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  • AO BWN Battle Exposure

     

    • Tens of thousands of Navy Veterans are excluded from VA benefits related to Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam war.
    • A bill making its way through Congress would extend benefits to cover blue-water Veterans, who were stationed in ships off the Vietnamese coast.
    • Early this month, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie sent a letter to lawmakers asking to stop the bill, saying its provisions are based on sympathy instead of science.
    • Veterans and their advocates are firing back, flooding the Senate with letters supporting the bill.

    Veterans groups are pushing a bill making its way through Congress that would extend VA benefits to tens of thousands US Navy Veterans who were potentially exposed to Agent Orange while serving off the coast of Vietnam. The bill is the latest glimmer of hope for Veterans who have fought for decades to receive the benefit, and would finally recognize their exposure to the toxic herbicide but come at an estimated cost of $5.5 billion to US taxpayers.

    The VA is attempting to delay this provision, saying that this vast increase in health care costs should only come after more study, which is likely to publish next year.

    "Science does not support the presumption that blue water Navy Veterans were exposed to Agent Orange," said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a letter to the Senate. The letter is yet another roadblock facing Vietnam Veterans who claim their health has suffered due to exposure.

    But the Veterans are fighting back. As of Thursday morning, Sen. Johnny Isakson, chairman of the Veterans affairs committee, has received at least three letters from advocates urging the Senate to pass the bill. They say the VA is "cherry-picking" evidence and overestimating the bill's true cost.

    Agent Orange was one of several chemical herbicides used during the Vietnam War to destroy enemy cover and food crops. Although primarily delivered via aircraft, the defoliant was also carried on vehicles, back-mounted equipment, and sprayed from ships.

    Operation Ranch Hand lasted about a decade before a scientific study reported that one of the chemicals caused birth defects in lab animals. The military stopped its use of herbicides in 1971; throughout the next decade Veterans began reporting instances of cancer and birth defects in their children.

    The legitimacy of their claims would be argued for the next 20 years, until the Agent Orange Act of 1991 directed the VA to conduct research into the chemical's potential side effects. In the decades since, Vietnam Veterans have slowly started to gain recognition of their Agent Orange exposure and its sometimes life-threatening consequences.

    As recently as 2010, the VA extended the list of diseases it would recognize as being linked to the herbicide. Just three years ago, the agency started accepting claims for Veterans who served in Agent Orange-contaminated aircraft in the post-Vietnam era.

    But since 2002, the VA took what advocates and Veterans say was a step backwards by invalidating claims presented by blue-water Veterans, saying there was no conclusive scientific evidence that the Vets, who served in warships off the coast, were ever exposed to Agent Orange.

    VA: Too much money, not enough science

    The question is whether the Veterans were exposed to the herbicide through chemical runoff that made its way into the South China Sea and was then converted into drinking water through the ships' distillation plants.

    Where the ships were located makes all the difference.

    The VA discredits arguments that US ships made water close enough to land to have used contaminated water. According to the Institute of Medicine, which is now known as the National Academy of Medicine, any chemical runoff would likely have been diluted by coastal waters before reaching the ships' intakes. But, as reported in extensive coverage by ProPublica, Veterans have said ships often distilled water well within that range.

    Surprisingly, both sides of the ordeal — the VA, which claims blue water Veterans were not exposed and Veterans advocacy groups that say they were — use the same IOM study to argue their side.

    That's because the IOM merely states it is "possible" the Navy Vets were exposed.

    The VA now says that's exactly why they should wait before extending benefits to blue-water Veterans.

    In a Senate hearing on August 1, Dr. Paul Lawrence, the VA under secretary for benefits, noted this as just one of three reasons the VA opposes the bill.

    One of the provisions would increase the fee charged to borrowers under the VA's home loan program. Lawrence said the VA is opposed to "increasing the costs that some Veterans must pay to access their benefits."

    He also maintained that the increased loan fees could not offset the costs associated with an extension of Agent Orange-related benefits. Secretary Wilkie's letter reinforced this idea, stating that Congress had underestimated the health care costs by a whopping $5.4 billion. He also argued that the addition of tens of thousands of eligible Veterans would only exacerbate an already extensive backlog of Agent Orange-related claims.

    These arguments echo one made in July, just days before the Senate hearing, by former VA Secretary and Vietnam Navy Veteran Anthony Principi. In an op-ed published in USA Today, Principi argued that Congress should stand on the side of science and pass "sensible laws that maintain the integrity of our legislative process."

    Veterans and advocates say that's 'poppycock'

    The Veterans won't face this battle alone.

    The Senate is hearing from a resounding chorus of supporters who say the VA is using a typical stall tactic.

    "These Vietnam Veterans have waited too long. It is time for us as a country to do the right thing," former VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin wrote. Dr. Shulkin, who was fired by President Donald Trump in late March, said this bill is not driven by sympathy as the VA claims, but by a conscientious desire to uphold "our country's responsibility for caring for those who have borne the battle."

    Another letter, cosigned by four Veterans organizations, pointed out that it was the VA's "erroneous decision" to disqualify blue-water Veterans in the first place, and that the science is on their side.

    "The IOM found that there is not a scientific basis to exclude blue water Navy Veterans," the letter said.

    In his letter addressed to the Senate, Dr. Shulkin recognized the legitimacy of both sides of this nuanced issue.

    "The answer must not be to simply deny benefits," he wrote. "When there is a deadlock, my personal belief is that the tie should be broken in favor of the brave men and women that put their lives on the line for all of us."

    The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act soared through the House of Representatives with a vote of 382-0. When — or even if — it will become law now rests in the hands of the Senate which, as of Thursday, has yet to decide.

    Source

    {jcomments on}

  • BWN Vets 43 Yrs Later

     

    • Tens of thousands of Navy Veterans are excluded from VA benefits related to Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam war.
    • A bill making its way through Congress would extend benefits to cover blue-water Veterans, who were stationed in ships off the Vietnamese coast.
    • Early this month, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie sent a letter to lawmakers asking to stop the bill, saying its provisions are based on sympathy instead of science.
    • Veterans and their advocates are firing back, flooding the Senate with letters supporting the bill.

    Veterans groups are pushing a bill making its way through Congress that would extend VA benefits to tens of thousands US Navy Veterans who were potentially exposed to Agent Orange while serving off the coast of Vietnam. The bill is the latest glimmer of hope for Veterans who have fought for decades to receive the benefit, and would finally recognize their exposure to the toxic herbicide but come at an estimated cost of $5.5 billion to US taxpayers.

    The VA is attempting to delay this provision, saying that this vast increase in health care costs should only come after more study, which is likely to publish next year.

    "Science does not support the presumption that blue water Navy Veterans were exposed to Agent Orange," said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a letter to the Senate. The letter is yet another roadblock facing Vietnam Veterans who claim their health has suffered due to exposure.

    But the Veterans are fighting back. As of Thursday morning, Sen. Johnny Isakson, chairman of the Veterans affairs committee, has received at least three letters from advocates urging the Senate to pass the bill. They say the VA is "cherry-picking" evidence and overestimating the bill's true cost.

    Operation Ranch Hand

    Agent Orange was one of several chemical herbicides used during the Vietnam War to destroy enemy cover and food crops. Although primarily delivered via aircraft, the defoliant was also carried on vehicles, back-mounted equipment, and sprayed from ships.

    Operation Ranch Hand lasted about a decade before a scientific study reported that one of the chemicals caused birth defects in lab animals. The military stopped its use of herbicides in 1971; throughout the next decade Veterans began reporting instances of cancer and birth defects in their children.

    The legitimacy of their claims would be argued for the next 20 years, until the Agent Orange Act of 1991 directed the VA to conduct research into the chemical's potential side effects. In the decades since, Vietnam Veterans have slowly started to gain recognition of their Agent Orange exposure and its sometimes life-threatening consequences.

    As recently as 2010, the VA extended the list of diseases it would recognize as being linked to the herbicide. Just three years ago, the agency started accepting claims for Veterans who served in Agent Orange-contaminated aircraft in the post-Vietnam era.

    But since 2002, the VA took what advocates and Veterans say was a step backwards by invalidating claims presented by blue-water Veterans, saying there was no conclusive scientific evidence that the Vets, who served in warships off the coast, were ever exposed to Agent Orange.

    VA: Too much money, not enough science

    The question is whether the Veterans were exposed to the herbicide through chemical runoff that made its way into the South China Sea and was then converted into drinking water through the ships' distillation plants.

    Where the ships were located makes all the difference.

    The VA discredits arguments that US ships made water close enough to land to have used contaminated water. According to the Institute of Medicine, which is now known as the National Academy of Medicine, any chemical runoff would likely have been diluted by coastal waters before reaching the ships' intakes. But, as reported in extensive coverage by ProPublica, Veterans have said ships often distilled water well within that range.

    Surprisingly, both sides of the ordeal - the VA, which claims blue water Veterans were not exposed and Veterans advocacy groups that say they were - use the same IOM study to argue their side.

    That's because the IOM merely states it is "possible" the Navy Vets were exposed.

    The VA now says that's exactly why they should wait before extending benefits to blue-water Veterans.

    In a Senate hearing on August 1, Dr. Paul Lawrence, the VA under secretary for benefits, noted this as just one of three reasons the VA opposes the bill.

    One of the provisions would increase the fee charged to borrowers under the VA's home loan program. Lawrence said the VA is opposed to "increasing the costs that some Veterans must pay to access their benefits."

    He also maintained that the increased loan fees could not offset the costs associated with an extension of Agent Orange-related benefits. Secretary Wilkie's letter reinforced this idea, stating that Congress had underestimated the health care costs by a whopping $5.4 billion. He also argued that the addition of tens of thousands of eligible Veterans would only exacerbate an already extensive backlog of Agent Orange-related claims.

    These arguments echo one made in July, just days before the Senate hearing, by former VA Secretary and Vietnam Navy Veteran Anthony Principi. In an op-ed published in USA Today, Principi argued that Congress should stand on the side of science and pass "sensible laws that maintain the integrity of our legislative process."

    Veterans and advocates say that's 'poppycock'

    The Veterans won't face this battle alone.

    The Senate is hearing from a resounding chorus of supporters who say the VA is using a typical stall tactic.

    "These Vietnam Veterans have waited too long. It is time for us as a country to do the right thing," former VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin wrote. Dr. Shulkin, who was fired by President Donald Trump in late March, said this bill is not driven by sympathy as the VA claims, but by a conscientious desire to uphold "our country's responsibility for caring for those who have borne the battle."

    Another letter, cosigned by four Veterans organizations, pointed out that it was the VA's "erroneous decision" to disqualify blue-water Veterans in the first place, and that the science is on their side.

    "The IOM found that there is not a scientific basis to exclude blue water Navy Veterans," the letter said.

    In his letter addressed to the Senate, Dr. Shulkin recognized the legitimacy of both sides of this nuanced issue.

    "The answer must not be to simply deny benefits," he wrote. "When there is a deadlock, my personal belief is that the tie should be broken in favor of the brave men and women that put their lives on the line for all of us."

    The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act soared through the House of Representatives with a vote of 382-0. When - or even if - it will become law now rests in the hands of the Senate which, as of Thursday, has yet to decide.

    Source

    {jcomments on}

  • AO Activist Andover

     

    A Vietnam Veteran from Andover is heading to Washington D.C. for the State of the Union Address on a mission to rally support from federal lawmakers to make health care more accessible to Veterans exposed to the toxic chemical known as Agent Orange.

    Gerry Wright spoke exclusively to NBC Connecticut about his upcoming trip to the Capitol, the next step in a journey that has already taken him to 32 states speaking with Veterans and their families about the long-term side effects of Agent Orange exposure.

    American soldiers sprayed the herbicide that came to be referred to as Agent Orange over dense jungle in Vietnam in a military effort to kill foliage providing cover to enemy soldiers.

    Wright has amassed shelves full of photographs, testimonials, newspaper clippings and studies at his home in Andover. He pointed to one picture in particular of a truck he remembers riding while spraying the toxic chemical.

    “We would stand on the back of here and spray around our compound. No hat, no shirt, no masks,” Wright said.

    He now suffers from heart, skin and nerve conditions associated with Agent Orange. He receives treatment from the VA hospital for heart disease, but does not qualify for treatment of his other ailments because of a rule requiring soldiers to have reported symptoms within a year of chemical exposure.

    Wright says he and many of his fellow Veterans did not recognize those symptoms until it was too late.

    Last year, he traveled 10,000 miles around the country towing a trailer painted, “sprayed and betrayed,” and collecting more than 6,000 signatures from supporters, he said.

    Now, he is working with Connecticut congressmen Joe Courtney and John Larson, who are co-sponsors on a house bill introduced last month to remove that requirement. Senator Richard Blumenthal is expected to introduce a corresponding Senate bill soon, and invited Wright to be his guest at Tuesday night’s State of the Union Address.

    Lawmakers introduced similar bills in both houses of Congress last year that were not successful.

    Wright hopes to use the remainder of his trip to Washington to speak to as many lawmakers as he can on both sides of the aisle. He believes the stakes could not be higher for Veterans like him who need treatment. “We’re still dying from this,” he said.

    Source

    {jcomments on}

  • AO Presumption Policy

     

    For Vietnam Veterans, having a medical condition presumed related to Agent Orange exposure is linked to greater use of Veterans Affairs health care.

    That is the main finding of a study by researchers with the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC) at the VA New Jersey Healthcare System. They say the results show that a law passed by Congress nearly 30 years ago has largely met its goal: helping affected Veterans get the care they need.

    The study results appeared in May 2018 in the journal Medicine.    

    Agent Orange linked to 14 conditions

    Agent Orange is a chemical defoliant that was sprayed by the U.S. during the Vietnam War to kill plants and clear land. It was contaminated with dioxin, which is known to cause cancer and other conditions. Twenty million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed during the Vietnam War. About 2.7 million U.S. military personnel may have been exposed.

    Veterans are eligible for compensation from the Veterans Benefits Administration if they have a service-connected disability. The higher the disability rating, the more compensation they are due. Veterans with higher service-connected disability ratings also have greater access to no-cost health care through the Veterans Health Administration. However, it is often difficult to prove direct service connection for Agent Orange-related conditions because they may develop years after exposure.

    To address this problem, Congress passed the Agent Orange Act of 1991. The act directed VA to presume service-connected disability for conditions the National Academy of Sciences deemed related to Agent Orange. Veterans with these conditions qualify if they were in Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975.

    Seven non-cancer conditions have been designated as presumptively service-connected for Vietnam Veterans: chloracne (a severe acne-like skin condition), ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, peripheral neuropathy, porphyria curtanea tarda (a skin condition that causes blisters, hair growth, and discoloration), AL amyloidosis (an immune-system disorder that can damage the organs), and Type 2 diabetes. Several forms of cancer are also included: chronic b-cell leukemias, Hodgkin’s disease, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, and soft-tissue sarcoma.

    Veterans with connected conditions use VA health care more often

    To find out how this policy affected VA health care use, the researchers looked at 2013 data on 85,699 Vietnam Veterans. They found that those with one or more diagnoses of a presumptive condition were more likely to have multiple disabilities than those without one of the named conditions. While they were less likely to have a 100 percent disability rating than those with no presumptive condition, they were more likely to have individual unemployability. This means they cannot maintain employment because of service-connected disability.

    Of those with any presumptive condition, 73 percent had Type 2 diabetes. About 44 percent had ischemic heart disease, and 16 percent had some form of cancer.

    Looking at health care usage, the researchers found that 35 percent of those with a presumptive condition had five or more primary care visits in fiscal year 2013. Only about 15 percent of those without a presumptive condition had this many visits.

    Forty-five percent of the presumptive condition group had five or more specialty care visits, compared with 15 percent of those without presumptive conditions. Of the presumptive-condition patients, 37 percent had at least one mental health visit, compared with 16 percent for those without any of the conditions.

    In other terms, those with presumptive conditions were more than twice as likely as those without the conditions to be frequent users of primary and specialty care in the VA health care system. They were also more likely to visit emergency rooms than the other group.

    The study shows that Agent Orange legislation has been effective, write the researchers, at lowering “the threshold for accessing [Veterans Benefits Administration] and [Veterans Health Administration] benefits for Vietnam Veterans who may have been exposed to dioxin.” The findings highlight the importance of presumptive service connection in serving Veterans, they conclude. The results may also indicate that Vietnam Veterans with these service-connected conditions are more likely than those without these conditions to choose VA for their care.

    Dr. Dennis Fried, corresponding author on the paper, summed up the importance of the results: “In our era of increased Veteran choice with regard to health care delivery sites and greater integration of VHA and community care, these findings support the importance of VHA provision of services for conditions possibly related to military service.”

    For more information on Agent Orange exposure, visit VA’s Agent Orange website. To learn more about VA research concerning Vietnam Veterans, visit www.research.va.gov/topics/vietnam.cfm.

    Source

    {jcomments on}

     

  • Dave Zielinski

     

    The Vietnam War has claimed another soldier.

    His name was Dave Zielinski — a former Providence cop and lawyer. He was 71 and a direct casualty of his Vietnam service.

    That’s not journalistic sentiment. It’s the official view of the Veterans Administration.

    Zielinski died of leukemia. The government declared it a result of Agent Orange.

    The link is so strong that all soldiers with that form of cancer, and a list of other syndromes, are considered to have service-related disabilities.

    Steve Kelley, a retired Rhode Island National Guard colonel, told me a few days ago that his friend, Dave Zielinski, had lost his battle.

    Kelley knew him well, through Zielinski’s service beyond Vietnam.

    Zielinski grew up in the Hartford Park Housing Project, raised by a single mom and never making it through high school. But with the discipline he’d learned in the war, he moved up the ranks of the Providence police and graduated from law school. And Kelley got him to put on an Army uniform again as a JAG — Judge Advocate General’s Corps — officer with the Guard.

    Kelley feels there’s an image in America of Vietnam Vets left hobbled by war and an unwelcoming homecoming. Both traumas are legitimate. But Zielinski, he says, is a reminder that most overcame it to lead inspiring lives.

    Zielinski told me in January that returning Vets like him were indeed “treated as lepers.” When applying for a job as a cop, he didn’t even mention his service — he thought it might hurt him.

    It didn’t. He became a police major.

    Then he got the law degree and went on to work for Rhode Island’s secretary of state, and then the federal government as watchdog looking for misconduct.

    He later joked: “If anybody knows anything about corruption, it’s someone from Rhode Island.”

    I interviewed him about his cancer battle, reaching him by phone in New Bern, North Carolina, where he and his wife, Jeanne, had retired.

    But their hearts remained in Rhode Island, and he told me he began each day reading The Providence Journal online.

    The chemo was rough, but Zielinski had always been a fighter. He opened up to me about it to raise awareness. He hoped his story would prompt fellow Vietnam Vets to explore the Agent Orange connection if they faced health problems.

    His buddies, he said, kept him alive in Vietnam; maybe he could return the favor today.

    In the end, the wounds left in him by Agent Orange were too much.

    Although the rules don’t allow it, Kelley thinks his friend Dave should join the other 58,000 names now on the Vietnam Memorial wall. It took 50 years, but Kelley feels it’s still a “combat-related” death.

    Kelley wrote me a week ago to say Zielinski had taken a bad turn. A few days ago, he wrote again to say another soldier had paid the ultimate sacrifice.

    Zielinski’s wife, Jeanne, sent a message to let folks know.

    “I held his hand while he passed into the hands of God,” she wrote.

    She thanked everyone for their prayers. She said he’d run a good race in his years, and touched many lives.

    Kelley said Jeanne had returned “Davie” back to Rhode Island; he will be laid to rest as a soldier, with full military honors at Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery.

    Let it be noted here how many other realms Dave Zielinski touched too — the city of Providence as a police officer, the federal government as a servant, and as a life-force among family and friends.

    Kelley is sure his will not be an unvisited grave.

    Source

    {jcomments on}

  • AO Ships Logs

     

    During the Vietnam War, hundreds of U.S. Navy ships crossed into Vietnam’s rivers or sent crew members ashore, possibly exposing their sailors to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange. But more than 40 years after the war’s end, the U.S. government doesn’t have a full accounting of which ships traveled where, adding hurdles and delays for sick Navy Veterans seeking compensation.

    The Navy could find out where each of its ships operated during the war, but it hasn’t. The U.S. Department of Affairs says it won’t either, instead choosing to research ship locations on a case-by-case basis, an extra step that Veterans say can add months — even years — to an already cumbersome claims process. Bills that would have forced the Navy to create a comprehensive list have failed in Congress.

    As a result, many ailing Vets, in a frustrating race against time as they battle cancer or other life-threatening diseases, have taken it upon themselves to prove their ships served in areas where Agent Orange was sprayed. That often means locating and sifting through stacks of deck logs, finding former shipmates who can attest to their movements, or tracking down a ship’s command history from the Navy’s historical archive.

    “It’s hell,” said Ed Marciniak, of Pensacola, Fla., who served aboard the USS Jamestown during the war. “The Navy should be going to the VA and telling them, ‘This is how people got aboard the ship, this is where they got off, this is how they operated.’ Instead, they put that burden on old, sick, dying Veterans, or worse — their widows.”

    Some 2.6 million Vietnam Veterans are thought to have been exposed to — and possibly harmed by — Agent Orange, which the U.S. military used to defoliate dense forests, making it easier to spot enemy troops. But Vets are only eligible for VA compensation if they went on land — earning a status called “boots on the ground” — or if their ships entered Vietnam’s rivers, however briefly.

    The VA says Veterans aren’t required to prove where their ships patrolled: “Veterans simply need to state approximately when and where they were in Vietnam waterways or went ashore, and the name of the vessel they were aboard, and VA will obtain the official Navy records necessary to substantiate the claimed service,” VA spokesman Randal Noller wrote in an email.

    Once the VA has that documentation, the vessel is added to a list of ships eligible for compensation, streamlining future claims from other crewmembers. But proactively searching thousands of naval records to build a comprehensive list of eligible ships — as some Veterans have demanded — “would be an inefficient use of VA’s resources,” Noller said.

    But because the historical records are sometimes missing or incomplete, Veterans groups say the fastest and surest way to obtain benefits is for Vets to gather records themselves and submit them as part of their initial claims.

    More than 700 Navy ships deployed to Vietnam between 1962 and 1975. Veterans have produced records to get about half of them onto the VA’s working list, with new ships being added every year. Still, Veterans advocacy groups estimate about 90,000 Navy Vets are not eligible to receive benefits related to Agent Orange exposure, either because their ships never entered inland waters, or because they have yet to prove they did.

    Joseph Pires, 68, spent 2 1/2 years working to convince the VA that his ship, the aircraft carrier USS Bennington, should be added to the list.

    He reviewed the daily deck logs to find the latitude and longitude recordings and read officers’ descriptions of the ship’s movements. He found a listing for Dec. 26, 1966, when the ship entered Qui Nhon Bay Harbor to pick up comedian Bob Hope and his troupe for an onboard Christmas show.

    “Now I had the proof,” he said.

    He submitted it to the VA, waited a year and received an email on Dec. 31 notifying him the Bennington had been added to the VA’s list. That makes about 2,800 crew members aboard the ship on those two days eligible for benefits if they have illnesses associated with Agent Orange.

    Now Pires is waging the next battle: His personal application for benefits, based on his prostate cancer and ischemic heart disease, has been pending for nine months.

    “They put everything on your shoulders,” said Pires, who serves as the Bennington’s historian.

    Pires, of Calabash, N.C., is among more than 4,000 Vietnam Veterans and family members from across the country who’ve shared Agent Orange-exposure stories with ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot over the past several months.

