent Orange committee; folder includes veterans' responses, ancillary materials submitted by veterans. Also includes complete audio of final public meeting held 16 June 2014
11 Mar 14:  Air Force Times, Vets Battle VA on Post-Vietnam Agent Orange claims. Reporter Patricia Kime details C-123 history, contamination, testing and VA reactions to C-123 veterans’ exposure claims
10 Mar 14:  VA Modifies Web Pages re: Institute of Medicine C-123 Study addressing Agent Orange modified to mention referral of C-123 issue to the Institute of Medicine for a late 2014 report
19 Feb 14: Environmental Research, C-123 Exposures Confirmed; exposures occurred aboard post-Vietnam C-123s used during the Vietnam War for spraying Agent Orange, and which remained contaminated with TCDD
14 Feb 14:  Emails between VA Public Affairs and Wes Carter/C-123 Veterans Association addressing VA definition of “exposure.” Public Affairs referred Carter back to VA Public Health which had previously defined exposure as “contamination field + bioavailability”
14 Feb 14: Privacy Complaint filed by C-123 veterans with VA’s National Center for Ethics in Health Care, regarding outside contractor access to patient records 
6 Feb 14: Ethics concerns reported to VA National Center for Ethics in Health Care, submitted by C-123 veterans to VA National Center for Ethics in Health Care, suggesting intrinsic and extrinsic ethical failures, especially regarding VA deception regarding ATSDR and NIESH findings supporting C-123 veterans’ claims
5 Feb 14: LtGen Judith Fedder, correspondence between DOD and C-123 Veterans Association. Again refuses request for DOD designation of C-123 fleet as “Agent Orange Exposure Sites.”
18 Jan 14: Yale Law Veterans Legal Clinic C-123 Report; detailed legal brief, prepared under supervision of Law School Dean Michael Wishnie, confirms eligibility for herbicide exposure benefits for C-123 veterans establishing fact-proven exposure and presumptive service connection
15 Jan 14: Correspondence: C-123 Veterans requested Mr. Hipolit suggest claims be managed more in line with law, pointing out various illegal procedures used to deny claims. Mr. Hipolet declined to intervene, suggested concerns be resolved through appeals to Board of Veterans Appeals rather than corrected at source
10 Jan 14:  General Overview of Connection Between Exposure, Metabolism and Bioaccumulation. Prof. R.S. Pollenz, University of South Florida. Explains why bioavailability is not part of the toxicological event of exposure
28 Dec 13:  C-123 Update: Senator Bennett, Colorado. Senator’s briefing: C-123 Veterans Association. General background of C-123 issue for US Senator Bennett. The Association updates a similar document when seeking assistance from senators and congressmen
24 Dec 13: VA21-4138 Request, JSRRC Memo Request.pdf: C-123 Veterans to Mr. Dominic Baldini, Chief, Joint Services Records Research Center, Fort Belvoir, VA. Requests his agency prepare a memorandum for record, similar to the one addressing Blue Water Navy, for insertion in VA 21-1MR for VARO guidance on C-123 claims. JSRRC declined. Earlier requests to VA for a JSRRC memo were declined. Requests to the US Army Congressional Liaison Office by Senators Burr and Merkley staff were rebuffed…VA does not want such a memorandum to exist
1 Dec 13: C-123: Decades of Deception; free iTunes eBook by Major Wes Carter, C-123 Veterans Association. Covers Agent Orange contamination of C-123 post-Vietnam and effort by veterans to earn VA service connection for Agent Orange illnesses. Also available as PDF
Nov-Dec 13:  The Officer, "First Step Towards a Grassroots Victory" Reviews efforts by C-123 Veterans Association and first successful claim, LtCol Paul Bailey
16 Aug 13: C-123 Veterans Response to VA Contractor Report “Investigations Into Allegations by C-123 Veterans”, by Al Young Consultants, dated 12 Nov 2012
13 Nov 13: McMinnville (Oregon) News-Register, News story about C-123 veterans’ claims
7 Aug 13: Steve Vogel The Washington Post article, “VA Reverses C-123 Agent Orange Claim” (re: Paul Bailey, Bath, NH)
 5 Aug 13: Steve Vogel The Washington Post article, “Agent Orange’s Reach Beyond the Vietnam War”
31 Jul 13: Rating Decision, Manchester VARO (approval). Paul A. Bailey, reversed after evaluation by Decision Review Officer, awarded 100% disability backdated to date first applied; first known C-123 claim approved without resort to BVA appeal
22 Jul 13: Bailey Proof Set by C-123 Veterans Association. Establishes Agent Orange contamination of 731 TAS aircraft, contamination of C-123s, assignment of former Ranch Hand aircraft to 731 TAS and various agency proof statements (HQ AFRC, USAF Historical Records Research Center, etc.)
22 Jul 13: Statements US PHS commissioned officers confirming C-123veterans' exposure; USPHS commissioned officers are members of the Armed Services and their evidence satisfies JSRRC requirements for acceptable evidence. Both statements are from senior Public Health Service physicians (RADM R. Ikeda, CAPT A. Miller)
17 Jul 13: C-123 Veterans' Detailed Response to Secretary Shinseki's Letter to Senator Burr re: VA C-123 Perspective (dated 7 Jun 13) (note: 48mb)

