- United States Senate Veterans Affairs CommitteeSenator Burr, Ranking Member & Senator Sanders, Chairman
- Honorable Eric ShinsekiSecretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs
VA must care for USAF C-123 Aircrew Agent Orange exposed veterans
These aircrew and flight nurse vets are denied medical care for flying warplanes acknowledged by decades of USAF testing as "heavily contaminated" with dioxin, the toxin in Agent Orange. Agent Orange-exposed veterans need and deserve care they are eligible for under Title 38 (and under the Federal Register 8 May 2001 page 23166) regarding VA treatment of C-123 veterans exposed to herbicides, a category for which the law directs appropriate benefits which parallel those of Vietnam War veterans covered under their "boots on the ground" provisions. These men and women volunteer airmen flew the C-123 medium assault transports between 1972-1982, and while some of these veterans are also Vietnam veterans and covered under the VA's "boots on the ground' category, most are post-Vietnam veterans and were exposed AFTER the war aboard these toxic airplanes but absolutely qualify for the same care.
VA opposes, stating regardless of the law and regardless of other experts such as the US Public Health Service and the CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry which agree with the veterans, VA will care only for Vietnam veterans, or others if able to prove exposure to LIQUID Agent Orange and the toxin in it, dioxin. VA refuses care for veterans exposed to DRY dioxin. VA has even denied some C-123 veterans' claims with the statement that Agent Orange is "harmless," an issue resolved decades ago but surfaced here to help prevent these veterans being added to the VA's roles. VA even bars C-123 veterans from physical exams for their illnesses at VA medical centers, citing unpublished, internal VA policies while their Internet pages clearly state otherwise.
In my own denied claim (submitted as a test case as I'm already 100% VA disabled), the VA determined that my VA urology oncologist (who is also a professor at the Oregon Health Sciences University and also an acknowledged Agent Orange expert) was an "unqualified lay witness." They also dismissed expert scientific opinions confirming my Agent Orange exposure aboard my aircraft as "unqualified scientfic" observations - from Columbia University School of Public Health, from the University of Texas Medical School and from the Toxicology Department of the Oregon Health Sciences University.
And my claim is one of those on which VA stated "In summary no harm is known to be caused by TCDD (note: TCDD = dioxin, the toxin in Agent Orange, acknowledged even by the VA as a potent carcinogen.) Even the VA disagres with their own statement as per the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. VA has told representatives of the C-123 Veterans Association that no amount of scientific, medical or legal evidence will be allowed to affect our exposure claims because they have already determiend that we somehow were not exposed to the dioxin contaminating our warplanes while flying the toxic airplanes for a decade...and being exposed and reexposed flight after flight. Dioxin builds up in the body, and can take 7 to 11 years to reach "half-life." Repeated flying simply built up our dioxin via inhalation and dermal routes of exposure, per the US Public Health Service.
Frankly, this seems to be a VA prejudicial prolicy, not an evenhanded evaluation of veterans' claims supported by mounds of non-VA evidence! We wish the Secretary were aware of this injustice.
- Senator Burr, Ranking Member & Senator Sanders, Chairman
United States Senate Veterans Affairs Committee
- Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs
Honorable Eric Shinseki
- U.S. Senate
VA must provide Agent Orange exposure care to legally qualified C-123 veterans. These veterans, many of them war veterans, are fully qualified - legally, medically and scientifically - for the required care but VA officials have constructed illogical and illegal barriers keeping them away from VA hospitals. Title 38 and various other promulgations spell out that all veterans exposed to military herbicides outside Vietnam will receive care as do Vietnam veterans. C-123 vets flew contaminated airplanes as per decades of USAF tests. VA has redefined "exposure" to require "bioavailability" but such redefinition is not in their province! Other federal agencies including the US Public Health Service, EPA, NIH and CDC all agree - C-123 veterans were exposed to Agent Orange. Only the VA disagrees, but the law should be followed to allow these veterans the care they earned.
Too much time has passed since the USAF put the C-123 contamination issue under cover of "official use only" in 1994 and it becoming publicly known in 2010. The law is clear to all but the VA, and the US Senate should exercise its authority to protect C-123 veterans before more of them die without vital care for their Agent Orange illnesses.
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