    The importance of proving to the VA which ships went inland during the war was underscored last month, when the VA rejected a request from Veterans and members of Congress to extend benefits to all Navy Veterans who served within 12 miles of the Vietnamese coast, the so-called Blue Water Veterans. Those Vets believe they were exposed to Agent Orange even if they stayed off the coast, arguing that their ships sucked in water tainted with the herbicide, which contains the dangerous chemical dioxin, and used it for showering, cooking and cleaning.

    When Congress passed the Agent Orange Act in 1991, the VA initially approved benefits for any sailor who had earned the Vietnam Service Medal. But in 2002, it began denying sick Blue Water Navy Vets compensation for Agent Orange exposure, maintaining that the placement of a comma in the original legislation made a distinction between those who served on the ground in Vietnam and those who served elsewhere.

    Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims directed the VA to review its rules for compensating Blue Water Navy Veterans. In February, 10 months later, the VA affirmed its policy of providing benefits only to those who served on land or in inland waters. If anything, the VA tightened its policy by excluding ships that entered certain bays and harbors that had previously been accepted.

    The VA estimates it would cost taxpayers $4.4 billion over the next decade to provide benefits to all Blue Water Veterans, but its policy of excluding them has complicated the task of determining who’s eligible for compensation.

    By 2006, Veterans had begun presenting evidence of those ships’ activities, and the VA began granting Agent Orange benefits to Blue Water Veterans on a case-by-case basis. A couple years later, Veterans advocates succeeded in convincing the VA to use the evidence submitted by individual Veterans to maintain a list of approved ships.

    John Rossie, executive director of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association and a Vietnam Veteran, agreed to help the government collect information from affected Veterans, hoping to speed up the process. He said he put out a message in 2009 telling Navy Vets that if they sent him their ship’s deck logs, he would get them to the VA.

    “A month later, I smacked myself on the forehead, because I started getting buried under boxes full of these deck logs.”

    The first published list came out in January 2010 and had 16 ships on it.

    As Veterans have come forward with records — and as the VA has conducted its own searches — the agency has added a few dozen ships each year. More than 430 ships are listed now. The pace has slowed, but Rossie is confident more need to be added.

    “It’s been a lot of work,” Rossie said. “A lot of individuals have invested a lot of hours in this.”

    To make the process easier, Blue Water Vets pressed for legislation in 2013 that would have required the Navy to pull all of the deck logs and compile an accurate accounting of which ships spent time inside Vietnam’s border. That bill passed the House, 404–1, but didn’t advance in the Senate.

    A year later, in 2014, advocates got the House to insert language into the National Defense Authorization Act that would have required the same thing. John Wells, a Louisiana lawyer who has spent more than a decade advocating for Blue Water Veterans, said the language was stripped from the Senate version after the Navy objected, contending it would cost the service $5 million to conduct a study to locate each ship.

    The Navy did not answer questions for this story.

    Marciniak, the Veteran from Pensacola, says he was fortunate. He’d held onto paperwork proving that he’d spent time in Saigon before flying back to the U.S.

    That yellowing page spelling out his orders was enough to prove to the VA that the 76-year-old Navy Vet was eligible for compensation after he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and heart disease a few years ago. The claim was approved in 2013, a year and a half after he initiated the process.

    Others he served with aboard the Jamestown, a research vessel, off the coast of Vietnam had a harder fight. The ship, along with the USS Oxford, intercepted enemy radio traffic and frequently sent crew members ashore to deliver sensitive information to commanders on the ground. As a result, the ships’ activities were classified, making it more difficult for Veterans to come up with records proving where they served.

    Former Oxford and Jamestown crewmembers were eventually able to get their hands on declassified command reports that included details about the trips ashore. Those records helped get both ships added to the VA’s list in 2011.

    “Even with the ship listed, it took the VA more than 18 months before they approved my claim,” Marciniak said. “I’ve written letters for three widows addressed to the VA explaining how the the Jamestown operated and describing our regular courier runs, because their husbands’ died before they were able to get VA compensation.”

    Another challenge: Veterans who were denied benefits before their ships were added to the list must start the process all over again. “The problem there,” Rossie said, “is these guys are sick and dying. They don’t have a lot of time to jump through hoops.”

    Rory Riley-Topping, a consultant and former staff director for the House VA Subcommittee on disability assistance and memorial affairs, said the VA has many pressing issues to deal with — health care wait times, construction delays, benefits backlogs. “Bureaucracies that are large are not known for their efficiencies, and this is a great example of bureaucracies being shortsighted and not understanding the big picture. A lot of people thought this issue would go away, and obviously it didn’t.”

    For John Kirkwood, the push to get the amphibious command ship USS Mount McKinleyadded began in March 2010 when he went to the VA hospital in San Diego because he wasn’t feeling well. He spent 40 days in the hospital after a heart attack. His wife and stepdaughter initiated a claim for benefits. A little over a year later, it was denied because he couldn’t prove he was in Vietnam or exposed to Agent Orange.

    Kirkwood wasn’t able to get deck logs from the National Archives or the Navy. Both said they didn’t have them and had no idea where they were. “I didn’t know what the hell to think at that point,” said Kirkwood, a 66-year-old retired auto body technician.

    In May 2011, he posted a note on the ship’s website that read, “I was a shipmate of yours on the last cruise of the Mount McKinley in 1969. The purpose of this comment is to see if any of you remember going into Da Nang harbor on that cruise for liberty, parties at China Beach and water skiing in the harbor behind the Captain’s Gig.”

    Emails began streaming in from shipmates he knew and those he didn’t. “I remember going ashore,” one wrote in an email he shared with ProPublica and The Pilot.

    “You are not the first one to ask these questions,” another wrote.

    Kirkwood also found a cruise book in his garage, which is essentially a scrapbook of the tour. “I was able to take photocopies out of there showing that we actually went to Da Nang Harbor,” he said. “I can’t make up a cruise book.”

    A fellow shipmate sent him a calendar he kept, showing the ship was anchored in Da Nang Harbor over 60 days of that cruise. Kirkwood’s own claim for benefits was approved in January 2013. Kirkwood then forwarded his documentation to Rossie, who forwarded it to the VA. The ship was added to the VA’s list in July of that year.

    “Sometimes I felt I was fighting a losing battle, but I’m persistent,” Kirkwood said.

    Others are still fighting. Brad Davidson began researching the process in November after being diagnosed with two conditions associated with Agent Orange.

    Davidson, who declined to disclose his specific health troubles, remembered going ashore for leisure breaks multiple times during his deployment aboard the destroyer USS Brinkley Bass in 1970, but he had no records to prove it. He tracked down the deck logs, which showed the ship spent time anchored in Da Nang Harbor, Cam Ranh Bay and Ganh Rai Bay, but nothing in the handwritten notes mentioned crew members being ferried ashore during those stops.

    “That is a problem, trying to get a clear recollection all these years later,” said Davidson, 69, who lives near Chicago. “And beyond that, getting hard evidence. … They don’t make it easy.”

    Earlier this year he got in touch with his crew’s reunion group, and a few former shipmates responded with photographs of crew members at a beach party at Cam Ranh.

    His memories from that time are a blur, Davidson said, but that afternoon spent drinking beer on a beach 46 years ago could be the difference between receiving thousands of dollars per year in disability benefits and receiving nothing.

    “I think we’ve certainly convinced ourselves,” Davidson said. “But we’re not sure what it’s going to take to get us on the VA’s list. We think it’s enough, but we don’t know for sure what the VA requires.”

    He faces an uphill battle. Generally, the VA hasn’t accepted photographs to prove a Veteran spent time on the ground in Vietnam. Davidson hopes the agency makes an exception in his case.

    “I don’t really have time to wait and find out.”

    ProPublica and the Virginian-Pilot are interested in hearing from Veterans and family members for our ongoing investigation into the effects of Agent Orange on Veterans and their children. Share your story now at propublica.org/agentorange or hamptonroads.com/agentorange.

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  • Blue Water 001

     

    Today, January 29, 2019, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit released a decision which marks a seismic shift in the field of Veteran’s law. A decade ago, the Haas case allowed the Department of Veterans Affairs to exclude Blue Water Veterans from receiving the same benefits as other Veterans who served in the Vietnam theater. Today, in Procopio v. Wilkie, the Federal Circuit undid the damage done by Haas and restored those benefits to the Blue Water Veterans.

    As a little bit of background, Veterans who served “boots on the ground” in the Republic of Vietnam are entitled to a presumption that they were exposed to Agent Orange, a herbicide which is known to cause a host of health concerns such as cancers, diabetes mellitus, and ischemic heart disease. This presumption of exposure was extended to Veterans who served on the rivers or “brown waters” in Vietnam. The VA determined that so-called Blue Water Veterans, those who served aboard ships in the territorial seas of the Republic of Vietnam which did not enter the rivers, were not entitled to that presumption of exposure.

    “Blue Water and Brown Water” Distinctions

    The Haas Court found that the VA was allowed to draw a line determining where brown water becomes blue water, to clarify the intent of Congress, and that the Court had to give deference to that line. The line was supposed to be based on the likelihood of exposure. However, as the Blue Water Veterans are painfully aware, the dividing line was an arbitrary line, excluding Veterans whose ships anchored in harbors into which those rivers flowed and excluding Veterans whose ships came so close to the shore that they described bouncing off of the sand. As Blue Water Veterans are also aware, the drinking water on those “blue water” ships and the very air drifting from the shore was likely contaminated with Agent Orange as well.

    The Blue Water Veterans were exposed to Agent Orange, and they were plagued by the same diseases and disabilities as the Veteran who served on the ground and in the brown water, but they were not allowed the presumption of exposure which would allow them to receive benefits for their disabilities. Today, the Procopio case attempts to right the wrong done to the Blue Water sailors.

    Blue Water Sailors Today

    The Procopio Court looked back to the plain language of the 1991 Agent Orange Act and determined that the legislation which provides a presumption of exposure to Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam unambiguously includes those Veterans who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam. Any ambiguity in that language was inserted by the VA itself. Where the language Congress included in the Agent Orange Act was clear, the Procopio Court held that the VA’s interpretation was not needed and, thus, owed no deference by the Court.

    The Federal Circuit decision speaks directly to the point, “Congress has spoken directly to the question of whether those who served in the 12 nautical mile territorial sea of the ‘Republic of Vietnam” are entitled to [the] presumption . . . . They are. Because ‘the intent of Congress is clear, that is the end of the matter.” The fight for Blue Water Veterans to get their benefits has been long and hard, but they are now finally legally entitled to the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange…as they should have been all along.

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  • VA got it wrong

     

    TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) - A federal court ruled the Department of Veterans Affairs got it wrong when it deprived tens of thousands of Vietnam Veterans the benefits they deserve.

    In an 8-3 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals decided Navy Veterans of the Vietnam War are absolutely entitled to Agent Orange related medical and disability benefits.

    Alfred Procopio, a Veteran who served on the U.S.S. Intrepid off the coast the Vietnam, suffers from diabetes and prostate cancer, two diseases linked to Agent Orange exposure.

    The VA denied his claim, pointing out that Procopio never stepped foot in Vietnam.

    The Court of Appeals pointed out in its decision that Congress was specific when it passed the Agent Orange Act in 1991, to include "active military, naval, or air service... in the Republic of Vietnam."  

    The court decided Procopio served in Vietnam's territorial waters which are part of the "Republic of Vietnam."

    The ruling affects between 50,000 to 90,000 Navy Veterans the VA excluded from benefits.

    For nearly 20 years, the VA presumed that members of the military who served on the ground during the Vietnam War were exposed to the toxic herbicide.

    Agent Orange killed and made ill thousands of service members.

    The VA provided medical care and disability benefits to those who developed diseases linked to the toxic weed killer.

    However, it excluded Navy Veterans like Mike Kvintus of New Port Richey, who served along the coast of Vietnam.

    Kvintus' ship also anchored in Vietnam harbors.

    "We've been fighting them since 2001," Kvintus stated.

    Blue Water Navy Veterans argue Agent Orange ran into rivers and streams, ending up in Vietnam's bays and harbors.

    Their ships pulled in that water, for drinking, bathing and cooking.

    Distilliation systems didn't eliminate Agent Orange, they enhanced it.

    Kvintus has three diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure.

    Former Navy Commander now attorney John Wells, executive director of Military Veterans Advocacy, fought the VA in Congress and the courts.

    "It feels very good. I mean we've been fighting for this for eight years," Wells said.

    Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill restoring the rights to Blue Water Navy Veterans that the VA stripped away.

    Senator Mike Lee (R) Utah effectively torpedoed the bill when he asked for more studies on the matter by the VA.

    The VA can fight the Court of Appeals the ruling by taking it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    If it does, Wells is confident the VA will lose there too.

    Wells points out the fight for Veterans benefits doesn't stop here.

    "We have the Guam bill coming up and we have general toxic exposure," he said.

    "We have millions of Veterans exposed to various forms of toxic exposure. We can't stop with Blue Water Navy, this is just the first step."

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  • Da Nang

     

    The dioxin contamination of soil in Da Nang was worse than expected, experts said at a conference reviewing the cleanup on Tuesday.

    The event, organized by the National Steering Committee for Post-war Clearance of Ordnance and Toxic chemicals and USAID, shared some details on dioxin cleanup at the Da Nang International Airport, a U.S. air base during the Vietnam War.

    Pham Quang Vu, head of the Air Force and Air Defense’s Military Science Division, said earlier calculations had underestimated the actual contamination at the airport.

    He said the actual amount of contaminated soil is 162,500 cubic meters and not 72,900 cubic meters as earlier estimated.

    Anthony Kolb, chief of USAID’s environmental remediation unit, explained that experts only took soil samples from the surface and from that determined the depth to which the dioxin could have penetrated.

    The dioxin had percolated three meters deeper than expected, he said at the conference in Da Nang.

    Vu said the miscalculation could be attributed to the fact this was the first time this particular technology was used to remove dioxin from the soil on such a large scale. It involves heating the contaminated soil while covering it in concrete.

    The finding could help make future dioxin assessments more accurate, especially at another ongoing cleanup project at the Bien Hoa Air Base in the southern province of Dong Nai. Bien Hoa is considered one of the worst dioxin-contaminated spots, with some 850,000 tons of soil feared contaminated.

    "We expect to cleanse 500,000 cubic meters of contaminated soil in Bien Hoa, meaning 50 hectares of land," Chung said.

    Since 2012, when the Da Nang project was initiated, it has cleaned 94,600 cubic meters of soil at the airport, reducing the dioxin level from 1,200 parts per trillion (ppt) to below 150ppt, and has placed 68,000 cubic meters of contaminated soil in the southwestern part of the airport, which contained less than 1,000ppt of dioxin, under long-term management. Dioxin concentration of 100ppt is considered high.

    Kolb of USAID said 32.4 hectares of land has been cleaned.

    "This project is the most ambitious we have ever undertaken."

    Da Nang has been off the official list of dioxin contaminated spots in Vietnam after the cleanup, Vu said.

    The cost of the work is budgeted at around $108.5 million, with $106 million coming from ODA grants.

    Vietnam still has 28 dioxin hotspots, including airports in several cities and provinces which were used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.

    The government hopes to complete the task of decontaminating the country’s soil by 2030.

    Dioxins and dioxin-like compounds were contained in Agent Orange, which was sprayed by the U.S. military from 1961 to 1971 to clear jungle hideouts of Vietnamese soldiers. Some 80 million liters of the deadly defoliant are said to have been sprayed over 78,000 square kilometers (30,000 square miles) of Vietnamese territory.

    The chemical, which stays in the soil and at the bottom of lakes and rivers for generations, was later found to be capable of damaging genes, causing deformities in the offspring of exposed individuals.

    The Vietnam Red Cross estimates 2.1 to 4.8 million Vietnamese were directly exposed to Agent Orange and other chemicals that have been linked to cancers, birth defects and other chronic diseases since the war.

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  • Agent Orange 004

     

    GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A chemical sprayed on troops by the US military during the Vietnam War is continuing to impact the lives of Veterans and their families. One Michigan Vietnam Veteran is teaming up with the group Vietnam Veterans of America to do something about it.

    Philip Smith conducts meetings like this one Saturday in Grand Rapids throughout Michigan to warn Veterans about a silent killer many of them are unaware of Agent Orange.

    Smith serves as the director for Vietnam Veterans of America.

    “When Admiral Zumwalt was alive and he was the Admiral of the Navy.” “’He says don’t spray that stuff ‘well guess what we did and the ultimate factor is the disease that came down with it afterward,” he said.

    It was a herbicide used to eliminate forest cover and crops during the Vietnam War. Agent Orange is a toxic chemical that’s known to be associated with several illnesses and diseases. Many of them are considered deadly.

    “I’ve got a charcoal foot now because of it which went crooked. I had open heart surgery a little less than two years ago because of it,” said Jeron Hendricks, a Vietnam War Veteran.

    Hendricks served in Vietnam and says he now suffers from a number of illnesses impacting his legs and heart, but he was only able to receive compensation from the Veterans Administration four years after being able to prove his conditions were in fact related to the herbicide Agent Orange.

    “If things start happening to you, your family members, or relatives and nobody can figure it out well it’s a good chance if you were in service that this is part of that reason,” Hendricks said.

    And the chemical is just one of the Tactical Use rainbow herbicides impacting America’s Veterans. Information that the Vietnam Veterans of America are sharing by setting up presentations such as this in hopes of getting Veterans the knowledge they need to get the proper care and money that they deserve.

    “A lot of them are coming forward now saying ‘well I got some of these symptoms what do we do,” and that’s where Phil comes in he helps them get a claim into the VA and they get compensated for it and it also puts them on the record that they’re Agent Orange,” said Ken Rogge, the VVA Michigan first vice president.

    Over the last few years, more Veterans have come forward with claims about Agent Orange related illnesses and now signs of its impact are reaching past the Veterans to children, grandchildren and into further generations.

    To learn more about Agent Orange click here.

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  • Agent Orange 003

     

    For decades, the military and the VA have repeatedly turned to one man to guide decisions on whether Agent Orange harmed Vets inVietnam and elsewhere.

    His reliable answer: No.

    A FEW YEARS AGO, retired Maj. Wes Carter was picking his way through a stack of internal Air Force memos, searching for clues that might help explain his recent heart attack and prostate cancer diagnosis. His eyes caught on several recommendations spelled out in all capital letters:

    “NO ADDITIONAL SAMPLING …”

    “DESTROY ALL …”

    “IMMEDIATE DESTRUCTION …”

    A Pentagon consultant was recommending that Air Force officials quickly and discreetly chop up and melt down a fleet of C-123 aircraft that had once sprayed the toxic herbicide Agent Orange across Vietnam. The consultant also suggested how to downplay the risk if journalists started asking questions: “The longer this issue remains unresolved, the greater the likelihood of outside press reporting on yet another ‘Agent Orange Controversy.’”

    The Air Force, Carter saw in the records, had followed those suggestions.

    Carter, now 70, had received the 2009 memos in response to public records requests he filed after recalling the chemical stench in a C-123 he crewed on as an Air Force reservist in the years after the Vietnam War. He’d soon discovered that others he’d served with had gotten sick, too. Now it seemed he’d uncovered a government-sanctioned plan to destroy evidence of any connection between the aircraft, Agent Orange and their illnesses. And the cover-up looked like it had been set in motion by one man: Alvin L. Young.

    Carter had gotten his first glimpse of “Dr. Orange.”

    Young had drawn the nickname decades earlier as an Air Force expert on herbicides used to destroy enemy-shielding jungle in Vietnam. Since then — largely behind the scenes — the scientist, more than anyone else, has guided the stance of the military and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on Agent Orange and whether it has harmed service members.

    Young tested the weed killer for the Air Force during the war, helped develop a plan to destroy it at sea a decade later — a waste of good herbicides, he’d said — then played a leading role in crafting the government’s response to Veterans who believed the chemicals have made them sick. For a while, he even kept a vial of Agent Orange by his desk.

    Throughout, as an officer and later as the government’s go-to consultant, Young’s fervent defense hasn’t wavered: Few Veterans were exposed to Agent Orange, which contained the toxic chemical dioxin. And even if they were, it was in doses too small to harm them. Some Vets, he wrote in a 2011 email, were simply “freeloaders,” making up ailments to “cash in” on the VA’s compensation system.

    Over the years, the VA has repeatedly cited Young’s work to deny disability compensation to Vets, saving the government millions of dollars.

    Along the way, his influence has spawned a chorus of frustrated critics, including Vets, respected scientists and top government officials. They argue that Young’s self-labeled “investigations” are compromised by inaccuracies, inconsistencies or omissions of key facts, and rely heavily on his previous work, some of which was funded by Monsanto Co. and Dow Chemical Co., the makers of Agent Orange. Young also served as an expert for the chemical companies in 2004 when Vietnam Vets sued them.

    “Most of the stuff he talks about is in no way accurate,” said Linda S. Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health, and a prominent expert on dioxin. “He’s been paid a hell of a lot of money by the VA over the years, and I think they don’t want to admit that maybe he [isn’t] the end all and be all.”

    Birnbaum, whose agency studies how environmental factors affect health, questions how Young’s training in herbicide science qualifies him to draw some conclusions. “He is not an expert when it comes to the human health effects,” she said.

    Others complain that Young spent years using his government authority to discount or resist new research, then later pointed to a lack of research to undercut Vets’ health claims.

    “For really almost 40 years, there has been a studious, concerted, planned effort to keep any study from being done and to discredit any study that has been done,” said Jeanne M. Stellman, an emeritus professor at Columbia University. Stellman, a widely published Agent Orange researcher, has repeatedly clashed with Young and the VA.

    There’s a reason. In an era in which the military and the VA are facing a barrage of claims from Vets alleging damaging chemical exposures, from burn pits in Afghanistan to hidden munitions in Iraq, Stellman said Young provides a reliable response when it comes to Agent Orange: No.

    Anyone who set foot in Vietnam during the war is eligible for compensation if they become ill with one of 14 cancers or other ailments linked to Agent Orange. But Vets with an array of other illnesses where the connection is less well established continue to push for benefits. And those Vets who believe they were exposed while serving elsewhere must prove it — often finding themselves stymied.

    It’s not just the Vets. Some of their children now contend their parents’ exposure has led to their own health problems, and they, too, are filing claims.

    In recent years, Young, 74, has been a consultant for the Department of Defense and the VA, as well as an expert witness for the U.S. Department of Justice on matters related to dioxin exposure. By his own estimate, he’s been paid “a few million” dollars over that time.

    “He’s an outstanding scientist,” said Brad Flohr, a VA senior advisor for compensation, defending the agency’s decision to hire Young in spite of the controversy surrounding his work. “He’s done almost everything there is. He’s an excellent researcher into all things, not necessarily just Agent Orange.”

    In an interview and emails, Young defended his role. To date, he said, there’s no conclusive evidence showing Agent Orange directly caused any health problems, only studies showing a statistical association. It’s an important distinction, he says.

    “I’ve been blamed for a lot of things,” Young said. He likened the criticism he faces to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s smearing of “Crooked Hillary” Clinton after 30 years of public service: “They say, ‘Crooked Young.’”

    Young said he believes most sick Vets are simply suffering from the effects of old age, or perhaps war itself, rather than Agent Orange. It’s a point even critics say has some validity as Vets have grown older during the benefits battle. His critics, he said, are as biased against the herbicide as he is accused of being for it. “Who’s an impartial expert? Name one for me, by all means.”

