Meet the VA committee that decides AO policy
Apr 8, 2017 — The Committee built on a house of cards!
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON DISABILITY COMPENSATION
March 6-7, 2017
Joseph Kirk Martin, Jr., Chairman
Hal K. Bird (via telephone)
George R. Fay
Elder Granger (via telephone)*
Timothy J. Lowenberg
Thomas J. Pamperin
Members Not Present:
Warren A. Jones
Ioulia Vvedenskaya, DFO
Stacy Boyd, Alternate DFO
Thomas Murphy, Acting Under Secretary for Benefits*
Laurine Carson, Assistant Director, Compensation Service, VBA**
Savannah Connally, Chief, Acquisition Support, Contract Exams Program Office,
Compensation Service, VBA**
Benton Gammons, VBA*
Mary Glenn, VBA**
Valerie Hussein, VBA**
Victor F. Kalasinsky, Senior Program Manager, Gulf War Illnesses/Military Exposures,
Office of Research and Development*
Pamela Miller, Acting Assistant Director, Mandatory Contract Examination Program Office,
Compensation Service, VBA**
Beth Murphy, Director, Compensation Service, VBA*
Astrid Perez, Deputy Director, National Work Queue (NWQ), VBA**
Gary Reynolds, Medical Officer, Compensation Service, VBA**
James Sampsel, Compensation Service, Policy Legislative Staff, VBA*
Eric Schell, VBA**
Agent Orange Issues and Policies
Mr. Sampsel briefed the Committee on Agent Orange issues and the VBA disability claims process. Agent Orange was an herbicide used in Vietnam during Operation Ranch Hand. It was sprayed from C-123 planes and consisted of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D. One of the byproducts
of 2,4,5-T was TCDD, or dioxin. The amount of dioxin in any given volume of Agent Orange was 5-13 parts per million. TCDD lives only for several hours in sunlight and exists in the everyday environment.
The only study on the long term health effects of Agent Orange was a 30-year study conducted by the United States Air Force on Ranch Hand pilots and crew members that
handled the chemical. It found no evidence of a higher rate of cancer or any other disease.
The relevant law is 38 USC 1116, which presumes Agent Orange exposure for anyone with “service in Vietnam” and establishes a list of presumptive diseases and an IOM method for
determining associated diseases. 38 CFR 3.307 contains a list of presumptions, and 38
CFR 3.309 has a list of 14 diseases associated with Agent Orange. Bladder cancer,
Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms, hypothyroidism, and hypertension are pending.
Dr. Simberkoff asked what Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms referred to. Mr. Sampsel referred him to the IOM report.
Mr. Sampsel maintained that media and advocates have overstated the effects of Agent Orange on Veterans through anecdotal Veteran statements, sensationalism, and distortion.
ACDC Minutes, March 6-7, 2017
To determine service, VBA examines a Veteran’s Department of Defense (DD)-214, checks
for Vietnam service medals, looks for records of a temporary duty assignment, and goes
through Army post office records. VBA makes a distinction between Blue Water Navy
Veterans, who served on vessels in the open ocean and do not receive the Agent Orange presumption, and Brown Water Veterans, who served on vessels in inland waterways and do receive the presumption. However, Blue Water vessels often entered inland waterways, and those Veterans think they should also receive the Agent Orange presumption. Mr. Sampsel said he has developed a list to keep track of which ships were in inland waterways. Anyone that was on one of those ships gets the presumption of exposure.
38 USC 1821 presumes that Veterans in certain units in the Korean DMZ between September 1, 1967 and August 31, 1971 were exposed to Agent Orange and are at increased risk for spina bifida. Mr. Manar mentioned a Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) case in which the Veteran successfully demonstrated that soil exposure to dioxin could occur if the soil was disturbed. Mr. Sampsel countered that BVA consisted of independent judges and was often the source of misinformation about Agent Orange issues. Mr. Pamperin pointed out that a BVA decision constituted the Secretary’s final opinion and that in the soil, dioxin had a half-life of 100 years. Mr. Sampsel pointed out that the question remained as to whether the Veteran was exposed to it, and if so, whether s/he suffered adverse long term health effects.
After their use in Vietnam, C-123s were distributed to Reserve units. Wes Carter, a retired colonel in the Air Force Reserve, has become an advocate for Reservist C-123 pilots that he claims were exposed to Agent Orange. VA, citing the research of Dr. Alvin Young, maintains that such exposure is impossible. A Harvard scientist claimed that dried, solidified TCDD never stops emanating molecules into the air, which led IOM to conclude exposure was possible. There is now a presumption of exposure for Reservists who flew in C-123s
and mechanics who worked on them. Mr. Sampsel monitors the Agent Orange Mailbox for claims of exposure that filter from ROs
to the VA Central Office. He reviews DoD documentation of Agent Orange use, testing, and storage to determine the likelihood of exposure to the chemical. Many Veterans were stationed at air bases in Thailand during the Vietnam War. The CHECO Report, a DoD document from 1973, reprimanded base commanders for not having better security around their perimeters. To remedy the situation, the report recommended fenced-in perimeters with some kind of herbicide used in the middle. Mary Ellen McCarthy, a staffer for the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, sent VA documentation of guard dogs dying on Thai air bases, presumably because of Agent Orange exposure. VA gave a non-presumptive acknowledgment of exposure on a case-bycase basis to guard dog handlers and security guards that walked the base perimeter. Dr. Simberkoff asked if the guard dogs did in fact die of Agent Orange exposure. Mr. Sampsel said it was subsequently discovered that the cause of death was an animal viral infection. The Air Force has issued a memo stating there is no evidence of Agent Orange use on Thai bases. Mr. Manar asked if the memo or any of the evidence associated with it had been published. Mr. Sampsel said the Chisholm Law Group, which had a petition for rulemaking pending, filed a Freedom of Information Act request, which was approved.
ACDC Minutes, March 6-7, 2017
There are a lot of claims of Agent Orange exposure from Veterans who were stationed in Okinawa. Jon Mitchell, a Welsh journalist living in Japan, has written extensively on the supposed use of Agent Orange there. However, Alvin Young has researched every supply manifest going into Okinawa and found no mention of Agent Orange being delivered there. Mr. Manar pointed out there was a distinction between a lack of evidence of Agent Orange and its actual absence. Mr. Sampsel conceded the point, promising that VA would change its policy if evidence were to emerge. VA has received numerous letters from Congress about Agent Orange use in Guam, despite there being no evidence of its use there. The Hawaiian Science Journal has
published an article claiming scientific evidence of birth defects due to Agent Orange, but the only source is one Veteran claiming he sprayed the chemical in a certain village. DoD has issued a response criticizing the authors for their claims.
DoD has provided VA with a list of four locations where Agent Orange was tested, developed, and stored: a Canadian base in Gagetown, New Brunswick; Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; Gulfport, Mississippi; and Johnston Island in the Pacific.
The Committee recessed from 2:21 p.m. to 2:34 p.m. to await the next speaker.