13 Jul 13: C-123 Veterans' Radio Interview, Portland KBOO Radio

11 Jul 13: Reporter Lynne Peeples Huffington Post, “Veterans Sick from Agent Orange-Poisoned Planes Still Seek Justice.” Reviewed C-123 contamination and VA position against veterans' claims of exposure to dioxin

4 Jul 13: Article The Oregonian: "Many Veterans Suffering from Diseases Linked to Agent Orange Still Can't Get Disability Benefits," reporter Mike Francis

30 Jun 13: USAF Historical Records Research Agency confirmation C-123s were used for Operation Ranch Hand; flight orders, other historical documents satisfying SECVA concern about veterans' proof of duty aboard known contaminated aircraft
25 June 13: FOIA response to C-123 Veterans Association. This FOIA responder wrote VA has no rule keeping C-123 crews from admission to the Agent Orange Registry. Post Deployment Health had earlier instructed VAMC to not permit C-123 veterans any Agent Orange Registry exam, in which she overturned an earlier order from the Secretary of Veterans Affair
24 June 13: Official Email, RADM (Dr) R. Ikeda, Director, CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances
13 June 13: Boilerplate language provided by Veterans Benefits Administration to regional offices with instructions to deny all C-123 veterans' claims, regardless of merit or evidence

7 June  13: Official Letter, Secretary Eric Shinseki to Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, detailing basis of VA policy against C-123 veterans' Agent Orange exposure service connection

"Leave No Man Behind." Veteran C-123 Pilot Fights VA for Agent Orange Exposure Benefits Due Stateside Crew Mates

BELCHERTOWN — One lesson retired Air Force Col. Archer Battista says he learned in his six years in Vietnam was never to leave anyone behind.

This explains why Battista, 68, has since 2010 thrown his energy into an effort to get pilots who flew stateside planes contaminated by Agent Orange qualified for disability services and compensation.

Battista knows about Agent Orange, a defoliant the United States dumped on the Vietnamese countryside during the war. In early 2009, when he was 62, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, for which he is still being treated. Because he served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1973, he qualified for a variety of benefits won for Vietnam veterans after a long and drawn-out fight with the government. This explains why Battista, 68, has since 2010 thrown his energy into an effort to get pilots who flew stateside planes contaminated by Agent Orange qualified for disability services and compensation.

Battista knows about Agent Orange, a defoliant the United States dumped on the Vietnamese countryside during the war. In early 2009, when he was 62, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, for which he is still being treated. Because he served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1973, he qualified for a variety of benefits won for Vietnam veterans after a long and drawn-out fight with the government.

In 1991, the government acquiesced and began authorizing disability, medical and survivor benefits for “presumed exposure” to Agent Orange. Veterans who served in Vietnam (as well as the Korean demilitarized zone during the Vietnam era) are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. This qualification means these veterans suffering from illnesses.