    When Carter came across Young’s name, he knew nothing of the controversy that surrounded him. He also had no need for benefits related to Agent Orange: He was already receiving full disability compensation from the VA for a back injury suffered during the first Gulf War.

    Reading the memos after his 2011 cancer diagnosis, it seemed clear there was a link between Agent Orange and illnesses plaguing those who’d flown aboard C-123s.

    But to get answers — and to help others get benefits — he’d have to take on Dr. Orange.

    IN THE SUMMER OF 1977, a VA claims worker in Chicago took a call from the sobbing wife of a Veteran claiming “chemicals in Vietnam” had caused his cancer. The woman mentioned a mist sprayed from above to kill plants on the ground. The claims specialist, Maude DeVictor, called the Pentagon and was transferred to Capt. Alvin Young, who knew more about the chemicals used in Vietnam than perhaps anyone.

    By then, Young, who’d gained an appreciation for herbicides on his family’s farm, had a doctorate in herbicide physiology and environmental toxicology and had spent nearly a decade studying defoliants for the Air Force. In 1961, the U.S. began spraying millions of gallons of herbicides across Vietnam’s thick jungles. Then, in 1971, it halted the effort after the South Vietnamese media reported a surge in birth defects in areas where the chemicals had been used — a political decision, according to Young, who didn’t believe the claims.

    DeVictor peppered Young with questions on the phone that day. Within weeks, she’d identified more than two dozen other Vets who believed their contact with Agent Orange had made them sick. DeVictor prepared a memo on what she had learned and shared her findings with a reporter, spurring national media attention on Agent Orange for the first time.

    “Dr. Young was very helpful. Without him, I wouldn’t have known anything,” said DeVictor. She was later fired by the VA; she claimed for speaking out about the herbicide.

    Young publicly refuted many of the comments attributed to him — especially those suggesting Agent Orange might have harmed Vets — and criticized media reports that he felt sensationalized the risks. But the episode was a turning point, moving Young from the Air Force’s internal herbicide expert to public defender of Agent Orange.

    Over the next decade, as concern grew about the effects of Agent Orange, Young was repeatedly promoted to positions of increasing influence, despite public clashes with prominent politicians and some federal health experts. In 1980, an exasperated Rep. Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, who later became the Senate’s Majority Leader, challenged Young’s testimony before a House subcommittee by rattling off recent studies and media reports that suggested Vets had suffered because of Agent Orange. “I really find it somewhat interesting,” Daschle said, “that they are all wrong and he is correct.”

    Moments earlier, Young had said he didn’t doubt the competency of other authors, they just couldn’t match his 12 years of analyzing records. “It is a very complex issue,” he said.

    Young’s genial, almost folksy style belied a resolute confidence that while his listeners’ opinions might differ, no one knew Agent Orange as well as he did.

    In a 1981 Air Force research paper titled “Agent Orange at the Crossroads of Science and Social Concern,” Young questioned whether some Vets were using Agent Orange “to seek public recognition for their sacrifices in Vietnam” and “to acquire financial compensation during economically depressed times.” The paper earned him an Outstanding Research Award from the Air Force’s staff college.

    The same year, the Air Force assigned Young to serve as director of the VA’s new Agent Orange Projects Office, in charge of planning and overseeing initial research into emerging health claims. Here, too, he attracted congressional ire. Sen. Alan Cranston, R-California, warned the VA’s chief medical director in 1983 that Young’s dismissive comments about possible health risks might cause the public to doubt the “sincerity of the VA’s effort.”

    Soon after that, the White House tapped Young to serve as a senior policy analyst for its Office of Science and Technology Policy, giving him broad influence over the nation’s policy on dioxin. Over the next several years, the Reagan administration was accused of obstructing, stalling and minimizing research into Agent Orange.

    In 1986, another House committee faulted Young for undermining a planned study of chemical company workers exposed to dioxin. Young maintained that previous studies conducted by Monsanto and Dow of their workers “might have been enough,” the panel’s report said.

    Young recently denied interfering with that research but took credit for helping to shut down a major Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of Vietnam Vets in 1987 that sought definitive evidence of a link between health issues and Agent Orange. Young said data on who had been exposed wasn’t reliable enough, though others argued that military records on spray missions and troop movements would have sufficed.

    In the end, answering the question of who was exposed was taken out of the hands of the scientists. Under pressure from Vets and their families, Congress passed the Agent Orange Act. Signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1991, it presumed that all Vets were exposed if they set foot in Vietnam during the war or traveled in boats on its rivers. And it provided compensation for them if they had certain conditions linked to exposure.

    In Young’s view, the Vets won; the science lost. By his final years at the White House, he was tiring of the battle. Young said emotions had risen so high he began “receiving threats to my family, threats to me.”

    CARTER DIDN’T SERVE IN VIETNAM and thus wasn’t covered by the Agent Orange Act. His connection to the herbicide began in 1974, when for six years he served as a crew member on a C-123 as part of his reserve duty at Westover Air Reserve Base in Massachusetts.

    During the war, C-123s criss-crossed southeast Asia, mostly ferrying troops and supplies. A few dozen were modified for spraying herbicides and insecticide. Back home, most were stripped of the spray gear, cleaned and put into service with the Air Force reserves.

    For Carter, the planes were an exhilarating break from his civilian marketing gig — even though when they flew through rain clouds, water seeped into the cabins and they were always too hot or too cold. He often flew on a C-123 that had been nicknamed “Patches” because it was hit almost 600 times by enemy bullets in Vietnam — then patched up with metal. Over the years, he served as an aeromedical evacuation technician, flight instructor and flight examiner.

    Even then, Patches’ former duties in Vietnam worried Carter and other reservists, who complained about the overpowering odor coming from it. But after an inspection, he said, “the wing commander assured us that the aircraft was as safe as humanly possible.”

    Patches was sent in 1980 to the National Museum of the Air Force near Dayton, Ohio, where it was displayed outside because of its chemical odor. Then, in 1994, during a restoration attempt, Air Force staff toxicologists said samples from the plane showed it was “heavily contaminated” with the dioxin TCDD, an unfortunate byproduct of manufacturing Agent Orange. Later, other planes were also found to be contaminated.

    But no one alerted Carter or any of the 1,500 to 2,100 reservists who’d flown them at least two weekends a month plus two weeks a year, often for years. Instead, most of the contaminated planes were quarantined in Arizona at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, a sprawling airplane graveyard nicknamed “the Boneyard.” In 2010, at Young’s recommendation, they were destroyed.

    One year later, when Carter learned he had prostate cancer, his best friend from the reserves found out he did, too. With a few phone calls, Carter quickly tallied five from his old squadron with prostate cancer. The sixth he called had died. His squadron commanders and others tied to the planes also had Agent Orange-related illnesses.

    “Nearly two months into this project,” Carter wrote on a blog he kept, “it seems I have trouble finding crewmembers who don’t have AO-illnesses!”

    DECADES AFTER the last of the military’s Agent Orange was supposedly incinerated aboard a ship in the Pacific Ocean, Army Vet Steve House went public in 2011 with a surprising claim: He and five others had been ordered in 1978 to dig a large ditch at a U.S. base in South Korea and dump leaky 55-gallon drums, some labeled “Compound Orange,” in it. One broke open, splashing him with its contents. More than three decades later, House was suffering from diabetes and nerve damage in his hands and feet — ailments that researchers have associated with dioxin exposure.

    Around the same time House came forward, other ailing Vets recounted that they, too, had been exposed to Agent Orange on military bases in Okinawa, Japan.

    The Pentagon turned to a familiar ally.

    “I just heard back from Korea and the situation has ‘re-heated’ and they do want to get Dr. Young on contract,” one defense department official wrote to others in June 2011, according to internal correspondence obtained by ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot through the Freedom of Information Act.

    By then, Young had established a second career. From his home in Cheyenne, Wyoming, he and his son ran a sort of Agent Orange crisis management firm. His clients: the federal government and the herbicide’s makers — both worried about a new wave of claims.

    In 2006, under contract for the Defense Department, Young had produced an 81-page historical report listing everywhere Agent Orange had been used and stored outside of Vietnam, and emphasizing that even in those places, “individuals who entered a sprayed area one day after application … received essentially no ‘meaningful exposure.’” Among the scholarly references cited were several of his own papers, including a 2004 journal article he co-authored with funding from Monsanto and Dow. That conflict of interest was not acknowledged in the Defense Department report.

    In an interview, Young said the companies’ financial support essentially paid the cost of publishing, but did not influence his findings. He and his co-authors, he said, “made it very clear” in the journal that Dow and Monsanto had funded the article. “That doesn’t mean that we took the position of the companies.”

    The Pentagon also hired Young to write a book documenting its history with herbicides. Published in 2009, the book made Young Agent Orange’s official biographer.

    In 2011, facing the new claims involving South Korea and Okinawa, the Defense Department asked Young and his son to search historical records and assess the evidence. In both cases, they concluded that whatever the Vets thought they’d seen or handled, it wasn’t Agent Orange. Young’s son did not respond to a request for comment.

    Alvin Young dismissed the claims of House and other Vets from Korea, saying he found no paperwork that showed the herbicide had been moved to their base. “Groundless,” Young told the Korea Times newspaper in 2011.

    In Okinawa, Young was similarly dismissive, even after dozens of barrels, some labelled Dow Chemical Co., were found buried under a soccer field. The barrels were later found to contain high levels of dioxin. But Young told the Stars and Stripes newspaper, they were likely filled with discarded solvents and waste.

    Young never spoke to the Vets in either case.

    “Why would I want to interview the Veterans, I know what they’re going to say,” Young told ProPublica, saying he focused on what the records showed. “They were going to give the allegation. What we had to do is go and find out what really happened.”

    In 2012, Young’s firm was hired again, this time by the VA, in part to assess the claims of other groups who believed they’d been sickened by their exposure to Agent Orange. One was led by Carter, a man whose determination appeared to match Young’s.

    “Mr. Carter,” Young recalled recently, “was a man on a mission.”

    FROM ALMOST THE MOMENT Carter came upon Young’s name in the Air Force documents, he’d been consumed by the scientist’s pivotal role. He began documenting Young’s influence on a blog he’d set up to keep fellow C-123 reservists informed. “Memo after memo from him showed exquisite sensitivity to unnecessary public awareness … what he calls ‘misinformation’ about Agent Orange. Best to keep things mum, from his perspective,” Carter wrote in a July 2011 post.

    An Agent Orange activist who heard about Carter’s efforts sent him an email exchange between Young and a Veteran named Lou Krieger. Krieger had been corresponding with Young about herbicide test sites in the United States and had mentioned that he believed the controversy over the C-123 aircraft represented “another piece of the puzzle.”

    In a flash of anger, Young had written back, “The only reason these men prepared such a story is that they are hoping they can cash in on ‘tax free money’ for health issues that originate from lifestyles and aging. There was no exposure to Agent Orange or the dioxin, but that does not stop them from concocting exposure stories about Agent Orange hoping that some Congressional member will feel sorry for them and encourage [the VA] to pay them off.

    “I can respect the men who flew those aircraft in combat and who made the sacrifices, many losing their lives, and almost all of them receiving Purple Hearts,” Young wrote, “but these men who subsequently flew them as ‘trash haulers,’ I have no respect for such freeloaders. If not freeloading, what is their motive?”

    Young’s response offended Carter. He pressed his Freedom of Information Act campaign with renewed vigor, requesting a slew of new records from the Air Force and the VA. He later filed lawsuits, with the help of pro-bono lawyers, against the agencies for withholding documents. The government eventually gave him the records and paid his lawyers’ fees.

    Carter worked the non-military world as well, soliciting letters from doctors, researchers and government officials who had expertise with toxic chemicals, some of whom had clashed with Young in the past. Several responded with letters supporting his cause, even a few who worked for federal agencies.

    The head of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a part of the CDC, wrote in March 2013 that based on the available information, “aircrew operating in this, and similar, environments were exposed to TCDD [dioxin].”

    And a senior medical officer at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences wrote, “it is my opinion that the scientific evidence is clear” that exposure to dioxin is not only possible through the skin but has been associated with a number of health conditions, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

    Carter also found support in Congress from Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, who began writing the VA regularly to advance Carter’s cause.

    He sent missive after missive filled with his findings and the letters of support he’d received to the prestigious Institute of Medicine, a congressionally chartered research organization hired by the VA to assess the science behind the claims of Carter and other C-123 Vets. If the VA was going to grant them benefits, Carter realized, he had to first convince this group of researchers that he was right.

    “It didn’t take long to realize that the VA had a lot of resources working against us and we found none working for us,” he said.

    One of those resources was Young, whom the agency had given a $600,000 no-bid contract to write research reports on Agent Orange.

    Young had approached the VA in 2012, offering to assess Vets’ claims that they’d been exposed to herbicides outside of Vietnam and weren’t covered by the Agent Orange Act.

    Over the next two years, Young and his son wrote about two-dozen reports examining issues such as whether Vets who served in Thailand, Guam or aboard Navy ships off the coast of Vietnam could have been exposed. In most cases, they concluded exposure was unlikely. The reports buttressed the VA’s rejection of claims by members of those groups, just as Young’s Pentagon reports were cited to deny those of individual Vets.

    In November 2012, Young turned in the first of several reports discounting the claims of Carter and his group. “All the analytical and scientific studies suggested that if they were exposed, that exposure was negligible,” he wrote. Although some samples taken from the C-123s showed minimal traces of dioxin, it was nothing to be concerned about, Young wrote, since dioxin sticks to surfaces and was unlikely to affect anyone who came in contact with the planes.

    Though Young dismissed the Vets’ claims, Carter’s campaign clearly bothered him. In a June 2013 email to a VA staffer, Young criticized the Air Force for releasing all of his correspondence to Carter.

    A couple months later he wrote: “You and I knew that the preparations of these investigative reports were going to show that in most cases the allegations are without any evidence. We can expect much more media interest as more and more Veteran claims are rejected on the basis of the historical records and science.”

    Young’s contract with the VA and emails were later disclosed to Carter as a result of his FOIA requests and a lawsuit against the VA. The emails showed that Young had also discounted the opinions of other experts, including the VA’s own researchers when they linked Agent Orange to prostate cancer.

    “It is clear the VA researchers do not understand what really occurred in Vietnam,” he wrote in May 2013 to several VA leaders, “and that the likelihood of exposure to Agent Orange was essentially negligible.”

    FOR THREE YEARS, Carter and Young had circled each other. Carter in his blog and in at least one intemperate email; Young in dismissive reports and notes to the VA. Finally in June 2014, they were face to face in Washington D.C. where an Institute of Medicine panel would weigh the evidence to determine which man was right.

    They lived just 45 minutes apart — Young in Wyoming and Carter in Colorado — but had never met. Now they sat next to each other to deliver testimony.

    Carter, who was now in a wheelchair, told panel members that their task should be straight-forward: Did the evidence show — more likely than not — that he and his crewmates had been exposed? “I’m probably the only bachelor’s degree person in this room, but I know the airplane,” he said.

    Young, who followed him, gave a rundown on the planes’ uses during the Vietnam War and their return to this country. He then defended the destruction of the planes, leaving out his role as the consultant who told the military to do it.

    “Those aircraft had been out there for almost 25 years. How long do you maintain an aircraft?” he said, adding later, “Those aircraft had a stigma.”

    Young had been at odds with the IOM before. An earlier panel had embraced a method to estimate troop exposure to Agent Orange, angering Young and his allies who didn’t believe it was possible.

    But the hours-long hearing on C-123s, in which an array of experts spoke, ended with no hint of which way the panel was leaning. As the months wore on without a decision, Carter began to wonder if he had wasted the past few years of his life. “I wasn’t a grandpa or a retiree or a hobbyist or a churchman, the things that usually follow in retirement,” he said. “I was ill and I was tired. It’s a lot of money. Every time I went back to Washington, there goes another fifteen hundred bucks.”

    Finally, on a crisp January morning in 2015, the IOM was ready to announce its decision. Carter and his wife Joan had flown in and now they sat holding hands in a conference room. Joining them were VA and Air Force officials, members of the IOM staff and journalists. Four lawyers who had helped him showed up too, as well as supportive congressional aides. Young, the man who’d fueled his quest, wasn’t there.

    At the front of the room, Emory University’s nursing school dean began to deliver the results of the institute’s report. Carter heard the words “could have been exposed,” and knew he’d won. “That was the moment that I really understood.” Carter and his wife squeezed hands, then hugged with happiness and relief when the meeting ended.

    The committee had rejected Young’s position that the dioxin residue found on interior surfaces of the C-123s would only have come off with a chemical wipe, dismissing that claim as “conjecture and not evidence-based.” His argument that dioxin wouldn’t be absorbed through a crew member’s skin was also wrong, the committee determined, and appeared to be based on an irrelevant Dow-funded study of contaminated soil. Further, Young’s overall description of the chemical properties and behavior of TCDD, a dioxin contaminant, were “inaccurate.”

    Joan Carter said it was her husband’s most meaningful mission, “a kind of a legacy of some good work, some definitive good work that he could leave behind.” It allowed him to help “a far greater circle of fellow Veterans, most of whom he never met.”

    Within weeks, Young protested to the IOM that it had “ignored important historical and scientific information … some material was misinterpreted, and there was a failure to focus on the science instead of who or what agency provided the information.”

    The IOM stood by its findings, and several months later, the VA approved disability benefits for the ailing C-123 Veterans. In a statement, VA Secretary Robert McDonald called it “the right thing to do.”

    In an interview, Young said the IOM panelists got it wrong — a retort he’s used for decades whenever his findings have been challenged.

    “Unfortunately,” he said, they “did not have a good handle on the science.”

    THE IOM’S DISMISSAL of Young’s findings has not dampened the military’s reliance on him.

    The Pentagon once again has signed Young on as a consultant, this time to track where herbicides were used at bases in the United States.

    Pentagon officials declined to answer detailed questions about Young’s work, including how much he’s been paid. Spokesman Lt. Col. James B. Brindle would only say that Young is the “most knowledgeable subject matter expert” on Agent Orange and that his personal views “are not relevant to the historical research he was contracted to perform.”

    While the VA didn’t renew Young’s contract when it expired in 2014, a VA official said the department wouldn’t hesitate to hire him again if he was the most qualified person. Flohr, the VA senior advisor, said Young was chosen for his expertise — not his position on the Vets’ exposure. “It was purely scientific, the research he did,” he said, “no bias either way on his part or our part.”

    In a subsequent statement, the VA said it makes decisions on Agent Orange “only after careful and exhaustive reviews of all the medical/scientific evidence. … Our obligation remains to the Veterans we serve.”

    Young’s continued work for the government comes as a surprise to those who squared off against him a generation ago. “As a physician, as a dioxin scientist, as an Agent Orange researcher, as a Vietnam-era Veteran, I’m just appalled by that personally,” said Dr. Arnold Schecter, who has written a major textbook on dioxin and who has feuded with Young.

    Today, despite his loss to Carter, Young is unwavering in his belief that his research is “great.” Among his few regrets: Putting controversial opinions — such as calling C-123 reservists freeloaders — in emails that could be obtained through public records requests.

    Young said he, too, was exposed to Agent Orange while testing the chemicals over the years, and in that way has a deeply personal interest in the research.

    “Give me some credit,” Young said. “Hell, I’ve got 40 years working out there on these issues. I have a great deal of experience. … Am I wrong? I could be wrong. I’ve always said I don’t understand it all.”

    Source

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  • Gillibrand 002

     

    WASHINGTON — The sponsor of legislation that would help certain naval Veterans who served in the Vietnam War obtain compensation for health complications caused by Agent Orange exposure is hopeful the legislation will move forward, despite expressed opposition from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

    Naval Veterans who served on the shore of Vietnam do not get compensation from the Veterans Administration for complications caused by exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange, said U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

    The Agent Orange Act of 1991 only allowed compensation for soldiers who served, boots on the ground, inland or sailors who served on inland water ways, but Veteran organizations are pushing Congress to pass legislation that would add sailors stationed just off-shore during the war, arguing it is possible those sailors could have been exposed.

    “I have known Navy Veterans who have died waiting for this legislation to pass,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Flaherty, director of Columbia County Veterans Services. “There are a lot of unhappy Veterans. There is no question in our minds when those planes flew over spraying Agent Orange it affected the sailors on the deck of ships on the shoreline.”

    In the past, Flaherty said the cancer-causing herbicide could have been carried to ships anchored offshore by wind or into ships’ potable water drawn from the ocean and filtered.

    The House of Representatives passed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act on June 25 with a 382-0 vote.

    The Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs has held the bill since June 28.

    “Senator Gillibrand has had productive conversations with Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., about his concerns and they have discussed ideas for modifications,” according to a statement from Gillibrand’s office. “We are hopeful that Chairman Isakson will produce a bill with small modifications very soon and that the Senate would be able to vote on it without any further delay.”

    The committee held a hearing on the bill Aug. 1 and VA Undersecretary for Benefits Administration Paul Lawrence told members of the committe the department opposes the legislation.

    “We oppose this bill,” Lawrence said. “We know it is incredibly difficult to hear from groups of Veterans who are ailing and ill. There is no conclusive science from the institute of medicine to support claims of exposure.”

    Lawrence arguedthe bill would set a precedent that the department would have to pay Veterans’ claims regardless of the scientific evidence.

    The VA is conducting a health study that compares the health effects on Vietnam Veterans who did not serve inland, including nearly 1,000 Blue Water Navy Veterans, with non-Veteran populations, which will start to be published in 2019, Lawrence said.

    “They have been studying this for 50 years,” Flaherty said. “This is the closest this bill has ever been. It is time to stop stalling, stop studying and give these Veterans what they deserve.”

    Agent Orange exposure can cause many health complications including chronic B-cell leukemias, Hodgkin lymphoma, ischemic heart disease, multiple myeloma, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, peripheral neuropathy, porphyria cutanea tarda — characterized by liver dysfunction — prostate cancer, respiratory cancers and soft tissue sarcomas, which attacks muscle, fat, blood and lymph vessels and connective tissues, and diabetes according to the website for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

    Randy Staats, of Hudson, served as a deckhand on the USS New Jersey from 1967 to 1969 and was anchored off the Vietnam shore during that time at points all along the coast. Staats suffers from diabetes, a condition he has requested compensation for more than 10 times since 1992 and has been denied every time, he said.

    “They just told me I wasn’t going to get it because Blue Water Navy Veterans are not entitled to it,” Staats said. “They are waiting for most of us to die and then they will give it to us. If it was their kids over there, they would have this thing passed already.”

    FUNDING THEBLUE WATER NAVYBILL

    Lawrence also told committee members in August that the VA opposes the way Congress plans to pay for the bill through increasing fees charged as part of the VA Home Loan programs. Veterans with disabilities are exempt from funding fees.

    “The funding plan for [the bill] is unfortunate,” said Greene County Veterans Service Agency Director Michelle Romalin Deyo. “It is disconcerting that the funding for benefits payable to our Blue Water could be at the expense of other Veterans.”

    Under the bill passed by the House rates for Veterans using the loan programs would be as follows:

    • From 2.15 percent to 2.40 percent of the loan amount for loans with no down payment and first-use of the VA guarantee benefit.
    • From 3.3 percent to 3.8 percent of the loan amount for loans with no down payment on subsequent use of the loan benefit.
    • From 1.50 percent to 1.75 percent of the loan amount for loans with a 5 percent down payment.
    • From 1.25 percent to 1.45 percent of the loan amount for loans with a 10 percent down payment.

    “Though the VA Home Loan Guarantee Funding Fee is only collected from Veterans who are not rated by the VA with a service-connected disability with certain exceptions; that doesn’t mean it won’t affect our disabled Veterans,” Deyo said. “Veterans with pending original claims, will generally not be eligible for the funding fee waiver — not until they have a VA Rating Decision of 10 percent service-connected disabled or greater. The funding fee is already a sizable fee.”

    The increases would take effect Jan. 1 next year and return to current levels after Sept. 30, 2026.

    Funding fees haven’t been raised since 2004.

    “In June, the House unanimously approved the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act 382-0 and the Senate should follow suit immediately to get these Veterans the benefits they deserve,” said U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19, who voted for the bill. “After enactment of the Agent Orange Act of 1991, the VA determined that benefits for Veterans made sick by agent orange would only be available to those with “boots on the ground” or served on inland waterways. I believe this determination was wrong.”

    Deyo works with many Blue Water Navy Veterans, and hopes the bill passes soon.

    “We do have a significant population of Blue Water Veterans affected by herbicide exposure-related illnesses considered presumptive for so-called ‘Boots on the Ground’ Veterans,” Deyo said. “So, I am very hopeful that Congress will find another resource, outside of existing VA programs, to make sure our Blue Water Veterans are finally compensated, and all of the corresponding benefits are extended to them and their dependents, without further delay.”

    Source

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  • Glyphosate Monsanto

     

    Lead Trial Counsel Reveals Evidence That Led to Historic Win Against Monsanto

    Last month, a jury ruled in favor of plaintiff Dewayne Johnson1,2,3,4,5 in a truly historic case against Monsanto. Mr. Johnson — the first of over 8,000 cases pending against the infamous chemical company which has since been bought by Bayer AG6,7 — claimed Monsanto’s Roundup caused his Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. According to the landmark ruling, Monsanto “acted with malice or oppression” and was responsible for “negligent failure” by not warning consumers about the carcinogenicity of this pernicious weed killer. Monsanto has been ordered to pay $289 million in damages to Johnson.

    In The Highwire video featured below, medical journalist Del Bigtree takes a deep dive into this groundbreaking win, revealing evidence presented to the jury — email correspondence and corporate documents that created a comprehensive narrative of corporate malfeasance and collusion with U.S. regulatory agencies — ultimately leading the jury to give Johnson a quarter of a billion dollars in damages.

    Summary of Monsanto’s Battle to Squash Evidence of Carcinogenicity

    The beginning of the end for Monsanto really began in 2015, when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the “gold standard” in carcinogenicity research, reclassified glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen.”8,9

    This determination was based on evidence showing the popular weed killer can cause Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and lung cancer in humans, along with “convincing evidence” it can cause cancer in animals. In response, Monsanto launched an all-out attack on IARC and its researchers, and even lobbied to strip IARC of its U.S. funding.

    Then, in January 2017, the American Chemistry Council, of which Monsanto is a member, went on to form a front group called Campaign for Accuracy in Public Health Research,10 the express purpose of which is to discredit the IARC and seek to reform the IARC Monographs Program, which evaluates and determines the carcinogenicity of chemicals.11 As reported by the Union of Concerned Scientists on July 11, 2018:12

    “A rider [was added to] the House version of theHHS [Department of Health and Human Services] appropriations bill that would prevent the National Institutes of Health from lending any financial support toIARC unless it agrees to push for reforms atIARC that have been called for by [industry ally U.S. Rep.] Lamar Smith and the House Science Committee at the bequest of the chemical industry.”

    Monsanto Fought — and Lost — Proposition 65 Cancer Warning Label

    Following the IARC’s determination that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans in 2015, California’s Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) announced it intended to list glyphosate as a chemical known to cause cancer under Proposition 65, which requires consumer products with potential cancer-causing ingredients to bear warning labels.

    Monsanto filed formal comments with OEHHA saying the plan to list glyphosate as a carcinogen should be withdrawn. When OEHHA refused to cave, Monsanto sued OEHHA in January 2016 to stop the glyphosate/cancer classification. OEHHA filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and a Fresno, California, superior court judge ruled on their behalf in February 2017.

    Alas, Monsanto continued filing legal appeals to block the cancer warning from being implemented. In its latest attempt, Monsanto tried to have a provision of the law removed that allows the OEHHA from taking scientific findings from outside experts — such as the IARC — into consideration.

    Mere days after Johnson’s verdict, Monsanto lost against California yet again. As reported by Sustainable Pulse:13

    “This decision leaves in place lower court decisions upholding a provision of the voter-approved initiative that allows outside expert scientific findings to be considered when adding chemicals to the public list of carcinogens … ‘Monsanto doesn’t have the right to decide which scientific experts are permitted to inform the public about cancer-causing chemicals.

     

    By refusing to consider this case, the Supreme Court has allowed Proposition 65 to keep working the way voters intended when the initiative was passed in 1986,’ said Avinash Kar, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.”

    This is another piece of good news, as this means California will be able to require Roundup and other glyphosate-containing products to bear a cancer warning label, and since companies rarely want to go through the extra work of making different product labels for different states, this likely means all Americans will finally be informed of the fact that Roundup is carcinogenic.

    Evidence Shows EPA Colluded With Monsanto to Hide Evidence of Carcinogenicity

    Throughout its legal battles, Monsanto has relied heavily on evidence by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which, despite IARC findings, has continued to maintain that glyphosate is probably not carcinogenic to humans.

    However, internal documents obtained during the discovery process of Johnson’s case revealed the EPA colluded with Monsanto to protect the company’s interests — actually manipulating and preventing key investigations into glyphosate’s cancer-causing potential. You can review key documents from this case on the U.S. Right to Know website.14

    A 2017 Spiegel article15 also delves into some of this damning evidence, which includes correspondence that clearly reveals Monsanto knew Roundup had safety problems, and in more ways than one:

    “The Monsanto researchers also behaved irresponsibly when it comes to the question of Roundup’s absorption into the body,” Spiegel writes. “In their own animal experiments back in 2002, the company’s experts discovered that ‘between 5 and 10 percent’ of the substance penetrated the skin of rats.

     

    The rate was much higher than expected and the result had the potential to ‘blow’ the ‘Roundup risk evaluations,’ reads one email. As a consequence, the author of the email wrote: ‘We decided thus to STOP the study.’ Laboratory animals also absorbed more Roundup ingredients through the digestive tract than had been hoped for.

     

    Above all, the Monsanto papers show that the experts were very aware of a fact that is often lost in the public debate: In addition to glyphosate, herbicides like Roundup contain other dangerous chemicals that are necessary to enable the active ingredient to penetrate hard plant walls, among other things. These ingredients are often more harmful than the active ingredient on its own.”

    Summary of Johnson’s Case

    In the video featured below, Del Bigtree interviews Baum Hedlund attorney Brent Wisner, lead trial counsel for Johnson and thousands of other plaintiffs who believe their Non-Hodgkin lymphoma — a type of cancer that starts in your white blood cells (lymphocytes), which are part of your immune system — was caused by Roundup exposure.

    More than 500 of these cases are currently pending in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.16 While the MDL procedure is similar to a class-action suit in that it consolidates pretrial proceedings, each case will get its own jury trial, and the outcomes will vary depending on the strength of the evidence in any given case.

    Johnson’s lawsuit was filed in state court rather than through an MDL and was granted an expedited trial due to the fact that he’s nearing death.17,18,19 In California, if the plaintiff dies, no punitive damages can be awarded, so Johnson agreed to be the first one to take Monsanto on.

    Johnson, a 46-year-old husband and father of two, sprayed an estimated 150 gallons of Roundup 20 to 40 times per year while working as a groundskeeper for the Benicia school district in California, from 2012 through late 2015.20

    Johnson was diagnosed with a rare and deadly form of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma called mycosis fungoides in August 2014. He told his doctor the rash he’d developed that summer would worsen after exposure to the herbicide. His lawsuit, filed in 2016 after he became too ill to work, accused Monsanto of hiding the health hazards of Roundup.

    His court case, presided by Superior Court Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos, began June 18, 2018, and ended August 10 with a ruling in his favor.21 As mentioned, the jury awarded Johnson $289 million in damages — an amount that effectively wipes out Monsanto’s reserve fund for environmental and litigation liability, which according to Bloomberg22 totaled $277 million as of August 2018.

    Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Monsanto’s Corporate Culture and Toxic Legacy

    Wisner is also joined by co-counsel Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has been an environmental lawyer for 30 years, who commented on Monsanto’s “antidemocratic and antihumanistic” corporate ways, saying:

    “We really were up against an industry that has employed all of the techniques pioneered by the tobacco industry.

     

    Over 60 years, Big Tobacco killed 1 out of every 5 of its customers who used its products as directed, was able to avoid any kind of regulatory interference, because it pioneered these techniques of ghostwriting science, compromising science, corrupting public officials, capturing the agencies that are supposed to protect Americans from pollution, and Monsanto really was part of the group that pioneered those techniques — and also of using ad hominem attacks.

     

    Monsanto is the same company that was making DDT and masterminded and orchestrated the attack on Rachael Carson … [they] tried to personally destroy her, as she died of cancer. On agent orange, it led the fight to deny rights and deny compensation to tens of thousands of American Veterans who had been exposed inVietnam to this terrible chemical.

     

    I’ve been suing one of Monsanto’s chemicals for 35 years, PCBs, which Monsanto is the only producer of. It contaminated theHudson River. In more recent years, I’ve brought a series of lawsuits against Monsanto because of the PCBs put into caulking in American schools. Half the schools built between 1950 and 1977 have calking in their windows filled with PCBs.

     

    Monsanto knew PCB was carcinogenic and an endocrine disruptor and children should never be exposed to it. And it knew PCB was about to be heavily regulated if it got banned. So, it ordered all of its sales forces to … [get rid of it by selling] it for caulking for schools. This is the mentality of a very corrupt corporate culture.”

    Trial Counsels Discuss the Evidence Against Monsanto

    As noted by Kennedy, until now, Monsanto has had a reputation of being untouchable. Wisner finally broke the magic spell with his phenomenal ability to create a comprehensive narrative, showing exactly how Monsanto has been able to get away with murder, and producing the evidence needed to support that narrative.

    As mentioned, Wisner was able to show corporate correspondence and documents that clearly discussed Monsanto’s inability to prove Roundup is noncarcinogenic. In fact, Monsanto toxicologist Donna Farmer, Ph.D., who in 2016 appeared on the TV show “The Doctors” defending the safety of Roundup, years earlier had written an email stating:

    “The terms glyphosate and Roundup cannot be used interchangeably, nor can you use “Roundup” for all glyphosate-based herbicides anymore. For example, you cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen … we have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement.”

    Indeed, as Wisner notes, Roundup is not just glyphosate. It also contains a number of surfactants to solubilize it and other chemicals, and the synergistic action between all of these chemicals has actually been shown to be far more toxic than glyphosate alone.

    This was recently confirmed in tests23 conducted by the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP). According to the NTP’s summary of the results, glyphosate formulations significantly alter the viability of human cells by disrupting the functionality of cell membranes. In layman’s terms, Roundup kills human cells.

    Recent research24,25 by the highly respected Ramazzini Institute in Italy also reveals daily ingestion of glyphosate at the acceptable daily dietary exposure level set by the EPA alters sexual development in rats, produces changes in the intestinal microbiome, and exhibits genotoxic effects.

    Wisner made every effort to get Farmer to testify. Not only did she evade being served, when they were finally able to catch her, Monsanto “fought tooth and nail” to prevent her from taking the stand. They ultimately won, and Wisner was not able to get her to testify. Still, email correspondence to and from Farmer was revealing enough.

    Success Became Monsanto’s Downfall

    According to Kennedy and Wisner, the extreme success of Roundup is ultimately what became its downfall. Roundup is now the most widely used agricultural chemical in the history of the world, and its sheer pervasiveness led to increased scientific investigation. With that increased scrutiny by independent researchers, more and more evidence of harm was published.

    Secondly, in 2005 Monsanto started recommending the off-label use of Roundup as a desiccant on non-GMO grains. Essentially, by spraying Roundup on the grain right before harvest, it dries the grain, making it easier to harvest and allows the farmer greater profits, as they’re penalized when grain contains moisture. The greater the moisture content of the grain at sale, the lower the price they get.

    As a result of this successful campaign, farmers began spraying Roundup directly on food preharvest, whereas previously it was primarily used as weed control. This is why we’re now finding glyphosate in just about everything — it’s been found in every processed food tested, in air samples, rain samples, municipal water supplies, soil samples, breast milk and urine.

    Related reading: Toxic Weed Killer Glyphosate Found in Most Foods Sold in the U.S.

    According to Bigtree, two recent studies even revealed the presence of glyphosate in several vaccines, including the pneumococcal, Tdap, hepatitis B (which is injected on the day of birth), influenza and MMR. The MMR vaccine had the highest amounts at 0.8 parts of glyphosate per billion.

    Ironically, one of Farmer’s talking points during her appearance on “The Doctors” was that IARC was looking at the effects of injected glyphosate, which is not how it’s used. Yet now we’re finding vaccines are contaminated with glyphosate, and is in fact injected directly into the bodies of young children.

    Related reading: Monsanto Strikes Again — Tests Confirm Most Vaccines Contain Glyphosate Herbicide

    Kennedy notes the majority of glyphosate used since its inception has actually been used in the last five years alone. And, as contamination has been detected, concern about its safety has been increasingly strengthened. These factors are ultimately what allowed Wisner to present such a compelling case against Monsanto.

    Public Health Impact of Roundup is Likely to be Enormous

    Keep in mind that Johnson’s case is just the beginning. Every day, the law firm of Baum Hedlund is receiving calls from people asking if their cancer might have been caused by Roundup exposure, Kennedy says. Many are farmers, but many are also avid gardeners and people who have used the chemical extensively around their private property.

    Eventually, he believes other disease categories may be added to the growing mountain of lawsuits against Monsanto. Aside from the over 8,000 cases of plaintiffs with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the evidence also suggests glyphosate and/or Roundup may be linked to liver cancer (which is now occurring in children), brain tumors and health problems associated with endocrine disruption.

    Indeed, aside from its carcinogenic potential, independent research has connected glyphosate-based herbicides with a growing list of disturbing health and environmental effects. For example, glyphosate has been shown to:

    Affect your body’s ability to produce fully functioning proteins

    Inhibit the shikimate pathway (found in gut bacteria)

    Interfere with the function of cytochrome P450 enzymes (required for activation of vitamin D and the creation of nitric oxide and cholesterol sulfate)

    Chelate important minerals

    Disrupt sulfate synthesis and transport

    Interfere with the synthesis of aromatic amino acids and methionine, resulting in folate and neurotransmitter shortages

    Disrupt the human and animal gut microbiome by acting as an antibiotic

    Destroy the gut lining, which can lead to symptoms of gluten intolerance

    Impair methylation pathways

    Inhibit pituitary release of thyroid stimulating hormone, which can lead to hypothyroidism26,27

    Shocking Evidence of Ghostwriting Revealed During Johnson’s Trial

    In their interview, Bigtree and Wisner discuss some of the most revelatory pieces of information brought up during Johnson’s trial. As mentioned earlier, you can review many of these so-called “Monsanto Papers” on the U.S. Right to Know website.28

    You can also read “Spinning Science & Silencing Scientists: A Case Study in How the Chemical Industry Attempts to Influence Science,”29 a minority staff report dated February 2018, prepared for U.S. House members of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

    For example, in a November 1, 2015, email, William Heydens, safety lead for Monsanto, writes to John Acquavella, a former employee: “I thought we discussed previously that it was decided by our management that we would not be able to use you or Larry [Kier] as panelists/authors because of your prior employment at Monsanto …” to which Acquavella responds, “We call that ghostwriting and it is unethical.”

    According to Wisner, after IARC published its findings on glyphosate, Monsanto “orchestrated a public outcry” by convening a “panel of independent experts” who reviewed the data and published an analysis of the evidence. “The problem was, they were written by Monsanto employees and former employees,” Wisner says.

    In the email exchange above, Heydens wanted to remove Acquavella’s name from the report so that people would not know he was part of it, and Acquavella was reminding him that this strategy, which is known as ghostwriting, is unethical, and that they could not do that.

    In the end, the report did list Acquavella as an author, but it specifically states that Monsanto had no influence over the report and did not write any part of it. Yet email correspondence shows Heydens actively writing and editing it. All of this evidence was shown to the jury, and these outright lies are ultimately what prompted them to award punitive damages totaling a quarter of a billion dollars.

    In “The Monsanto Papers: Poisoning the Scientific Well,”30 a paper published in The International Journal of Risk & Safety in Medicine, June 2018, Leemon McHenry writes:

    “The documents reveal Monsanto-sponsored ghostwriting of articles published in toxicology journals and the lay media, interference in the peer review process, behind-the-scenes influence on retraction and the creation of a so-called academic website as a front for the defense of Monsanto products …

     

    The use of third-party academics in the corporate defense of glyphosate reveals that this practice extends beyond the corruption of medicine and persists in spite of efforts to enforce transparency in industry manipulation.”

    The Parry Report

    As mentioned, correspondence by Farmer reveals Monsanto had never actually conducted any carcinogenicity or safety studies on the Roundup formulation. In 1999, Dr. James Parry, a geneticist at Swansea University at the time (he died a year later), was hired by Monsanto to evaluate the genotoxic potential of glyphosate.

    After reviewing the available research, Parry found that “glyphosate is capable of producing genotoxicity both in vivo and in vitro by a mechanism based upon the production of oxidative damage.” In his report, known as The Parry Report, he also noted that: “On the basis of the study of Lioi et al … I conclude that glyphosate is a potential clastogenic,” meaning a mutagenic agent that can break, delete, add or rearrange chromosomes.

    In other words, Monsanto’s own expert was telling them they had a serious problem. Parry noted that the real danger appears to be the synergistic effect between glyphosate and other chemicals in the formula, such as the surfactants, and he told the company they had to study the formulated product as a whole. He also listed specific types of studies he felt needed to be done.

    Internal email correspondence reveals other Monsanto scientists discussed ways in which they might be able to “move Dr. Parry from his position” that glyphosate was toxic. Parry, who had signed a secrecy agreement with the company, never published these findings. What did Monsanto do?

    They avoided the toxicity issues simply by never doing any of the research on the formulation. A September 16, 1999, email from Heydens, himself a Ph.D. toxicologist, reads in part:

    “We want to find/develop someone who is comfortable with the genotox profile of glyphosate/Roundup and who can be influential with regulators and Scientific Outreach operations when genotox issues arise. My read is that Parry is not currently such a person, and it would take quite some time and $$$/studies to get him there. We simply aren’t going to do the studies Parry suggests …”

    The Williams, Kroes and Munro Report

    What’s more, Monsanto buried The Parry Report. Regulators were never informed of its contents. Shortly after The Parry Report was concluded, another report was published, called the Williams, Kroes and Munro Report, which was supposed to be a comprehensive review of the genotoxic profile of glyphosate. It found no problems at all, concluding glyphosate is completely safe.

    Guess which report was sent off to regulators and used by the EPA to support its conclusion that glyphosate is nontoxic? You guessed it: The Williams, Kroes and Munro Report, issued in 2000. During trial, Wisner stressed to the jury that all of this is clear evidence of malice. It proves the company had a conscious disregard for human health.

    The Williams, Kroes and Munro Report also appears to have been of Monsanto’s own making. In an email to Farmer dated February 19, 2015, Heydens writes:

    “A less expensive/more palatable approach might be to involve experts only for the areas of contention, epidemiology and possibly MOA [mode of action] (depending on what comes out of theIARC meeting), and we ghostwrite the exposure tox & genotox sections.

     

    An option would be to add Greim and Kier orKirkland to have their names on the publication, but we would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit and sign their names so to speak. Recall that is how we handled Williams, Kroes & Munro, 2000.”

    As noted by Wisner, not only did Monsanto bury The Parry Report, which revealed they had a serious health problem on their hands, they ghostwrote a report that claimed the complete opposite. That fabricated “evidence” allowed them to sidestep toxicity concerns for the next 15 years.

    “That is fraud … That’s evil,” Wisner says.

    The jury obviously agreed.

    Science Clearly Demonstrates Glyphosate is Carcinogenic

    “I’m 34 years old. I will try these cases until I’m 90 if I have to,” Wisner says. “If I have to put Bayer in bankruptcy, I will. We have the goods here, and it just shows rampant corporate malfeasance.” Monsanto, meanwhile, insists there are 800 studies produced over the last 40 years showing glyphosate and Roundup is safe.

    “It’s garbage,” Wisner says. “The 800 studies they’re talking about are not about whether it causes cancer. They’re looking at stuff that you have to look at — does it cause eye irritation, does it cause your hair to change color, does it cause skin rashes — all these volumes of tests that test all these random things …

     

    But when it comes to cancer, there’s only been about 13 animal studies and about six or seven epidemiology studies. And when you actually look at the data, actually look at the science, and I showed this jury every single one of those studies.

     

    I walked through them one by one … and with the exception of two or three, they are positive … They show clear correlation. They show that glyphosate causes tumors … creates tumors in mice, that it’s causing Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in humans …”

    One particularly powerful study showed that when people are exposed to Roundup via skin contact (the individuals in this study had been doused with Roundup via aerial sprayings), there’s clear evidence of genetic damage. Every single person that had been exposed to the aerial spray showed evidence off this genetic damage.

    Bayer Bought a Nightmare

    Clearly, Bayer has purchased a nightmare, and may be suffering some buyer’s remorse right about now. Indeed, virtually every single person on the planet is now ingesting and being injected or in some way is exposed to Roundup, and the evidence of serious health consequences just keeps growing. The liability is almost beyond comprehension. Time will tell whether Monsanto’s toxic legacy will put Bayer out of business.

    Related reading: Harvest of Greed – The Merger of Bayer and Monsanto

    In the meantime, it’s up to each of us to take whatever precautions we can to avoid exposure. That includes avoiding using Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides at home, convincing local companies to stop using it in public areas and around schools, and by buying organic foods whenever possible and taking steps to detoxify our bodies.

    Wisner brings up more evidence presented in court, and I highly recommend watching the interview in its entirety. Considering the evidence, it’s really no wonder Wisner won this case, and it surely does not bode well for Bayer-Monsanto, seeing how there are many thousands more cases just like it waiting in the wings.

    And, according to Wisner, he has hundreds of documents that are even more damning than those brought to bear during Johnson’s trial, which was rushed to trial. So, he’s confident he will continue to win these cases and, hopefully, change the world for the better.

    Sources and References:

    Source

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  • CBO logo

     

    On May 15, 2018, the Congressional Budget Office transmitted an estimate of the budgetary effects of H.R. 299, a bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to clarify presumptions relating to the exposure of certain Veterans who served in the vicinity of the Republic of Vietnam, and for other purposes, as ordered reported by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on May 8, 2018. Among other things, the act would provide disability compensation to more of the Veterans who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam during the Vietnam War under the assumption that they had been exposed to Agent Orange, a blend of herbicides used by the Department of Defense to remove dense tropical foliage. CBO estimated that those provisions would increase direct spending by about $900 million over the 2019-2028 period.

    The bill that was passed by the House amended the earlier version to expand the nautical area in which Veterans would be presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. That change would increase CBO’s estimate of the costs of the legislation by about $250 million to account for the additional Veterans that would be affected.

    Since the original estimate was prepared in May, CBO has obtained new information that would affect future estimates of similar legislation. In total, we expect that accounting for this new information would increase the estimate of the legislation’s effect on direct spending by at least $1 billion over 10 years.