A Long Reserve Career
After his six years of active duty, Archer Battista logged a 27-year career in the Air Force Reserves, retiring May 1, 2001. He also has had a long career as a civil litigation lawyer as a partner with the Holyoke law firm Lyon & Fitzpatrick. These days, he is listed on the firm’s letterhead as “of counsel,” which is legalese for semi-retired.
And while Battista may have wanted to devote his retirement years to some of his many interests (history) and civic pursuits (YMCA boards), his cancer diagnosis — and then his increasing involvement in the effort to get this new group of veterans covered for Agent Orange benefits — got in the way.
When he was in Vietnam, Battista flew the Cessna 02A observation airplane for missions from Danang to Laos.
When he was back home on duty with the Air Force Reserves, he started flying the C-123 cargo planes on training missions, steadily from 1974 until 1982. Battista estimates he flew hundreds of these training missions, and he recalls that a couple times each winter — most notably when the plane’s heater was cranked up — crews would fall into bouts of uncontrollable vomiting.
He says he’d get a report in the cockpit from the loadmaster in the back of the plane with some variation of, “Art, the smell back here is unbearable. We can’t go on with this mission.” Battista adds: “They'd be saying what we already knew, because we could smell it, too.” Battista says his immediate response would be that he couldn't abort a training mission, until he realized that a training mission in which most of the crew can’t stop throwing up is not much of a training mission. So, he'd wind up canceling the flight. The source of the danger was dried Agent Orange residue left after Vietnam, fouling areas in the wings and below the cargo deck, in nooks and crannies impossible to reach to clean.
In those days much less was known about Agent Orange and its noxious elements — but still, Battista says, he and other crew members started wondering what was wrong with the Spray Birds.
“We knew they were Spray Birds that flew the Ranch Hand Mission, but they told us that there was no risk of any kind,” he said.
One of the men who flew the C-123 Provider cargo planes alongside Battista was Wes Carter, a retired major who now lives in Colorado, but who flew at Westover from 1974 to 1991. Carter, who founded the C-123 Veterans Association in 2011, did not serve in Vietnam, and is fighting to receive Agent Orange-related coverage from his many years at Westover. For him, as for Battista, the fight is deeply personal — but also being waged on behalf of others.
“We have our crew mates dying from recognized Agent Orange illnesses,” he said. Carter has testified before government hearings, filed complaints with the Department of Defense, fought for data through the Freedom of Information Act and worked with other veterans groups to agitate for the government to widen the net to cover more veterans. He is web master for the site C-123 Veterans Agent Orange Exposure 1972-1982.
For his part, Battista said when he was first diagnosed with cancer, he didn't link it to his military service at all.
But when a former Air Force buddy reminded him that prostate cancer is one of the Agent Orange presumptive diseases, he sought out and received care from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System in Leeds. He says he received excellent care, though subsequently, he moved elsewhere for continued care. Battista he has no quibbles with the care he has received. As he puts it, “I don't have any skin in the game.”
But he’s got plenty to say about men he flew with at Westover Air Base in Chicopee, who he, Carter, and others believe have been abandoned by the Veterans Affairs department. “It’s appalling. I'm a pretty mainstream guy. I spent 22 years in the U.S. Air Force. I loved all of it,” he said. “I just shake my head. I’m thinking what in the hell is the matter with these people?”
In an interview at his secluded home at the end of a long driveway off Summit Street — where an American flag was stationed on the mailbox on the day a Gazette reporter and photographer visited this month — Battista was overcome with emotion several times. Neatly dressed in blue jeans, a gray and yellow “Livestrong” T-shirt and yellow Livestrong rubber bracelet, with white hair and wire-rimmed glasses, he apologized each time his eyes welled up, saying this was not like him. It’s a combination of the medicine he takes for his cancer, and his feelings about the issue.
“Here’s the point. The point is there are all these guys and gals who spent just as much time in a C-123 as I did, but they didn't happen to go to Vietnam," he said. "Its abominable. Its inexcusable, and incomprehensible to me."

Battista has written letters to political leaders, met with a representative from U.S. Rep. Richard Neal’s office and been involved in spreading the word about the issue online by supporting Carter’s efforts through the group he founded. The two first met when they flew together at Westover.

The appeals to Neal’s office paid off. In a letter to Ronald Maurer, director of the Congressional Liaison Service dated June 2, Neal wrote:
“According to a Yale Law School study on this matter, a 1994 Air Force commissioned study of a C-123 plane flown both in Operation Ranch Hand and after the Vietnam War found it still contained enough of the carcinogen dioxin to subject a restoration worker repairing the plane to ‘an acceptable level for lifetime exposure.’ The plane as a result was deemed ‘heavily contaminated,’ 12 years after active crews worked on the plane. This surface presence of dioxin coincides with the National Academy of Science statement that ‘exposure of humans to TCDD [dioxin] is thought to occur primarily via the mouth, skin and lungs,’ confirming the exposure of the crewmen of these planes to dioxin."
“Taking into account this information and the high levels of illnesses known to be linked to Agent Orange occurring in these Westover veterans, I believe these men and women are entitled to the same benefits granted to those who served on the ground in Vietnam.”
Battista believes with letters like that and other forms of political pressure, Veterans Affairs will change a policy he says is wrongheaded and unfair. He takes particular issue with comments from a former Air Force officer, now consultant to the VA, saying veterans seeking coverage for exposure while in the United States are "freeloaders." 

“This isn't a fight that should be personalized. We shouldn't be name-calling,” said Battista. “Every time I read that, it makes me very angry.”

Meantime, he is waiting for the government to change its policy and do what he believes is the right thing.

“I just can’t believe this is happening,” he says. “They've gotta flip. They've got to understand they’ve got this wrong.”