    First, CBO now expects that more Veterans would be affected by enactment of the bill than previously estimated. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) already presumes that Veterans who served aboard certain U.S. Navy ships on the dates they were near the coast of Vietnam were exposed to Agent Orange. Using information about the crew size of those listed ships, CBO estimated that about two-thirds of Veterans who served in the geographic area covered by the bill would obtain compensation under current law. Thus, in its estimate for H.R. 299, CBO projected that only one-third of Veterans in the covered population would be newly eligible for disability compensation under that bill.

    We have since learned from additional discussions with VA that there is considerably more uncertainty than we originally anticipated about the number of Veterans that, under current law, VA would presume to have been exposed because of service aboard those vessels. Specifically, there is a greater likelihood that less than two-thirds of Veterans who served in the geographic area covered by the bill would obtain compensation under current law.

    To account for that uncertainty CBO would, in future estimates expect that half of affected beneficiaries would obtain benefits under current law, and thus would not be affected by enactment of H.R. 299. That estimate is in the middle of the range of possible outcomes. Using that updated estimate would mean that fewer Veterans would be expected to receive benefits under current law and more would get benefits as a result of H.R. 299. The increase in the number of affected Veterans would result in additional retroactive payments to Veterans whose disability claims previously have been denied by VA and also would increase the number of recurring disability payments.

    In addition, on the basis of new information from VA, CBO also would increase its estimate of the number of surviving spouses of deceased Veterans who would receive compensation because the cause of those Veterans’ deaths would be presumed to have been caused by exposure to Agent Orange.

    Finally, CBO would estimate that spending subject to appropriation would increase for additional personnel to process disability claims. Such spending would allow VA to handle new claims more quickly. Although H.R. 299 would not require VA to hire more personnel to process these additional claims, the department has indicated that it would need to do so in order to avoid a lengthy backlog.

    CBO will incorporate this new information into its future estimates of the budgetary effects of such legislation.

    Source

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  • BWN Benefits 002

     

    WASHINGTON — Just days into the new session of Congress, leaders of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee have reintroduced legislation to give benefits to tens of thousands of “blue water” Vietnam Veterans who saw their lobbying efforts last year fall just short of success.

    Both committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., and ranking member Phil Roe, R-Tenn., are pushing congressional leadership for quick action on bills that would award presumptive benefits to sailors who served in the coastal waters off the shores of Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s.

    “Thousands of Veterans are still waiting for their government to deliver on its promise and grant them the benefits they have earned,” Takano said in a statement. “The fact that politics got in the way of our duty to care for Veterans affected by toxic exposure (last session) … is an insult to all Veterans who served with the expectation that their country would care for them.”

    Many of those blue water Vietnam Veterans today — estimated at around 90,000 individuals — are experiencing rare heart conditions and cancers that have been linked with exposure to cancer-causing chemicals in defoliants like Agent Orange.

    Under Department of Veterans Affairs rules, troops that served on the ground and inland waterways during the Vietnam War are presumed to have been exposed to the dangerous chemicals, and given a quicker path to receiving disability benefits.

    Veterans who served on ships are eligible for VA medical care related to their illnesses but have to prove direct chemical exposure. Advocates have said in most cases, evidence of Agent Orange residue on those ships was not properly collected, making a scientific argument justifying the presumptive status impossible.

    Last session, House members unanimously approved legislation mirroring the new Takano and Roe plans that would mandate VA award benefits to the blue water Veterans, and use a new fee on VA home loans to offset the costs.

    But that plan was blocked by a small group of senators in the waning days of the last session, largely over concerns about the cost.

    The legislation carries a price tag of about $1.1 billion over 10 years, but VA officials have insisted the total is closer to $5.5 billion. The department has opposed extending presumptive status to the group, saying the available science doesn’t back up their claims.

    Advocates have called that response a cold, penny-pinching response to Veterans in need.

    In a press conference late last month, multiple Veterans groups rallied to call for immediate action on the issue, saying any delay would likely mean allowing thousands more Veterans to die without seeing proper compensation.

    “Giving blue water Navy Veterans the benefits they earned is simply a cost of war,” said Matthew Schuman, national legislative director for the American Legion. “These Veterans are dying because of exposure to Agent Orange. Sadly, the fight to ensure they get the benefits they deserve just gets harder.”

    John Wells, executive director of the group Military-Veterans Advocacy, which has been at the forefront of the blue water dispute for years, said he wants quick action on the issue too but warned that lawmakers need to make sure they don’t repeat the same legislative failure as last session.

    He also said that if lawmakers don’t act by this spring, the issue may be moot. He anticipates a decision on a pending court case brought by his group against VA by this spring. A favorable ruling there could force VA to award the benefits, regardless what Congress decides.

    Source

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  • Dave Nichol

     

    Clintonville resident Dave Nichol struggles with the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. He is convinced his condition is the result of exposure to Agent Orange during two tours of duty toVietnam. But like thousands of other Navy Veterans who served on ships offshore, Dave’s claims for disability benefits have been denied.

    But a new federal court appeals court ruling has given Nichol reason to hope.

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Court Circuit has issued a 9-2 decision that says the same disability benefits offered to Veterans who had boots on the ground and who patrolled inland rivers should also be offered to sailors who served on ships offshore.

    Agent Orange, a toxic defoliant, has been linked to numerous health conditions including Parkinson's. But the VA has cited a lack of science to connect the chemical to ships that were two miles or more offshore.

    So-called “Blue Water Navy” Veterans say they pumped water onto their ships that was desalinated and used for drinking, cooking and bathing. That water, they argue, contained runoff from the millions of gallons of Agent Orange sprayed on low-lying swampland.

    Nichol’s wife, Jackie Neumann-Bloom says the ruling is long overdue. “You know a lot of these guys have already died,” Neumann-Bloom said. “You know the old tag line, deny, deny, deny until they die. That’s pretty pathetic.”

    The ruling means that Nichol should be presumed eligible for benefits. He says he’ll believe it when he sees his first check. “The VA seems to be able to do whatever it wants regardless of what the judge says,” Nichol says. “They’ve proven it time and time again.”

    The VA could still appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. A spokeswoman told NBC4 “VA is reviewing this decision and will determine an appropriate response.”

    Source

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  • Dr Loren Erickson

     

    As both a Veteran and the son of a Vietnam Veteran, and as the Director and Chief Consultant for VA’s Post Deployment Health Services (PDHS), I welcome you to the 2018 issue of the Agent Orange Newsletter. This newsletter includes information for Veterans and their families who may be concerned about herbicide exposure. I appreciate the contributions of Veterans, and I hope this issue of the newsletter provides you with helpful information.

    This issue provides information on the conditions that VA presumes are caused by Agent Orange exposure and how to obtain benefits for health conditions. You can also read about the health care and benefits available to those who have lived or worked at Camp Lejeune and about liver fluke infection from eating undercooked or raw fish during military service in Southeast Asia. In addition, this issue profiles Veterans who have served in Vietnam and their reflections on VA services, including the Agent Orange Registry.

    PDHS is a VA-delivered Foundational Service, meaning its work is fundamental to VA’s mission and is rarely found outside of VA. Along with the information provided in this newsletter, you can learn more from PDHS about diseases, benefits, and other resources related to Agent Orange at https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/index.asp and about other military exposures at https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/index.asp.

    In this issue...

    VE-HEROeS study – Data collection complete

    VA researchers finished data collection for the Vietnam Era Health Retrospective Observational Study (VE-HEROeS), a large nationwide study comparing the health and well-being of U.S. Vietnam War Veterans to other U.S. Veterans who served elsewhere during the same time period and to similarly aged members of the U.S. public without military experience.

    Camp Lejeune - Health Care and Benefits

    VA provides health and disability benefits for Veterans, Reservists, National Guard members, and family members who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune, a U.S. Marine Corps Base in North Carolina, between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, for at least 30 days.

    Environmental Health Coordinators - Helping Veterans like You

    Learn about VA's health registries, including the Agent Orange Registry, and the Environmental Health Coordinators across the country who can help you join.

    Disability Compensation for Vietnam Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange

    Read about eligibility criteria for Veterans who served in Vietnam, and important information for filing a claim for benefits.

    Calling All Vietnam Veterans: It's to Your Benefit to Join the Agent Orange Registry

    Vietnam Veteran Bill Outlaw signed up for the Agent Orange Registry. It was easy, free, and he is in the system should he develop one of the presumed medical conditions in the future.

    Bile Duct Cancer and Liver Fluke Infection - What You Need to Know

    Veterans might have been infected with tiny parasitic worms called liver flukes after eating raw or undercooked freshwater fish during their military service. The irritation and scarring caused by liver fluke infection can lead to bile duct cancer, a rare cancer.

    Source

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  • DVA 002

     

    Department of Veterans Affairs officials say they strongly oppose passage of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (HR 299), which would extend Agent Orange disability benefits and health care to between 70,000 and 90,000 Veterans who served aboard ships in territorial waters off Vietnam during the war, and today suffer ailments associated with herbicides sprayed across its jungles for years.

    The Blue Water Navy bill passed the House unanimously in late June and seemed certain to fly through the Senate, given reports of close coordination on the bill between Veterans’ affairs committees, and the House having negotiated a plan to pay for the benefits with major Veteran service organizations.

    On Wednesday, however, with Robert Wilkie installed two days earlier as VA secretary, his undersecretary for benefits, Paul R. Lawrence, delivered a blistering attack on the Blue Water Navy bill, and on a proposal to test providing routine dental care to Veterans, during a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.

    Lawrence testified that there’s still no credible scientific evidence to support extending Agent Orange-related benefits to shipboard personnel who never went ashore in Vietnam or patrolled its rivers. Without such evidence, he said, it would be wrong, and would create a disastrous precedent, to award VA benefits.

    “This committee set the standard to use science to be fair and consistent in cases such as this,” said Lawrence, referring to the Agent Orange Act of 1991. “Once that standard is removed from the equation, it becomes nearly impossible to adjudicate a claim of this type on the merits. The resulting lower threshold sets in motion the prospect of uncontrolled demands for (VA) support.”

    Lawrence, who took charge of Veteran benefit programs in May, warned if HR 299 is enacted, it will “be referenced when other exposure claims are presented to this committee. At that point, Congress will be under greater pressure to accommodate these requests too, regardless of the evidence.”

    It wasn’t immediately clear what damage Lawrence and his top official on post-deployment health issues, Dr. Ralph Erickson, inflicted on the popular Blue Water Navy bill. A majority of senators on the committee still spoke in favor.

    But the Trump administration has reversed signals of support that a beleaguered VA Secretary, David Shulkin, gave Blue Water advocates in March.

    The VA for years had opposed the legislation. The usual hardline softened a year after Shulkin became President Trump’s first VA Secretary when he told Rep. David Valado, R-Ga., lead sponsor of the House bill, “that these Veterans have waited too long and this is a responsibility that this country has.”

    Shulkin noted that the VA lacked scientific evidence that shipboard personnel were exposed to dioxin. But he said his staff was “working hard to look at offsets” — cuts to other parts of the VA budget — to pay for Blue Water Navy benefits.

    “And it is a high priority for us,” he added.

    Two weeks later, Shulkin was fired, deepening a leadership vacuum at VA caused by political chaos at the White House. Trump initially nominated his White House physician, a Navy admiral, to replace Shulkin. The choice soon fell victim to controversy. The House, meanwhile, passed its Blue Water Navy bill after the Veterans affairs committee negotiated with major Veterans organizations a way to pay for it, by raising user fees modestly on VA guaranteed home loans.

    Robert Wilkie became VA Secretary this past Monday. By Wednesday, there was no trace of the accommodating tone on the Blue Water Navy issue that Shulkin had expressed months earlier. Lawrence scorched the bill and its “pay for” plan.

    “VA is opposed to paying for the provisions of this bill by increasing the cost that some Veterans must pay to access their (home loan) benefits. Veterans will either have to finance the VA funding fee with interest, or pay up front with cash. This means fewer Veterans will buy homes or (will) buy homes using non-VA options, potentially opening them to predator lenders,” Lawrence said.

    He further argued that opening Agent Orange benefits to thousands more Veterans would stunt ongoing efforts to reduce the backlog of compensation claims on appeal, adding time and cost to claim processes.

    In written testimony, Lawrence gave fresh estimates on the cost of the Blue Water Navy bill, at total of almost $7 billion over the first 10 years. Some senators pushed back at his attack on the bill, arguing it wouldn’t be needed if VA didn’t set a high bar for these Navy Veterans to gain benefits for conditions on VA’s list of 14 ailments linked to Agent Orange.

    Erickson told senators most of the ailments presumed to be caused by Agent Orange also are tied to aging, therefore VA needs evidence of dioxin exposure for ships at sea. He said a Blue Water Navy review conducted by the Institute of Medicine in 2011 failed to find sufficient evidence of dioxin exposure.

    He and Lawrence dismissed an oft-cited Australian study that was the scientific foundation for that government to award Agent Orange-related benefits to its shipboard Veterans. That study, said Lawrence, was based on an experiment involving distillation of water with presumed levels of dioxin near to shore. It was U.S. Navy policy to take on water for shipboard use more than 12-miles out to sea, to avoid contaminants, Erickson explained.

    Rick Weidman, with Vietnam Veterans of America, made the strongest case in support of Blue Water Veterans. VA officials have misinterpreted the 2011 study, which did find it plausible that shipboard Veterans were exposed to dioxin. Given that Congress already presumes Veterans who served anywhere in Vietnam were exposed, and doesn’t try to calculate level of exposure, that benefit of the doubt should be applied to shipboard personnel too, Weidman said.

    “How much (exposure) makes no difference,” he said. “You don’t know (the) difference for folks who served in the delta versus the central highlands where I served. Who knows? And you can’t put it together 40 years later.”

    VA’s hardline appears to leave Senate Committee Chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in a tough spot. Veteran service organizations and leaders of the House Veterans Affairs Committee thought Isakson was set to endorse the bill and shepherd it swiftly toward enactment.

    At the hearing, however, Isakson said “we have more work to do on these issues.” He promised the committee would work “deliberately” to understand all facets of the Blue Water bill, including whether the House plan to raise VA home loans fees was enough to pay for it. Isakson asked Lawrence whether charging non-disabled Veterans an extra $250 on every $100,000 in loan value would cover the cost of extending Agent Orange benefits to Blue Water Navy Veterans.

    “Not in our opinion, no,” said Lawrence. Isakson nodded agreement.

    “I did real estate sales my entire life,” Isakson said. “A lot of VA loans, FHA loans. You can make those numbers look like a lot of things. That is not a lot of money” if VA home loan fees are raised, as the House voted, from 2.25 percent of loan amounts to 2.4 percent, for Veterans with active duty service. “It’s variable too, and depends on number of loans that actually are closed” in any year, he said.

    It seems the Blue Water Navy bill will be adrift in uncertainty for at least several more months, its future dependent on how Senate leaders react to stiffened resistance from the Trump administration.

    Source

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  • Monsanto Court Ruling

     

    Viet Nam News - HÀ NỘI — Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange have once again had their hopes for justice rekindled. But despite the recent landmark ruling against Monsanto in a San Francisco court, major obstacles remain on the path towards justice.

    On August 11, the US court ruled that the multinational agrochemical corporation was liable for the health issues of a former groundskeeper, Dewayne Johnson, who claims that Monsato’s weed-killer product (Roundup) contains carcinogens that cause his cancers.

    The company was ordered to pay US$289 million as compensation for past and future economic losses and punitive damages to the American citizen, in a closely watched case that bears many similarities to the legal battle waged on behalf of Vietnamese victims.

    The US chemical group Monsanto has long been associated with the Agent Orange devastation in Việt Nam.

    It was one of the main suppliers of more than 80 million litres of herbicides which contain Agent Orange that US troops sprayed over southern Việt Nam in the period from 1961-71, to clear out the dense tracts of tropical jungles that served as the hideouts of the Vietnamese military forces.

    Of the total volume, 44 million litres were Agent Orange, containing nearly 370 kilograms of dioxin. Studies have showed that only 80 grams of dioxin in the water supply system of a city of 8 million could kill off the entire population, still, Monsanto and other chemical groups insist that their products were not harmful to humans’ health.

    The Government of Việt Nam estimates that around 4.8 million Vietnamese were exposed to the toxic substance. Three million people have grappled with debilitating diseases including various types of cancers, neural damage and reproductive failures. Birth deformities and mental impairments continue to haunt even the third and fourth generation of descendants of those originally exposed to dioxin, fourty years after the war ended.

    Legal fight

    Quách Thành Vinh, Chief of Office and Director of Liaison Lawyers Office for the Hà Nội-based Việt Nam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA), said that the court ruling set a fortuitous legal precedent that will help settle similar cases in which victims of chemical toxins seek compensation, including the association’s own case.

    The association filed its first class-action suit in 2004, which pinned the blame on a total of 37 US chemical manufacturers – including Dow Chemical and Monsanto. However, the case was rejected three times by American courts, which claimed that there was no legal basis for the plaintiff’s claims. The courts said that since the chemical companies produced these herbicides on request by the federal Government, they could not be held liable for their effects.

    The court also ruled that at that time, there was little concrete evidence establishing a causal relation between the herbicide Agent Orange and the health issues of the victims.

    Fortunately, recent scientific achievements have made it much easier to identify whether the illnesses were caused by the dioxin.

    In the US, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences has identified 13 diseases related to Agent Orange occurring in American Veterans after their service in Việt Nam. Vietnamese-based researchers established a list of 17 diseases caused by exposure to dioxin, signed by Minister of Health Nguyễn Thị Kim Tiến in 2008.

    In addition, as their immune systems were debilitated by the toxin, the Vietnamese victims also easily fell ill to a siege of other diseases that a healthy person could easily overcome.

    The association is gearing up for the next legal endeavours on behalf of nearly 3 million Vietnamese victims.

    But numerous American lawyers sympathetic to the cause and persistent in their pursuit of justice have urged Vietnamese plaintiffs to wait for a second lawsuit, Vinh from VAVA said.

    The enlisting of American lawyers was critical as the case involves complaints against US-based companies, according to US laws and US judges will be presiding, according to Vinh.

    “Their expertise with the US legal system and their support for us will certainly help tip the scales in our favour.”

    Next steps

    The association, aside from litigation attempts, is still tirelessly working to bring justice to the Vietnamese victims by seeking support from influential politicians, scientists and progressive-minded people across the world, and lobbying sympathetic lawmakers in the US to draft bills asking the US Government to accept responsibility for the devastation in Việt Nam as well as to take part in clean-up efforts and help the victims.

    Merle Ratner, the American co-ordinator of the US-based Việt Nam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign, agreed that the ruling given by the US court holds “historical significance” and important implications.

    Frequently hailed by Vietnamese media as a faithful friend of the Vietnamese people, Ratner has been a constant presence in the years-long legal battles against chemical manufacturers.

    However, the fight against Monsanto still has a long way to go, at least until the final verdict of the appellate court is handed down, as Monsanto has already announced its intention to appeal the decision, she said in an interview.

    In 2009, an international court opened in France to deal with the AO matter and Vietnamese victims. However, both the US Government and sued companies refused to appear.

    On April 18, 2017, the Monsanto Tribunal in The Hague, the Netherlands, after six months of investigation and two days of testimony, decided that Monsanto was guilty of ecocide, causing long-term consequences on the ecosystem of various nations, including Việt Nam.

    But Monsanto rejected the ruling.

    The multinational giant, no stranger to controversy and legal suits, has always denied that it is to blame for the consequences of Agent Orange, saying that the weapon “was only produced for, and used by, the government,” and pointing out that it was just one of nine manufacturers of the same toxin supplied to the army during the period of 1965-69.

    Despite claiming blamelessness, the chemical giant still agreed to settle out of court to compensate American war Veterans who filed a class-action suit against the company with $180 million. Meanwhile, Vietnamese suffering continues to be disregarded.

    The Vietnamese Government each year spends more than VNĐ10 trillion ($431.1 million) to provide monthly allowance and cover health care and physical rehabilitation expenses for victims of Agent Orange.

    Currently, the US has organised several clean-up operations at some of their former military bases such as the Đà Nẵng airport or Biên Hoà airport, provide humanitarian assistance for people with disabilities in Việt Nam, including victims of Agent Orange, but these efforts still can not fully make up for the devastation, pain and loss that Agent Orange causes in Việt Nam.

    The Government of Việt Nam, in an official response last week, said it welcomed the $289 million verdict against Monsanto and asked that Monsanto, along with other suppliers of herbicides for the US Army during the bloody war in Việt Nam, offer proper redress for the Vietnamese victims.

    “No matter how difficult and prolonged this case might be, we won’t ever give up on it, for the sake of the millions of Vietnamese victims,” said Vinh of the Agent Orange Victims’ Association said. — VNS

    Source

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  • Band of Brothers

     

    “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.” — George Washington

    Diabetes, Hodgkin’s disease, chronic B-cell leukemias, ischemic heart disease, chloracne, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, respiratory cancer, and soft-tissue sarcomas are just of few of the health challenges Vietnam Veterans are facing. Each of them has a direct link to exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin.

    Most Vietnam Veterans are in their mid-60’s and older, and there are those among us who have been fighting these diseases for years — sometimes decades. After all these years and study after study and endless hearings, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs refuses to acknowledge the science that shows the route between Agent Orange exposure and these diseases. There has been no legitimate scientific dispute of the connection between exposure to the dioxin in Agent Orange, and a long and ever-expanding list of medical conditions.

    43 Years Later, 20,000 More Deaths

    The Vietnam War has been over for 43 years. Isn’t four decades of research, eye-witness testimony, and an estimated 20,000 deaths of the approximately 90,000 U.S. Navy Vietnam Veterans exposed to Agent Orange enough evidence for the government to own up to its responsibility and take care of these Veterans in their final years?

    What is wrong with these people?

    Just last year former Valley Congressman David Valadao managed to persuade 381 of his fellow House members to unanimously support H.R. 299, the “Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018.” The bill addressed the failure to include the so-called “Blue Water Navy” Veterans in the provisions of the 1991 Agent Orange Act.

    The bill died in the Senate because Mike Enzi (R-MT) and Mike Lee (R-UT) thought the $5 billion it would cost was too much for the budget to bear. Enzi objected, citing cost concerns, and saying that it would cause “budgetary and operational pressures … at the VA.” Ironically this is about the same dollar amount requested by President Trump for his wall.

    Their action has sentenced to death thousands of U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and FMF Marine Vietnam Veterans who served in the waters off Vietnam during the war and were exposed to the toxic residue of chemical warfare, Agent Orange/dioxin. Their only crime was answering the call of duty to their nation, more than can be said for most members of Congress.

    Source

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  • Carrying the legacy

     

    SAN ANTONIO — The screams of the wounded and dying filled the stale room as medical workers rushed to check for pulses, resuscitate the unconscious and stop the bleeding. The darkness was pierced by red and green lights that illuminated pools of blood on the floor. Nervous hands scrambled to find the proper medical equipment amid the chaos of the combat environment that surrounded them, working frantically and disregarding their own safety.

    Fortunately, none of this is real; it's a simulated casualty exercise, part of the training every future Navy hospital corpsman undergoes. The rate is actually the largest and most decorated in the Navy.

    “We walk through the hallways and see the faces of all those who have given up their lives just to be part of that legacy,” said Seaman Patricia-Chase Sewell, corpsman “A” school student. “I can't imagine a greater honor, just the pride of being able to be here – and recognizing that this is something that thousands of people want to do but can't."

    Sewell explained that she left college after two years of studying nursing to be part of something much bigger than a degree. It was more important for her to follow in the footsteps of past corpsmen.

    “I couldn't imagine doing anything other than serving other people and helping other people,” said Sewell. “I can be in the military. I can wear the uniform and do something that I'm proud of and always will be proud of.”

    Navy hospital corpsmen attend 14-week “A” school at the Medical Education and Training Campus in Joint Base San Antonio – Fort Sam Houston, Texas. In the last few years, the curriculum, which is developed by Navy Medicine Education, Training and Logistics Command, has been revamped to more closely align it with the needs of the modern, expeditionary Navy and Marine Corps.

    Navy HM1 Joy Lewis, an “A” school instructor, said the biggest difference in the school has been the renewed sense of ownership by the Navy, Navy medicine and the Hospital Corps. She said the instructors have gotten better at molding the next generation of corpsmen as well.

    “The changes here at hospital corpsman 'A' school have always been for better medicine and to better understand how to treat personnel on a ship or on the ground with forces in the Marine Corps,” agreed Navy HM2 Briana Bartholomew, an instructor. “So we've incorporated a lot of the modern-day medicine and techniques in order for us to have the best medicine.”

    When she went through the school years ago, for example, the curriculum did not allow the students to practice the techniques they learned during lectures. Instead, corpsmen had to get hands-on experience on the job.

    “We went from an environment where it was a lot of sitting down and listening to lectures, and we discussed things that they may do,” said Lewis. “We changed that toward about 60 percent practical, so they're sitting in labs every day. They learn how to use a tourniquet, treat a patient and stop bleeding instead of talking about something that they may do someday.”

    “Now, they understand how a system works through lessons they learn, by lectures on how a medical procedure works, and why they clean or sterilize the way they do,” added Bartholomew. “Then they work on mannequins, practice looking for a pulse and utilize needles.”

    Along with the medical training, Bartholomew tries to instill in her students the values of leadership, motivation and love for the Navy. She wants her students to understand why they do the things they do, and step up when needed.

    “My favorite thing about being an instructor is that I'm entrusted to be a mentor and a role model for the students that are coming into the Navy for the first time,” said Bartholomew. “Being entrusted to be a role model here, I find that a lot of students look up to us a lot. I never got looked up to before, so I feel like their hero. I want to strive to make sure that they understand everything that's here.”

    According to Bartholomew, the most challenging part is motivating Sailors, and teaching them that they will often be the sole providers of medical care for the men and women with whom they are stationed.

    “They're entrusting their lives to us,” said Bartholomew. “They're putting their lives in our hands. And if we have their lives, we need to make sure we're putting in 110 percent in everything.” To reflect that, the school's structure has undergone a revamp as well. Navy HM1 James Gafford, a tactical combat casualty care (TCCC) instructor, previously taught “A” school for two years. He said instruction has evolved from teaching both Navy corpsmen and Air Force medics in a joint environment, to focusing on the needs of the individual services.

    “We moved into blocks, and with those blocks, we were able to really take a look at what the fleet is looking for as far as the performance of the corpsmen we were pushing out to them,” he said. Additionally, the course used to be heavily focused on providing care in medical treatment facilities (MTF). Now, the school has an increased emphasis on field training. Gafford explained that TCCC is a five-day course that trains students to provide medical support during combat. It teaches trauma life support in the field, and covers casualty drags, hemorrhage control, chest needle decompression, CPR, splinting and pressure dressings on medical dummies.

    Because corpsmen don't always have access to all the equipment available in an MTF, students in the course have to rely on the equipment they will be carrying on their backs.

    “Up until right now, they're taught to think in a medical treatment facility type of way,” said Gafford. “Well, here, we have to change their way of thinking just a little bit from combat medicine to ground medicine.”

    Bartholomew added that another improvement to the program is that students are being eased into their roles in the fleet by going to naval hospitals or clinics after graduation. They're able to work with patients under supervision as part of Hospital Corpsman Skills Basic course, a three-month class to ensure corpsmen understand everything.

    “The quality that we actually get, the response that we get from the fleet coming back to us to let us know, 'Hey, they are doing a good job,' has been higher than we've ever seen before,” said Bartholomew. “It's nice to know and rewarding that we're producing a product that we actually want to have out in the fleet to protect, heal or to be a comfort when we need them the most.”

    Source

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  • AO Testing

     

    A second round of Agent Orange soil testing started Wednesday, conducted by the Guam Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. EPA, according to Guam EPA Acting Deputy Administrator Nic Rupley Lee.

    The test looks for the presence of Agent Orange components in the soil, along a fuel pipeline that runs from Apra Harbor up to Andersen Air Force Base. Many Veterans, in sworn affidavits, stated that Agent Orange decades ago was sprayed or present along this pipeline.

    Guam EPA Administrator Walter Leon Guerrero, during an October oversight hearing, said the herbicide, if present, would have degraded over the many years that have passed since the Vietnam War.

    Officials are targeting areas where high concentrations of Agent Orange may have existed. A high concentration may leave testable traces of the herbicide today. Five soil samples from five sites along the pipeline are being tested.

    Greater transparency sought in process

    Despite multiple inquiries by the Pacific Daily News, Guam EPA officials did not disclose the exact sites being tested, the testing process or the name of the US EPA official conducting the testing.

    Acting Speaker Therese Terlaje, during the October oversight, had asked for greater transparency from Guam EPA on the Agent Orange testing process.

    “I think that we should bring the public along with all of the knowledge that you have, all the plans that you have, so that we can all be assured that you have the peoples' of Guam interests in mind,” Terlaje said at the oversight hearing.

    Claims of Agent Orange exposure

    The first Agent Orange soil testing efforts happened at three sites at Andersen Air Force Base in April 2018. Those results were inconclusive, prompting the US EPA to provide Guam EPA with support to conduct sampling for Agent Orange in areas outside of Andersen. The Andersen Air Force Base testing will be re-conducted, at an undecided date.

    The Department of Defense denies Agent Orange was ever used outside of Vietnam and Thailand during the Vietnam War. However, Veterans claim exposure to the toxic herbicide outside of these areas, including on Guam.

    The Veterans, some of whom formed the group called Agent Orange Survivors of Guam, have been seeking medical attention for major health problems they said are linked to their exposure to Agent Orange, including different types of cancer.

    Barry Mead, a Vietnam Veteran and member of Agent Orange Survivors of Guam, stressed the dangers Agent Orange poses to everyone on the island.

    "It's not something that goes away," Mead said at the October oversight hearing. "If you look at the ailments associated with Agent Orange, and you look at the ailments on this island, a lot of them match up. So the question you ask is: why?"

    Source

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  • AO Exposure to Korean DMZ Vets

     

    A legislative oversight hearing on Agent Orange-related concerns is set for Oct. 31, while soil sampling outside of Andersen Air Force Base to detect any traces of the herbicide may begin in November.

    The Department of Defense denies Agent Orange was ever used outside of Vietnam and Thailand during the Vietnam War.

    But several Veterans have come forward with claims of exposure outside of these areas, including on Guam.

    The Veterans, some of whom formed the group called Agent Orange Survivors of Guam, have been seeking medical attention for major health problems they said are linked to their exposure to Agent Orange, including different types of cancer.

    Acting Speaker Therese Terlaje asked the Guam Environmental Protection Agency for details of the latest sampling and testing plan, including the areas to be tested and what the soil will be tested for.

    The senator said Guam EPA had hoped that testing outside of Andersen could begin by Nov. 11.

    Guam EPA, as of 3 p.m. Tuesday, had yet to respond to inquiries about which areas will be tested and when.

    In the meantime, Sen. Tom Ada, chairman of the Committee on Environment, set a 2 p.m. Oct. 31 oversight hearing with GEPA on issues related to Agent Orange, as requested by Terlaje.

    The oversight hearing seeks to get documents or test results in Guam EPA's possession that may indicate the presence of dioxins linked to Agent Orange in water or land on Guam. Officials of Guam EPA will also be asked about quality assurance project plan for testing conducted on Andersen.

    In July, Guam EPA announced that analysis on soil samples collected in April were inconclusive, so they will conduct additional sampling including areas outside of Andersen, which was the only area covered in the initial sampling.

    Brian Moyer, lead organizer for Agent Orange Survivors of Guam, on Tuesday said he's willing to return to Guam and assist agencies that will collect soil samples for testing.

    Moyer said some areas were "ignored" during the April soil sampling. Moyer said he witnessed herbicide spraying taking place along the inner security fence line at Polaris Point in Apra Harbor when he was stationed on Guam in the 1970s, and other Veterans said they sprayed it in other areas.

    The Louisiana-based Military Veterans Advocacy Inc., a Veterans advocacy group that has been working to advance pro-Veteran legislation for those affected by toxic chemical exposure, is paying for Moyer's travel to Guam.

    "The reason I would be returning to Guam actually depends on what the GAO report may or may not say, which will be based on where the soil samples will have been taken from and what the lab results say and if need be to collect our own soil samples for independent testing at a university on the mainland," Moyer said.

    Rusted barrels near San Carlos Falls

    The oversight hearing also calls for updates on Terlaje's request in August for Guam EPA to look into rusted barrels near San Carlos Falls in Nimitz Hill in Piti, including what the barrels may have contained.

    Agent Orange Survivors of Guam also asked Guam EPA whether the barrels may be linked to the use of Agent Orange on Guam. The local agency said it started investigating the site when Terlaje brought the matter to their attention in the summer.

    Source

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  • AO Impact

     

    A new report calls for the Department of Veterans Affairs to look at the generational impact of male Vietnam Veterans' exposure to dioxin -- a component of Agent Orange.

    Decades after the Vietnam War ended, the children of soldiers who served say they continue to struggle grapple with the impact of Agent Orange exposure.

    The new report, released Thursday by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, specifically looked into generational health effects of dioxin after a special request from the VA.

    The group noted "there are relatively few studies on the health effects of paternal chemical exposures on their descendants, and none address Vietnam Veterans specifically."

    The majority of generational studies done by the scientific community regarding Agent Orange has been focused on women and not men. The report is the final study from the Veterans and Agent Orange series, a Congressionally mandated review that was required following the passage of The Agent Orange Act of 1991.

    Agent Orange is a term that is used to describe a series of odorless herbicides that were used by the U.S. military to defoliate hiding places, fields and rice paddies used by the Viet Cong for survival.

    Almost 20 million gallons of Agent Orange was sprayed in Vietnam, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs between 1962 and 1971.

    The Vietnam Veterans of America, last week told ABC News that they will continue to educate and advocate for its members and their descendants regardless of the outcome of the report.

    Source

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  • Secret Warfare

     

    HERBICIDE USE INTHAILAND,LAOS AND CAMBODIA

    For nearly fifty years, thousands of gallons of ink have been used to write billions of words about the exposure of American troops to herbicides in Vietnam. Much also has been written about the subsequent birth defects in the children of those men and women. This article is by one Veteran whose exposure to herbicides has had a severe impact on the health of his three sons.

    Some legislative attempts have resulted in laws requiring the VA to treat, compensate, and otherwise help us—and, in a limited sense, to help children afflicted with one birth defect: spina bifida. And that, only after a nearly six-year effort to address a multitude of herbicide-caused birth defects in our children.

    But virtually nothing has been done to help Veterans exposed to those same herbicides outside of Vietnam, including in the South China Sea where thousands of Navy and Marine Corps personnel served and were exposed—just like those who had boots on the ground in Vietnam.

    Others were affected in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Okinawa, Guam, and a virtually unknown place—Johnston Atoll. This article focuses on Thailand, with special attention to Laos and Cambodia.

    Legislative efforts are underway in the House and the Senate to very belatedly recognize the service of American Veterans and their exposures in Thailand. In the Senate, S.2105 was introduced in November 2017, while H.R.4843 was introduced in the House the following January. Both bills contain identical wording and have been referred to the Veterans’ Affairs Committees in their respective chambers. No hearings or additional actions have been scheduled. As of August 7, S.2105 was co-sponsored by seventeen senators, and H.R.4843 had thirty-five co-sponsors.

    We all know and pretty much understand what herbicides—commonly referred to as Agent Orange—are, and we know about their adverse health impacts on humans. Likewise, many are familiar with the defoliation program known as Operation Ranch Hand. So we’re not going to rehash those topics, but will focus on the refusal of our government to officially recognize and right a long-standing wrong perpetrated against Veterans who served in Thailand supporting the war in Vietnam.

    Vietnam and Thailand were combat zones. Both countries had similar Rules of Engagements. Although most of the Air Force bases in Thailand were staging areas for operations all over Vietnam, American military personnel in Thailand also were subjected to aggressive, repeated attacks from communist sympathizers. In its 1968 Contemporary Historical Examination of Current Operation (CHECO) Project Southeast Asia report, Attack on Udorn, the Air Force noted that Thailand was a “prime target of Communist expansion, and the intensified awareness of the Communists was exacerbated by the Air Force presence.” The Department of Defense had legitimate concerns about the threat to U.S. personnel and equipment in Thailand, which led to the use of herbicides inside base perimeters as a means of preventing enemy incursions. Throughout this article, we will refer to the sixty-odd CHECO reports we’ve discovered.

    The parallels between base defense methods in Vietnam and Thailand were highlighted in the 1969 CHECO Report, 7AF Local Base Defense Operations: July 1965 to December 1968. This report provides an overview of Air Force base operations. It focuses on the heightened risk of attacks against air bases because they presented the enemy with a “concentration of worthwhile targets.” Additionally, the report states: “Thailand is going through the same growing pains experienced in the Republic of Vietnam, but the knowledge and experience gained in the development of air base defense in Vietnam permits a more rapid development in Thailand.” Similar tactics and procedures in base defense were used in both countries because the bases faced the same threats.

    The Rules of Engagement provided permission for—and limits on—the use of herbicides throughout Southeast Asia. A MACV directive in 1966 highlighted the procedure for requesting aerial spray, power spray, and hand spray in Vietnam. That mandate empowered the MACV Commander and the U.S. Ambassador to approve herbicide operations. The decree also delegated authority to approve defoliation requests using hand spray and ground-based power spray. It emphasized U.S. assistance to local governments in requesting, supplying, and executing defoliation operations. Thailand’s close coordination with Operation Ranch Hand meant that its bases also received a steady supply of herbicides.

    Throughout the war in Vietnam, Ranch Hand UC-123K aircraft were dispatched from airbases in Thailand—including Ubon, Udorn, NKP, and Takhli—on many occasions to carry out missions against targets in Vietnam and Laos. During late 1968 and early 1969, Ranch Hand aircraft conducted herbicide missions out of Udorn. In mid-January 1969 seven Ranch Hand aircraft flew to Ubon to conduct an attack against a “special target” in Laos. Again, in early February 1969, Ranch Hand flew Laos missions from Udorn.

    In a one-week period in August 1969, Udorn was the departure point from which Ranch Hand aircraft flew twenty-eight sorties from Thailand to target Laotian crops with Agent Blue using five UC-123Ks. The Ranch Hand History Project notes that an airman who worked on Operation Ranch Hand received a letter of commendation for his actions in Thailand during those missions. National Archives records list herbicide missions that originated in Thailand in 1966, 1967, 1969, and 1970. Even though these missions were classified, they clearly show the coordination between the U.S. military in Thailand and Operation Ranch Hand.

    Air Force documents confirm that herbicide deliveries apart from Ranch Hand were transported to and from Thailand. National Archives records show that herbicides were transported from Vietnam to Takhli in 1973. This reporting correlates with other 1973 Air Force documents showing that civil engineers had developed a standard operating procedure for the use of herbicides on Takhli to prevent mishandling. These records seem to indicate that the movement of herbicides to and from Thailand was not exclusively associated with Ranch Hand missions and that herbicides were routinely applied throughout Thailand.

    Because the spray apparatus on Ranch Hand aircraft and the 55-gallon barrels containing herbicides were known to leak, the risk of exposure on the flight lines and in storage areas on Thai bases was heightened. One airman stationed at Ubon from 1969-72 said that he helped load barrels of Agent Orange onto UC-123Ks during the first part of his tour. He also noted in a sworn statement that the barrels “were leaking all the time,” and the herbicide spilled all over his uniform and hands.

    Another Veteran’s appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals asserted that he was a material handler of Agent Orange during his time at Ubon in 1968-69. He, too, said that the barrels often leaked. Leakage from nearly empty herbicide barrels was constant because it was difficult to drain the last two or three gallons. The color distortion caused by leaking barrels containing herbicides is clearly shown in photographs of herbicides stored on Johnston Atoll. The herbicides stored there, brought in after the war in Vietnam ended in 1975, allegedly were burned at sea around 1977.

    Due to increased, ongoing security concerns, Air Force leadership ordered the use of other herbicides. Several documents demonstrate that Agents Orange and Blue were present in Thailand. Records show that 28,000 gallons of herbicides were flown by two C-130s from Phu Cat Airbase to Udorn prior to Ranch Hand missions launched from Udorn to targets in Laos from February 2-7, 1969.

    As noted in the 1971 CHECO Report, only 7,000 gallons of this herbicide, mostly Agent Orange, were applied in Laos, leaving 21,000 gallons unaccounted for at their last-known location in Thailand. Air Force documents show that defoliation operations around the Udorn perimeter took place around the same time. It stands to reason that this remaining herbicide was used on other bases since 21,000 gallons was far more than necessary for a single base. Hence, herbicides, including Agent Orange, were used extensively in Thailand despite a decades-long VA denial of claims of service-connected exposure by Veterans with service in Thailand.

    The prevalent use of herbicides in Thailand is further documented by the U.S. Embassy’s approval of their use on several occasions. In 1972 vegetation control at Korat was a serious concern: Dense growth could provide the enemy access to the KC-135 storage area. So the embassy approved the use of herbicides. Additionally, the 1973 CHECO Report states that soil sterilization and herbicide use were approved by the embassy in 1969.

    These admissions correlate with sworn affidavits from several airmen. Historical reports establish that a squadron in 1971 “began spraying chemical herbicides on the unmanageable plant life.” In 1972 the leadership at U-Tapao sought to “expand herbicide use” in clearing one hundred feet from the perimeter fence and embarking on a “forceful series of vegetation control.” Several dozen airmen’s sworn statements, as well as Air Force and other governmental agency reports, demonstrate consistent use of herbicides in which the Air Force used local apparatus to defoliate.

    The use of herbicides on Nakhom Phanom (NKP) was noted in the 1973 CHECO report and in an airman’s sworn statement. Many other documents demonstrate that herbicides were widely used throughout Southeast Asia. The article “Viet Cong—Right or Wrong,” published in the National Guardsman in 1966, notes that the Defense Department’s Advance Research Project Agency was moving forward with defoliant improvement projects in Thailand. This implies that defoliant enhancement projects occurred after the initial herbicide testing in 1964-65. Again, this supports Veterans’ statements regarding the use of herbicides to clear bases in Thailand during this period.

    The author of a 1982 article published in the Journal of Legal Medicine, titled “Agent Orange: Government Responsibility for Military Use of Phenoxy Herbicides,” asserted that “every American who served in Southeast Asia was potentially exposed to Agent Orange, as the herbicide was used to clear areas before construction and to defoliate compounds, LZs, and FSBs.”

    For confirmation, the author cites an annotation to the 1979 committee hearings on Senate Bills 741 and 196. During those hearings, Congress considered perimeter spraying. As was the case with the Air Force unit histories in Thailand, the 1979 hearing noted that herbicides were widely applied on bases to maintain security.

    Ranch Hand herbicide spray missions were not prohibited in Thailand. In November 1969 the NKP Commander requested Ranch Hand help to defoliate the ordnance impact area. In his request, the Commander wrote: “Application must be by air because area is overgrown, and ground spraying would be extremely dangerous because of live munitions in the area.”

    To create a standard requirement for the use of herbicides, the USAF established annual training and standard operating procedures. The training took place on Takhli in March 1969 and July 1970, with enlisted personnel from all Thailand bases. The 355th Civil Engineer Squadron and the Pacific Air Force (PACAF) Command Agronomist supported the training. This training indicates that the Air Force leadership took a consistent approach regarding the application of herbicides on Thailand bases.

    The purpose of the training was to “train and certify Thailand-based personnel who will be supervising herbicides for vegetation control” and “train other personnel on the use, application, dangers, and cautious handling of herbicides.” Each class consisted of twelve NCOs. The program sponsors said that some personnel would receive “their own copy of the herbicide manual.” Although the whereabouts of the manuals is unknown, its publication clearly shows that there was repeated use of herbicides throughout Thailand. Since Raymond Gross, a PACAF agronomist, conducted the training, the herbicide manual probably also was used elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

    This view is reinforced by the fact that civil engineers developed a standard operating procedure for the disposal of herbicides due to concerns that haphazard handling could be a source of pollution. Although the SOP is not available or remains classified, its development and enforcement highlights the prevalence of herbicide use and the concerns about misuse on bases throughout Thailand.

    ARBITRARY & UNWARRANTED

    Current VA policy establishes that “special consideration of herbicide exposure on a factual basis should extend to Veterans whose duties placed them on or near the perimeters of Thailand military bases.” So, without evidence of direct exposure to herbicides, Thailand Veterans must demonstrate that their duties placed them near the perimeter of bases where herbicides were used.

    This requirement is arbitrary and unwarranted considering the widespread use of herbicides in Thailand. Veterans who served in Thailand were exposed to the same herbicides as were Veterans who served in Vietnam, and in much the same way. VA should establish the same presumption of exposure for Thailand Veterans that in-country Vietnam Veterans were afforded under Public Law 102-4.

    An especially interesting book documenting the Air Force’s involvement in the war in Southeast Asia was written by Maj. William A. Buckingham, Jr., of the Office of Air Force History. He accurately emphasizes that the Air Force served as a mechanism of national policy in conducting herbicide spraying. The book is a classic review of the way in which military policy—including the widespread, indiscriminate use of herbicides—was made in the Vietnam and Thailand. Once again, attention is drawn to Southeast Asia, as opposed to just Vietnam. In August of 1962, the report said, the Defense Department considered herbicide spraying for crops in Phu Yen Province to deny the enemy food sources.

    EARLY EXPERIMENTATION

    The first uses of defoliants in Thailand did not begin with Ranch Hand operations. According to the first of ten reports prepared for the National Academy of Sciences by the Institute of Medicine in 1994 titled “Veterans and Agent Orange: Health Effects of Herbicides Used in Vietnam,” the earliest recorded use of defoliants involving the U.S. was the testing of Agent Pink in a 1953-65 limited spraying itinerary in Thailand.

    The report discusses additional testing conducted in Thailand in 1964-65 to evaluate the effectiveness of aerial applications of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T (the combined herbicides that constitute Agent Orange, which—as a byproduct—generates TCDD dioxin, the most lethal of all dioxins) and other herbicides in the defoliation of the jungle vegetation found throughout Southeast Asia. That first 1994 IOM report extensively referenced Maj. Buckingham’s book.

    The National Academy of Sciences and the Office of Air Force History, in two unrelated historical studies, established that testing of defoliants in Thailand was conducted from 1953-65. There can be no doubt that defoliants used in Vietnam also were used in Thailand. While neither report reveals specific testing locations, we know that if the U.S. military is going to test in a foreign country materials that it intends to use on the enemy, the testing is going to be done in areas controlled exclusively by military personnel.

    With the build-up of U.S. operations on Thailand’s military installations in 1961, it stands to reason that the testing of herbicides was conducted on and around those military areas. The herbicide’s value could be determined in similar surroundings and under American control. Also, the perimeters of sensitive military bases used by the U.S. for tactical operations could be brought up to American security standards by removing tropical growth, thereby easily allowing security forces to see the enemy.

    The Pentagon has for the last forty-five years denied that Agent Orange was used in Thailand. But it also denied its use in Korea until it had to admit in November 2004 that it had been used there—after the story went public. Only then did the Pentagon admit that American troops in Korea were exposed to Agent Orange.

    Consequently, the VA now recognizes certain units stationed in specific areas in the Republic of South Korea during a very limited span of time. In this light, the credibility of the Department of Defense’s repeated denials must be thoroughly questioned, particularly considering the evidence and large number of Veterans who remember their bases being defoliated and who have provided sworn statements to that effect.

    The documentation and testimonies—along with the willingness of Veterans to testify to what they saw—and the records available in the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, should provide more than enough evidence about what Americans and our allies were exposed to in Thailand.  

    Those who served in Thailand were subjected to repeated sapper attacks, sniper fire, and perimeter penetrations. And they were repeatedly exposed to defoliants. American casualties, including loss of life, occurred through the entire duration of the U.S. presence in Thailand and Vietnam. Those who served in Thailand earned both the Vietnam Service Medal and the Vietnam Campaign Medal. Yet the families of those who lost their lives while serving in Thailand have never seen recognition by this nation for the sacrifices of their loved ones. Their names are not included on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

    Executive Order No. 11216, signed by President Johnson on April 24, 1965, designated Vietnam and its adjacent coastal waters in or over which U.S. forces operated as a combat zone. As the war intensified, the combat zone expanded to include Laos and Cambodia. But Thailand was never included, even though hostilities spilled across its borders as the enemy attacked U.S. bases, personnel, and property. The Executive Order established an unfortunate situation in which those who served in Thailand were not officially part of the war, and this attitude has followed those Veterans to this day.

    Veterans who served in Thailand and have the same medical complications from chemical exposure as their brother-Veterans who were in Vietnam have been denied compensation. The VA response to their claims has consistently been: “You did not serve in Vietnam; therefore, you were not exposed and are not eligible.”

    For many Thailand Veterans, proving presumption means having to prove boots on the ground in Vietnam, no matter how briefly. Because of record retention dates, copies of orders, travel vouchers, and pay records were purged long ago. It appears that the Pentagon and the VA waited until most records had been destroyed (or remain classified) to prevent service-connected awards and provide reasons for the denial of claims by Veterans.

    Despite a huge body of documentary evidence, DoD and VA maintain that Ranch Hand aircraft and herbicides were either only temporarily staged—or never staged—on Thai bases. Despite the monumental evidence presented by Veteran activists, Congress has only recently moved to recognize the presumptive exposure of those who served in Thailand.

    While the VA has been a favorite whipping boy of this writer for more than forty-five years, it has become obvious that VA policies are built around what little the Pentagon and other government bodies have shared. The VA has been further hamstrung by what Congress has allowed it to do or constrained it from implementing. The February 1991 Agent Orange Act (P.L.102-4) limited presumptive exposures to in-country Vietnam Veterans. Neither the Department of Defense nor a multitude of government agencies has been forthright with Congress or with Veterans about this decades-long inaction and entrenched secrecy.

    I would be remiss if I did not recognize and thank several fellow Veterans for their assistance during the research on and the preparation of the Thailand portion this article. A good deal of what is presented here is due to the unstinting sharing of their own research by brother-Veterans Kurt Priessman in Texas, Charles Kelley in Georgia, Dennis Peterson in California, Dave McTavish in Pennsylvania, Dennis Zenz in North Carolina, along with Dr. Wayne Dwernychuk, formerly of Hatfield Associates, and several dozen other Veterans who provided statements about their exposures in Thailand.

    SPRAYING INLAOS

    Unfortunately, little is known about exposures in Laos and Cambodia, and virtually no scientific data exist. In 1999 the U.S. government began to release previously undisclosed herbicide spraying records to the government of the Laos People’s Democratic Republic. According to these DoD records, untold millions of gallons of Agent Orange and other dioxin-contaminated herbicides were sprayed on Laos between 1964-73. That disclosure represents the only official and public account of secret herbicide spraying activities in Laos.

    The CIA and covert military units conducted an air war in Laos beyond the scope of the world’s media. That war was never fully sanctioned or approved by Congress. To this day, a concise understanding of this secret warfare has not been presented to a broad international public. Because of the lack of records and academic and scientific research, postwar actions regarding the use of Agent Orange in Laos and in Vietnam differ significantly.

    Herbicide spraying records are incomplete and have been only partially disclosed. Public health and environmental surveys on dioxin levels in soil, milk, blood, and fat tissues are nonexistent, except for a small private sampling in Sepone in 2001 performed by Dr. Arnold Schecter of the University of Texas, Dallas. Congressional funding and U.S. military assistance for other postwar problems are inextricably linked to the POW/MIA question.

    The tragedy does not end there. Along the southern spine of Laotian mountains ran the Ho Chi Minh Trail. As in Vietnam, the area was extensively and regularly sprayed with herbicides over several years, but few outsiders know about it. The consequences of the herbicide spraying there remain uninvestigated and unaddressed to this day.

    Since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, there has been no comprehensive accounting, mapping, or analysis of the herbicide spraying in Laos. Neither has there been any organized or repetitive monitoring of the sprayed zones for dioxin-related public health and ecosystem problems.

    In June 2001 the Lao Ministry of Health collaborated with a team of private Americans on the first dioxin survey in the country. The Laotian Vice-Minister of Health approved a brief exploratory mission to Sepone in Savannakhet Province for Dr. Schecter, a leading dioxin specialist, along with Roger Rumpf and Dr. Hansila Praphouseuth of the Ministry of Health. They collected samples of blood, mothers’ milk, soil, and fatty tissues of animals, which Dr. Schecter had analyzed.

    A Laos Agent Orange Survey was conceived and proposed by a group of Americans and Lao officials in the spring of 2002 during the Joint Viet-Nam-U.S. Scientific Conference on Human Health and Environmental Effects of Agent Orange/Dioxin. Congress had, earlier that year, included Laos in its authorization for continuation of Agent Orange/dioxin research and assistance. The National Institute for Environmental Health Studies of the National Institutes of Health administers the funds.

    LAOS AND CAMBODIA: DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE

    The Fund for Reconciliation and Development (FRD) working in these two nations published a summary on the use of Agent Orange and other herbicides in Laos and Cambodia during the Indochina War. As most of the records of herbicide spraying remain classified and inaccessible, FRD has attempted to collect what is known and to identify gaps for future research. The following are preliminary findings from declassified U.S. military and State Department documents held at the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland, as well as from some secondary sources.

    The 1962 Geneva Accords proclaimed Laos a neutral country and forbade outside military involvement there. As the war in Vietnam escalated, however, neither the U.S. nor North Vietnam was able to resist intervening. As local Lao revolutionaries and their North Vietnamese allies built a network of paths along the border—the Ho Chi Minh Trail—covert U.S. operations tried to stop them. Among the methods was defoliation by herbicides, primarily Agent Orange. Already being sprayed in South Vietnam, herbicides had a military purpose of clearing land around roads and trails so that enemy movements could be detected. The environmental and human consequences never entered the calculation; nor, with few exceptions, did the international legality of spraying seem to trouble American leaders.

    By far the greater concern was preservation of secrecy, in case evidence of chemical use might be turned into communist propaganda. The primary tactic in the “secret war,” however, was bombing, which caused immense damage in almost every province of Laos. The use of herbicides, a sideshow to a sideshow, was reported during the conflict but officially denied until 1982, when Air Force historian Maj. William Buckingham’s draft of the Operation Ranch Hand study was made public under a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Veterans Task Force on Agent Orange. In a subsequent New York Times interview, former U.S. Ambassador William Sullivan said that “secret” was not the right word to describe the herbicide program: “Rather, it was not admitted or confirmed.”

    According to Buckingham, the Air Force conducted herbicide operations in Laos from December 1965 to September 1969. Former Chief Air Force Historian Richard Kohn claims that this spraying took place “with the permission of the Laotian government” headed by President Souvanna Phouma. But archival documents make it clear that Amb. Sullivan and other officials provided very little information to the Lao, who may have preferred to remain uninformed about the details of covert U.S. operations in their country.

    The “experimental” use of herbicides outside of South Vietnam was first considered by the Department of Defense as early as October 1962 to “clear off jungle access routes” in a broad, undefined area around “the Cambodian-Laotian-North Vietnam border”—a difficult task given that Cambodia and North Vietnam have no common border, with several southern Laotian provinces in between. This plan was never implemented in full, but it gives a sense of what was to follow. Sullivan expressed nervous opposition at first, citing “allegations concerning earlier [U.S.] uses of chemical weapons in Laos.”

    Exactly what those allegations were is unclear, but they may refer to chemicals other than herbicides. The increasing sense of alarm over the movements of personnel and materials along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, however, soon eliminated Sullivan’s concerns about the program. He recognized that interdiction would require “massive amounts of defoliants,” along with “Washington discussion at high levels,” since herbicide use “would involve the overt violation of the 1962 agreements on Laos.”

    In November 1965, just before the Air Force spraying program was to begin, Sullivan wrote a memo to Washington. “I am convinced that our efforts in Laos, particularly along infiltration routes, are critical to U.S. forces engaged in South Vietnam,” he said. “We can carry on these efforts only if we do not—repeat, do not—talk about them, and when necessary, if we deny that they are taking place.”

    Not everyone followed the ambassador’s suggestions. The first articles in American news media broke in December 1965. In February 1966 the Washington Post and New York Times ran front-page articles on defoliation operations in Laos. To the State Department’s consternation, the Times quoted one American official in Saigon saying, “We’re going to turn the Ho Chi Minh Trail brown. We’re mounting a maximum effort over there every day.”

    A telegram from Gen. William Westmoreland later that year put the same message in more formal language: “During all phases, there will be an intensification of psychological warfare and herbicide operations through the Laotian Panhandle. We must use all assets at our disposal to block, deny, spoil, and disrupt this infiltration.” In response to a November 1969 congressional query, MACV reported 434 sorties in Laos beginning in December 1965 and ending in September 1969.

    Air Force spraying was heaviest during the first half of 1966, with more than two hundred sorties spraying approximately 200,000 gallons of Agent Orange. Spraying continued at a relatively rapid rate until February 1967, when apart from one mission listed in May 1967, it ceased until November 1968. Buckingham’s Ranch Hand study lists a condensed version of spraying over the same period, totaling 419,850 gallons over 163,066 acres. These totals, from a classified Air Force study, are around 20 percent higher than what MACV reported to Congress.

    Agent Orange was the primary herbicide used (about 75 percent), followed by Agents Blue (15 percent) and White (10 percent). No complete list of targets and locations has been found. Detailed records from some periods have been handed over to the demining agency, UXO Lao, while others likely are scattered in military archives.

    The limited number of maps and coordinates found at the National Archives suggests that the greatest concentration of spraying occurred both north and south of the Demilitarized Zone near the Vietnamese border in Savannakhet and Attapeu provinces. Declassified documents record the aircraft used for Air Force operations: mostly UC-123Ks from the Ranch Hand operations in South Vietnam, as well as a limited number of F-4s. Both types were flown from Bien Hoa Air Base and from ships in the South China Sea.

    A January 1969 memo from the Chemical Operations Division at MACV headquarters in Saigon noted that “the legality of these out-of-country operations is uncertain,” and cited increasing risks from ground fire near the DMZ. As the bombing of Laos increased dramatically after the “bombing pause” on North Vietnam starting in late 1968, the role of herbicides in Laos declined.

    Herbicides also were used in Laos to destroy enemy crops. Citing effective use in South Vietnam, Gen. Westmoreland first proposed crop destruction in Laos in May 1966. Records from the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane list sixty-four crop destruction missions from September 1966 to September 1969 targeting 20,485 acres. Agent Blue was the most frequently used chemical. After the Lao government banned opium cultivation in 1971, herbicides were used to destroy hill tribe poppy crops as late as 1974.

    All this data refers only to spraying carried out by the U.S. Air Force using fixed-wing aircraft. It may not be a complete record even of these operations, although the start and end dates can be confirmed by multiple sources in declassified records. What is not included is spraying conducted by helicopter and directly on the ground. The Air Force and other units had this capability. Also unconfirmed is herbicide use by Air America or the CIA, whose records are still classified. The 1971-73 opium destruction missions were probably carried out on this basis, and secondary sources report that the CIA also had spray capability, possibly operating out of Thailand.

    In contrast to the covert spraying in Laos over a long period, one incident of herbicide use in Cambodia resulted in a major international incident. This attack took place on French and Cambodian-owned rubber plantations in Kompong Cham province in April and May 1969, at a time when the U.S. had no diplomatic relations with the government of Prince Norodom Sihanouk. Following official complaints from the Cambodians to the U.S. through Australian intermediaries, the State Department agreed to send a team of experts to investigate the damage, hoping that the story would go away.

    Memos and telegrams from the period appear confused about who did the spraying and what if any responsibility the U.S. should take for the incident. Initial theories ranged from drift from spraying in neighboring Tay Ninh province in Vietnam, to an elaborate Viet Cong provocation. No one outside of the embassies appeared to believe these ideas. The State Department inspection team, comprised of Drs. C.E. Minarik, Fred Tschirley, and two others, confirmed the extent of the damage to 173,000 acres (7 percent of Kompong Cham province), 24,700 of them seriously affected. The rubber plantations added up to about a third of Cambodia’s cultivated acreage and represented a loss of 12 percent of the country’s export earnings. Defoliation probably took place at a higher than normal altitude and occurred at night, which made spraying less accurate and prevented crews from monitoring their spray racks.

    Minarik and Tschirley were under strict orders not to divulge their findings, however. They also were warned not to look at evidence of “alleged U.S.-caused damage outside these terms of reference.” They cited evidence of CIA-sponsored spray capability and suggested that helicopters may have been used. Available documentation tends to support this hypothesis. William Sullivan, promoted to Undersecretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in Washington, confirmed in November 1969 that “the rubber plantations were not defoliated inadvertently,” but the idea that it was an enemy provocation “has some problems.”

    In addition to the Kompong Cham attack, what additional incidents of herbicide use took place in Cambodia? There is no documentary evidence to suggest that spraying of any kind took place before 1969. The only covert American operation from 1967-69, Operation Daniel Boone, involved Special Forces and Montagnard reconnaissance teams on the ground in Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri provinces—not an operation likely supported by aerial spraying.

    A February 23, 1970, telegram from the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, titled “Cambodian Complaints of Herbicide Damage,” states: “There were no, repeat no, UC-123K herbicide missions opposite Mondulkiri on December 18. Missions were flown opposite Mondulkiri on other dates in December, including December 17 and 19. Past experience shows [Cambodian] protests are not always accurate.”

    Because of the Kompong Cham incident and similar pressures from the South Vietnamese government, restrictions began to be placed on herbicide use in 1970. In March 1971 Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird requested that he personally approve any herbicide operations in Laos, Cambodia, or Thailand. The scope of such additional spraying remains unclear, but probably did not occur.

    These findings are clearly only a partial record of herbicide use in Laos and Cambodia. Many additional sources remain to be examined, many of them classified. Among these are all CIA records.

    The full extent of American use of herbicides in these covert actions will require much more research both in the U.S. and on site. In today’s atmosphere of security concerns over terrorism and increasing government secrecy, even previously declassified records are now being re-classified and screened by the National Archives and other government repositories. This includes, for instance, the Project CHECO reports on which Buckingham based much of his data.

    It is ironic that the U.S. Government goes out of its way to avoid referring to Agent Orange as a “chemical weapon” for public relations and liability reasons, except when a researcher attempts to gain access to sensitive records. In these cases, researchers are denied access to chemical subject matter that, according to a National Archives notice, “might aid terrorists or their supporters.”

    Source

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  • Navy Vet Await

     

    Tampa, Fla (WFLA) - Tens of thousands of Navy Veterans who served in the Vietnam War are waiting for Georgia Senator Johhny Isakson to do something.

    In June the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously to extend health care and disability benefits to sailors who served on ships in Vietnamese territorial waters and suffer from diseases associated with Agent Orange.

    Instead of grabbing the momentum and putting the Blue Water Navy bill up for a vote, Isakson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans affairs decided he needed a closer look..

    8 On Your Side has reported extensively on this issue and followed this effort for more than 2 years.

    With this session of Congress set to end in December, will he fish or cut bait? More tonight at 6 On News Channel 8.

    Source

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  • Thailand AO

     

    Vietnam-era Veterans whose service involved duty on or near the perimeters of military bases in Thailand anytime between February 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975 may have been exposed to herbicides and may qualify for VA benefits.

    The following Veterans may have been exposed to herbicides:

    • U.S. Air Force Veterans who served on Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) bases at U-Tapao, Ubon, Nakhon Phanom, Udorn, Takhli, Korat, and Don Muang, near the air base perimeter anytime between February 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975.
    • U.S. Army Veterans who provided perimeter security on RTAF bases in Thailand anytime between February 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975.
    • U.S. Army Veterans who were stationed on some small Army installations in Thailand anytime between February 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975. However, the Army Veteran must have been a member of a military police (MP) unit or was assigned an MP military occupational specialty whose duty placed him/her at or near the base perimeter.

    To receive benefits for diseases associated with herbicide exposure, these Veterans must show on a factual basis that they were exposed to herbicides during their service as shown by evidence of daily work duties, performance evaluation reports, or other credible evidence.

    Report on defense tactics in Thailand

    A Department of Defense report (9.3 MB, PDF) written in 1973, Project CHECO Southeast Asia Report: Base Defense in Thailand 1968-1972, contains evidence that there was a significant use of herbicides on the fenced-in perimeters of military bases in Thailand to remove foliage that provided cover for enemy forces.

    VA determined that herbicides used on the Thailand base perimeters may have been tactical and procured from Vietnam, or a strong, commercial type resembling tactical herbicides.

    VA benefits

    Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides during service may be eligible for a variety of VA benefits, including an Agent Orange Registry health exam, health care, and disability compensation for diseases associated with exposure. Their dependents and survivors also may be eligible for benefits.

    Learn more about benefits related to Agent Orange exposure.

    Need help determining exposure?

    VA will help determine exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service after you file a claim for compensation benefits.

    Veterans may be eligible for a free Agent Orange Registry health exam. You don't have to file a disability compensation claim to receive the exam. Contact your local VA Environmental Health Coordinator about getting an Agent Orange Registry health exam.

    Source

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  • Children of AO

     

    For decades, Vietnam Veterans have suspected that the defoliant harmed their children. But the VA hasn’t studied its own data for clues.

    A new ProPublica analysis has found that the odds of having a child born with birth defects were more than a third higher for Veterans exposed to Agent Orange than for those who weren’t.

    ARMY VETERAN WILLIAM PENNER used to jokingly call the thick yellow crust that crept across his young son Matthew’s scalp “Agent Orange” after the toxic defoliant sprayed on him in Vietnam before the boy was born. The joke turned sour a few years ago, when Matthew, now 43, was diagnosed with a host of serious illnesses, including heart disease, fibromyalgia and arthritis.

    Similar worries struck Vet Mike Blackledge when staffers at a local Veterans Affairs hospital suggested his children’s diseases could be linked to his time in Vietnam. His son has inflammatory bowel disease so advanced he wears a pouch to collect his waste, and his youngest daughter has neuropathy, spinal problems and gastrointestinal issues. His oldest daughter — the one born before he went to fight in Vietnam — is fine.

    They, like thousands of others, are grappling with a chilling prospect: Could Agent Orange, the herbicide linked to health problems in Vietnam Veterans, have also harmed their children?

    For decades, the Department of Veterans Affairs has collected — and ignored — reams of information that could have helped answer that question, an investigation by ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot has found.

    Its medical staff has physically examined more than 668,000 Vietnam Veterans possibly exposed to Agent Orange, documenting health conditions and noting when and where they served. For at least 34 years, the agency also has asked questions about their children’s birth defects, before and after the war.

    But the birth defect data had never received scrutiny by the VA or anyone else until this year, when ProPublica, working with The Virginian-Pilot, obtained it after submitting a detailed plan describing how it would be used and agreeing to protect patients’ identities.

    The analysis that followed was revealing: The odds of having a child born with birth defects during or after the war were more than a third higher for Veterans who say they handled, sprayed or were directly sprayed with Agent Orange than for Veterans who say they weren’t exposed or weren’t sure. The analysis controlled for such variables as age and health status.

    The data has some caveats. The VA, for example, had no way of verifying the Vets’ Agent Orange exposure and did not independently confirm information about their children’s birth defects. Even so, experts said the results should prompt the VA to take the issue seriously.

    “It’s like a sign that says ‘Dig Here’ and they’re not digging,” said Dr. David Ozonoff, a professor of environmental health at Boston University and co-editor-in-chief of the online journal Environmental Health, after reviewing ProPublica’s findings. “It raises questions about whether they want to know the answer or are just hoping the problem will naturally go away as the Veterans die off.”

    Joel Michalek, co-author of a major Air Force study into Agent Orange exposure and birth defects, said ProPublica’s analysis suggests the issue should be revisited. In the 1980s, he and his team found a higher rate of post-war birth defects in the children of Veterans who handled Agent Orange than in the children of those who didn’t, but they later concluded that herbicide exposure was not the cause.

    “You see parallel patterns of what we saw back then,” said Michalek, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. “That, to me, is a signal.”

    In a written response on Thursday, the VA called ProPublica’s findings “interesting” and “a step in the right direction,” saying they raise additional questions.

    But the agency also said it does not have the in-house expertise to study birth defects, deferring to academic researchers and other parts of the federal government. “VA believes that research to understand the relationship between exposure and intergenerational transmission of disease, if conducted, should be done where scientists with expertise in the relevant fields of inquiry can provide leadership.”

    The VA said it should play “an ancillary role.”

    Concerns that Agent Orange was not just sickening Vets but also causing birth defects in their children surfaced after troops returned from war four decades ago. Veterans reported that some of their children had unusual defects — missing limbs, extra limbs and other diseases — that didn’t run in their families. Some government studies were done, including Michalek’s, but they generally dismissed an association.

    Since then, those findings have guided the government position on disability benefits for children of Vietnam Vets. The VA makes payments only to those who have spina bifida, in which the spinal cord doesn’t develop properly, and the children of a small number of female Vietnam Vets with 18 other diseases. That leaves out the vast majority of Vets’ ailing children.

    Last week, after repeated recommendations by federal scientific advisory panels, Congress passed a bill that requires the VA to pay for an analysis of all research done thus far on the “descendents of Veterans with toxic exposure.” It also requires the agency to determine the feasibility of future research and, if such studies are possible, to pursue them.

    In its written response, the VA said it has already requested a related report from the National Academy of Medicine.

    Recent advances in science, especially in the burgeoning field of epigenetics, have shown that chemical exposure can affect multiple generations. Changes in gene expression — whether a gene for a trait is turned on or off — can be passed from one generation to the next, research shows. A 2012 study, for example, showed that gestating female rats exposed to dioxin, a byproduct found in Agent Orange, passed mutations to future generations.

    “I think there’s kind of a paradigm shift that’s been going on,” said Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health. “While I used to be pretty skeptical about reports, especially related to Agent Orange exposures of predominantly male soldiers we had at the time, I’m not as skeptical as I was.”

    If researchers conclude that troops’ wartime exposures can affect future generations, the implications go well beyond Vietnam Veterans and their descendants. Vets from subsequent conflicts have similar concerns that their proximity to burn pits, depleted uranium and other toxins might be affecting their children.

    Vietnam Vets and their advocates believe a brutal calculation may lie at the heart of why their claims have gone unexamined. Caring for and compensating Veterans themselves already costs tens of billions of dollars a year. If a link to their children is proven, it could add billions more.

    Many Vietnam Veterans, reaching the ends of their lives, are increasingly haunted by thoughts of the full cost of their service.

    Blackledge, who fathered a healthy child before the war and two sick ones after, believes the government that exposed troops to Agent Orange should care for those it harmed — including their children.

    “I probably wouldn’t have had kids,” he said, “had I known that there would be an impact on them.”

    MIKE RYAN, AN ARMY VET, recalled seeing planes spraying Agent Orange overhead during his 13-month Vietnam tour but thought little of it until 1976, when his wife, Maureen, made the connection between the toxic herbicide and their daughter, Kerry.

    From 1962 to 1971, the U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of potent weed killers, including Agent Orange, over Vietnam to kill dense jungle foliage and eliminate places for the enemy to hide, exposing as many as 2.6 million service members in the process.

    Many, like Ryan, returned home, eager to put Vietnam behind them, starting new families or adding to ones they had. Kerry was born in 1971 with a hole in her heart, no lower digestive system, dysfunctional kidneys, a deformed arm and fingers, spina bifida and more than a dozen other health problems.

    Mike Ryan’s mother, the head obstetrician at a Long Island hospital, delivered baby Kerry and knew immediately something was terribly wrong.

    “Can you imagine the trauma of it?” he said. “Seeing your new granddaughter come out like that?”

    For years, the Ryans were baffled by their daughter’s problems. There had been no history of birth defects on either side of the family. Neither were smokers or drug users. A second child, born a few years later, was relatively healthy. It wasn’t until Maureen Ryan read a magazine article that suggested a link between dioxin and birth defects that it dawned on them that her husband’s tour in Vietnam might be connected to Kerry’s problems.

    By that time, there had been reports suggesting that Vietnamese children born in areas heavily contaminated by Agent Orange had high rates of defects, though some U.S. researchers said rigorous scientific studies never established a link.

    Mike Ryan also had an ugly rash, called chloracne, that’s considered a signature effect of Agent Orange exposure. He remembered drinking rainwater collected from the tops of tents in Vietnam, not realizing it may have been contaminated with chemicals sprayed from above.

    The Ryans went public with their concerns at a press conference in 1978, drawing the nation’s attention to the children of Vietnam Veterans.

    A year later, the Ryans pushed Kerry into a congressional hearing in a wheelchair to testify about her struggles, prompting then Rep. Al Gore, D-Tennessee, to ask, “I wonder what the reaction of the VA would be if the enemy had used Agent Orange?” In the fall of 1980, President-elect Ronald Reagan arranged a meeting to learn about their struggle and concerns about the herbicide.

    But after that, the momentum died.

    Instead, in the years that followed, the Reagan administration worked to undermine the Ryans’ cause in court as the couple served as one of the lead plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the chemical companies that made Agent Orange.

    When the lawsuit settled in 1984 for $180 million, U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein ruled that direct payments could only be made to disabled Veterans or survivors of those who’d died, cutting off children like Kerry.

    Weinstein, who’d expressed doubt that Veterans had been harmed, was even more skeptical about their children, writing, “however slight the suggestion of a causal connection between the Veterans’ medical problems and Agent Orange exposure, even less evidence supports the existence of an association between birth defects … and exposure of the father to Agent Orange.”

    Mike Ryan wasn’t surprised. “I knew we had no shot,” he said.

    In 1997, when the VA finally began offering compensation for children with spina bifida, the Ryans didn’t bother applying. Mike Ryan said it was never about the money; it was about recognition of the debt he believes his country owes his daughter. “She has 22 birth defects, and they want to pay only for spina bifida? Come on, give me a break.”

    Kerry died in 2006 at the age of 35.

    Mike Ryan, now 71, said he hadn’t kept up with scientific advancements that potentially confirm what he’s spent years arguing — that a father’s exposure to toxins can cause health problems in offspring. In the end, it won’t matter what researchers discover, he insisted.

    “They will never admit it,” he said, “because if they do, then America is admitting to drafting the unborn.”

    The same year Weinstein cited a lack of evidence connecting Agent Orange and birth defects, an Air Force scientist believed he’d found some.

    In 1979, a team of researchers had embarked on a $143 million, 20-year study of those Air Force Vets who’d had the greatest exposure to Agent Orange: Those who’d sprayed it. The study was extremely detailed, verifying what Veterans said with a host of medical exams and biological specimens, including blood, semen and urine samples. Five years in, Dr. Richard Albanese, a lead investigator, and his team made what they considered an intriguing finding — children born to exposed Air Force Vets after the war had more defects than children of those who hadn’t handled Agent Orange.

    The researchers wrote up the results in a report, but their superiors halted its release, saying more research was needed, including physically examining all the children to verify whether they had birth defects, Albanese recalled in a recent interview. After Albanese spoke up about the delay, he was taken off the project and reassigned.

    Meanwhile, two major studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that there was little connection between exposure to herbicides and birth defects. One examined babies born in the metropolitan Atlanta region and found that Vietnam Veterans fathered a similar percent of babies with birth defects as other men. A second study compared the rates of birth defects among babies fathered by Vietnam Vets to those born to Veterans who served elsewhere during the war. Vietnam Veterans reported a higher rate of birth defects in their children but that finding was not validated in follow-up reviews of hospital records. The reports did suggest a possible association between herbicide exposure among Vets and spina bifida in their kids.

    Finally in 1988, under pressure from members of Congress, the study Albanese had worked on was released, but with only his name on it. His study found “a statistically significant increase in reported birth defects” among Veterans who handled Agent Orange. Then, four years later, the Air Force published a follow-up paper that claimed no evidence had been found linking Agent Orange exposure to birth defects in the men’s children.

    The 1992 report looked at the data in a different way. If there indeed was an association, the researchers wrote, they would have expected to find that Veterans with more dioxin lingering in their blood would have higher rates of birth defects in their children, but that wasn’t the case. They concluded that the few links between dioxin and birth defects “were generally weak, inconsistent or biologically implausible” and the data “provided no support” for such a connection.

    To this day, Albanese believes his findings were correct while those of his former colleagues were flawed.

    “These people really bent over backwards to try to disprove a connection,” he said. “That’s my feeling.”

    Albanese, who now runs a small defense consulting company in San Antonio, said he believes the episode was part of a broader government effort to suppress findings connecting Agent Orange to the health of Veterans and their children.

    “I’m so sad and so angry that science could be corrupted this way,” said Albanese, who served in the Air Force. “I’m a faithful military man, but this was not honorable behavior.”

    Seven years later, some of Albanese’s concerns were investigated by the Government Accountability Office and at a congressional hearing in 2000. The GAO noted the unusual way in which the Air Force report was handled and said one Veterans’ organization believed it may have delayed the VA’s decision to provide benefits to children with spina bifida.

    Air Force researchers have denied that their findings were manipulated and said they needed the extra time to verify each birth defect against medical records to ensure it was correct.

    Meanwhile, thousands of Vietnam Vets have added information every year to the VA’s growing body of data, deepening a potentially rich pool for researchers. Yet, for decades, nobody looked.

    By 1978, Agent Orange and its potential effects had become a national controversy. In response, the VA began offering Veterans free examinations and regular notifications when new information about Agent Orange came to light. As part of the effort, information was gathered about each Vet and entered into a newly established Agent Orange Registry.

    The questionnaire collected detailed information about Veterans’ service, health conditions and possible exposure to herbicides, asking Vets whether they handled or sprayed Agent Orange, were directly sprayed with it, were in an area recently sprayed with it, ate or drank food that may have come in contact with it, or were exposed to other herbicides. The VA also collected information about children born before and after the Vet’s service with spina bifida or other birth defects.

    The questionnaire didn’t define what constitutes a birth defect, leaving it to each Vet to do so. In an email last month, the VA said it “would expect” parents to accurately answer questions about whether their children have birth defects, since such defects affect about 3 percent of all births. Yet in its statement on Thursday, the agency said that it anticipated “significant variation in the accuracy” of the self-reported information.

    ProPublica looked for differences in birth defect rates among children of Veterans who said they were exposed to Agent Orange compared to those who said they weren’t or weren’t sure. The analysis focused on a group of 37,535 Veterans who had children born before their service in the war as well as during or after, in part because many of the factors relevant to birth defects wouldn’t change, including the Veterans’ genetic makeup.

    A Veteran was considered exposed if he answered “definitely yes” to the questions about handling or spraying Agent Orange or being directly sprayed with it. Fewer than 10 percent of Veterans fit this criteria. If a Veteran said he was unsure or definitely was not exposed, he was considered unexposed.

    The analysis showed that both groups saw a substantial increase in birth defects among their children born after the war, but the rate was higher for those who were exposed. Slightly more than 13 percent of Veterans who sprayed, handled or were sprayed with Agent Orange reported having a child with birth defects born during or after the war, compared to nearly 10 percent of Veterans who were not exposed or were unsure. The two groups had similar rates of birth defects among children born before the war, but the odds of having a child born during or after the war with birth defects was 30 percent higher for exposed Veterans.

    ProPublica ran its methodology by experts in the field, including Michalek, who was involved in the Air Force birth defects study, and Birnbaum, the director of the federal environmental health research agency. The analysis has its limitations, including the self-selected nature of the Veterans who took part in the registry and the self-reported information they provided. It also does not prove that Agent Orange caused the increased rate of birth defects, but it does raise important questions for future research, they said.

    At one point in the mid-1980s, the VA also saw the research value of its registry, “namely to provide a means of detecting clues or suggestions that specific health problems or unexpected health trends are showing up in this group of Veterans,” according to a fact sheet prepared at the time.

    Indeed, when a preliminary analysis of the registry in 1983 showed no unusual health problems in Vietnam Veterans, Alvin Young, the head of the VA’s Agent Orange Projects Office at the time, announced the results at a news conference, drawing newspaper headlines that suggested Agent Orange hadn’t harmed Vets.

    Since then, the VA has grown dismissive of the registry’s value. Today the registry is primarily used to keep track of Vets’ contact information. In its statement Thursday, the VA said “observation of birth defects was not the primary purpose of the Agent Orange registry.”

    “VA has taken a very cautious approach in the use of the registry data, but is currently exploring ways to better utilize this resource for research using administrative records or supporting research recruitment,” the agency said.

    Over the past 18 months, more than 6,000 Vets and their family members confronting Agent Orange-related issues have shared their stories with ProPublica and The Pilot. Some said it was inexplicable that VA had collected all their information, then simply stashed it away unexamined.

    Royal Gee, a Marine Corps Veteran from Georgia, completed a registry exam a few years ago. He has rheumatoid arthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, among other health problems. His daughter born before the war is healthy but the one conceived afterward was born with cysts on her head. She’s had ongoing problems with cysts in her joints and now suffers from an immune system disorder.

    “They say it has nothing to do with my service in Vietnam and it stops right there,” he said. “There’s got to be a reason.”

    Experts, too, have seen their calls for more research die without explanation.

    Federal scientific advisory panels have repeatedly urged the VA to research Agent Orange’s effect on offspring. In 2007, a panel of the prestigious Institute of Medicine said the VA “should review all the possible cognitive and developmental effects in offspring of Veterans. Such a review should include the possibility of effects in grandchildren.”

    In 2009, 2012 and 2014, other IOM panels reiterated that recommendation and expanded on it.

    This year, yet another IOM panel weighed in, reporting no progress on the earlier recommendations and encouraging more research in animals. “To date there has been minimal investigation of whether paternal exposure poses a risk of adverse effects in their offspring,” it said.

    Before joining the VA, Linda Schwartz, now the agency’s assistant secretary for policy and planning, looked into birth defects among the children of Vets as an associate clinical professor of nursing at Yale University. She and a colleague, George Knafl, reassessed the findings of the Air Force study. They found that, contrary to the main published findings, “there is distinct evidence” that the children of those who handled Agent Orange had more birth defects and developmental disabilities. They presented the work at a 2003 international dioxin meeting, but their manuscript was not accepted for publication in a scientific journal.

    Schwartz, in a recent interview, said if the U.S. conceded that Agent Orange caused birth defects, the Vietnamese government might seek compensation for children who’ve been harmed over there. “We ran into a wall,” she said. “People were deathly afraid that the Vietnamese would then lodge a horrendous lawsuit against the United States.”

    For now, the VA pays to store the blood, semen and tissue specimens from the former Air Force spray crews in a freezer at a base in Ohio, leaving open the possibility for future studies.

    Schwartz’s role at the VA doesn’t put her in charge of such studies. But she said new technology could be used to answer at least some questions. “Maybe it’s not the answer that people want, but at least it would be an answer.”

    In the absence of new government research into Agent Orange and birth defects, advocates around the country have pursued their own strategies for drawing attention to the issue.

    Heather Bowser was born in 1972, three years after her father, William Morris, returned from Vietnam. His base was less than 10 miles away from Bien Hoa Air Base, which served as the hub for the Air Force crew that sprayed Agent Orange across the country. The airplanes returning from short missions would often dump Agent Orange in the river alongside his base, he told her.

    Bowser weighed 3 pounds, 4 ounces at birth. She was born missing her right leg below the knee and several of her fingers. She had no big toe on her left foot, and the remaining toes were webbed. “The doctor said, ‘If they’re that messed up on the outside, they’re usually that messed up on the inside,’” she said. “My parents had no idea. There was no ultrasound and that kind of stuff, so I made quite a shocking entry into the world.”

    Five years ago, Bowser co-founded Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance, which has since grown to nearly 4,000 members who swap stories or vent about doctors who dismiss their concerns about Agent Orange. “Our stories are very similar … very similar birth defects, very similar health issues later,” she said. “Neural tube defects, shortened limbs, webbed toes, missing limbs, extra vertebrae, missing vertebrae, autoimmune disorders. The list goes on.”

    Bowser, who lives in Canfield, Ohio, said her group has been limited by a lack of funding, but they have reached out to scientists working on the issues in the United States and Vietnam. “I don’t think it’s too late. Quite honestly, it’s not the monetary payoff. It’s the acknowledgement that a parent suffered, we suffered, and something needs to be acknowledged. … This isn’t a figment of your imagination. This isn’t a conspiracy theory. This is something that happened to you and your family.”

    Matthew Penner, whose dad is an Army Veteran, found Bowser’s group and said reading others’ stories “just blew my mind. That really put it together for me.”

    While Bowser has been working to help the children of Veterans connect with one another, Mokie Porter has been working to get Veterans to share their medical and exposure information with their children in case they don’t live long enough to see a connection made.

    Porter is the director of communications for the Vietnam Veterans of America, based in Silver Spring, Maryland. The group has been a forceful advocate for compensating Veterans for health problems linked to Agent Orange.

    Porter, who has worked there since 1985, said she became particularly interested in Vets’ children in 2009 when her own daughter was being treated for cancer at Johns Hopkins Health System. While there, Porter’s daughter befriended the grandson of a Vietnam Veteran who also was sick.

    After that, she helped launch the VVA project Faces of Agent Orange. They’ve held more than 250 town hall meetings across the U.S., urging Veterans to share their families’ stories. At the first one, in Louisville, Kentucky, “the room was filled,” Porter said. “Everybody in the room was surprised that they weren’t alone.”

    Porter and her colleagues also encourage the children of Veterans to file claims with the VA for benefits related to Agent Orange even though the department currently doesn’t cover most defects. Their hope is that the VA will keep the claims on file, and, should it change its position, pay benefits retroactively.

    Since 2001, the VA has received claims for benefits from more than 8,100 people citing spina bifida and other birth defects, an agency spokesman said. Of those, only 1,325 claimants have received benefits.

    Porter also serves on the board of Birth Defect Research for Children, which has attempted to gather data on birth defects to be analyzed in a way the VA has not done. It is led by Betty Mekdeci, who first started gathering data on birth defects and environmental exposures in the 1980s after her son was born with health issues, then became fixated on helping the children of Vietnam Vets.

    She believes her data shows elevated numbers of birth defects — especially those affecting a child’s immune and nervous systems — in offspring of Vietnam Veterans, though those findings have not been confirmed in a published study.

    “I think if we send young people to war, to defend us, our way of life, whatever, that we have a contract with them,” said Mekdeci, who despite a lack of formal scientific training has presented her findings to Congress and the IOM. “We have a contract to take care of them if they’re injured, and if their children are injured because of their exposures, we have a contract to take care of them, too.”

    With the passage of time, hope dims for answers to the questions about Agent Orange and birth defects.

    In a report this year, an IOM panel said the military and the VA should set their sights on forward-looking projects, like tracking which chemicals soldiers are exposed to in real time.

    “Revisiting what happened 50 years ago, 40 years ago, is essentially impossible,” said Dr. Kenneth Ramos, who chaired that IOM panel, while speaking at a forum this summer in Washington sponsored by ProPublica and The Pilot. “We’re not going to be able to scientifically go back and reconstruct what could have happened 50 years ago.”

    In an interview, Michael Skinner, a Washington State University professor of biological sciences and one of the leaders of the study of epigenetics, said he, too, wonders whether it makes sense to delve too deep into the question of Agent Orange and birth defects. He was a co-author on the 2012 paper that found dioxin induces lingering effects in the offspring and future generations of female rats. But he said he hasn’t found additional funds to continue the work in male rats.

    Besides, he said, the epidemiology is always going to be complicated. Just because someone’s child or grandchild manifests a health problem linked to dioxin exposure, that doesn’t mean Agent Orange caused it. People could have been exposed to dioxin in a variety of ways because the chemical was prevalent in urban areas in the U.S. until the late 1970s.

    “There’s a point at which we have to say, ‘Look, a really bad thing happened, but you have to stop pointing fingers.’”

    Such sentiments don’t sit well with Veterans or their children. “A lot of people probably don’t think about it because a lot of people don’t want to think about it,” said Ralph Thornburgh, an Army Vet whose two daughters born after Vietnam have had health problems, including one with leukemia. “They want to just go about their everyday life.”

    The VA is working on a long-awaited study on whether Vietnam Veterans, generally, have “different patterns of illness that are unlike their non-Vietnam deployed military counterparts, and members of the U.S. population.” It will also look at the health of their children. It is not specifically looking at effects of Agent Orange, but it has been praised by Veterans groups as an important effort.

    Schwartz said more needs to be done about Agent Orange and its impact on the children of Veterans.

    “These individuals deserve an answer,” Schwartz said at the forum hosted by ProPublica and The Pilot. “This is the right thing to do, and although we may not have all of the wonderful information, we have some. Let us at least take a stab at this.”

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  • Battle of the VN AO

     

    Veterans and their survivors are still fighting the VA over their exposure toAmerica’s notorious chemical weapon—and the latest lethal conditions they’re confronting.

    Pegi Scarlett was a bit nervous in the moments leading up to her speech last November at a meeting of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, D.C.

    “It was kind of intimidating at first, with all the epidemiologists and physicians watching, but they gave me a very warm reception,” said Scarlett, 65. The gathering was part of the National Academies’ effort to determine if it should recommend any additions to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ list of “presumptive diseases” caused by exposure to Agent Orange, the toxic herbicide used by the Department of Defense during the Vietnam War.

    Her talk focused on her husband, John Scarlett, an Army Ranger and helicopter pilot in Vietnam who was among the 2.6 million U.S. personnel believed exposed to Agent Orange during the war. He died in November 2015.

    His cause of death was glioblastoma, a lethal brain cancer that is not on the VA’s list of presumptive diseases, but is being diagnosed at an evidently accelerated rate in the past few years among Vietnam Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange.

    Scarlett, a cancer registrar with six grown children, traveled from her home near Sacramento, Calif., to the nation’s capital to give her impassioned presentation, which balanced memories of her husband with data she’d collected about his cancer. The speech elicited loud and long applause and left some NAS scientists in tears.

    “We left Washington feeling very optimistic,” said Scarlett, who was accompanied by two other widows of Vietnam Veterans who died of glioblastoma, Kathy Josenhans and Laurel Holt, who also gave short but substantive speeches. “We knew they wanted to help us,” Scarlett said.

    But will they? The NAS has no mandate power over Veterans Affairs. It can only advise the department, which has taken decades to acknowledge how harmful TCDD, the dioxin in Agent Orange, really is.

    There are 14 diseases now presumed by the VA to be caused by Agent Orange exposure. But countless Veterans and their families who try to get disability and survivor benefits are still turned away, left to contest their claims on a case-by-case basis. When she gave her speech last fall, Scarlett was still fighting for her survivor benefits.

    Just two weeks ago, after a 2½-year fight, she won her case. But she said she won’t rest until the hundreds of other glioblastoma families are recognized by the VA.

    “I’m still fighting for all the Veterans and widows who haven’t won,” said Scarlett, who, along with Josenhans, Holt, and others, runs a Facebook page for Veterans with glioblastoma and their families—a group that has dramatically grown in the past year.

    There are 430 confirmed Vietnam Veterans with glioblastoma now in Scarlett’s database. Most of them are deceased. Diseases and conditions that are common among Vietnam Veterans but are still not on the presumptive-diseases list include bladder cancer, high blood pressure, and glioblastoma. Before they would even have a chance of receiving disability or survivor benefits, Veterans and their family members must prove that the glioblastoma was “at least as likely as not” to be caused by Agent Orange exposure.

    Veterans with glioblastoma and their family members say the process of filing a VA claim is painstaking and at times downright cruel. “Some Veterans and their widows have won their glioblastoma cases at VA,” she said. “So why is every Veteran and widow who files a disability or survivor claim forced to re-litigate the issue?”

    Scarlett, who says she leverages her research skills as a cancer registrar to collect her data, included in her claim several studies from other countries that show agricultural workers exposed to TCDD have higher rates of brain cancer.

    Curt Cashour, press secretary of the VA, told The Daily Beast the agency relies on medical evidence from “internationally recognized scientific authorities,” as well as its own independent review of the latest science, to make its determination on Agent Orange-related claims from Veterans and their families.

    “Since 2003, VA has granted service connection for glioblastoma to 46 Veterans out of 150 who have applied for disability compensation. Six of the 46 Veterans had served in Vietnam,” Cashour said.

    Scarlett said those numbers are misleading because the majority of the hundreds of glioblastoma-related claims submitted to the VA she knows of are not for disability benefits—they are survivor-benefit claims. In addition, she argues the VA is making decisions about glioblastoma based on incomplete numbers. “My husband and 69 percent of the Veterans in our group were treated for their glioblastoma at a civilian hospital and never seen at a VA facility,” she said. “The VA has no idea how many people are actually being diagnosed.”

    To be sure, the lethal form of brain cancer is affecting more than American war Veterans. A 2016 study by the American Cancer Society estimated 2-3 cases per 100,000 people worldwide, with a median survival time from diagnosis of one year. It is more common in men, in white people, and in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Denmark, Finland and New Zealand, but researchers can’t explain why.

    Cashour said Veterans Affairs “does not track specific statistics on how many widows are receiving survivor benefits related to glioblastoma.”

    Scarlett argues that “makes no sense,” and noted that when a Vietnam Veteran with glioblastoma dies and the family makes the transition from a disability claim to a death indemnity claim, “it is still a glioblastoma and Agent Orange claim. Why is the VA not tracking this?”

    When a widow in her group prepares a claim, Scarlett said, “We make sure they include the same studies, the nexus letters, the statements of where the Veteran served, so that the claims are consistent. So then why does one get approved and another does not? It seems to depend on whose desk it appears. Who is reviewing these claims?”

    In the meantime, another group of Vietnam Veterans who are struggling with a variety of diseases and conditions that are on the presumptive list but not getting their claims approved are the 90,000 sailors of the Blue Water Navy. These Veterans, who served on ships in the bays, harbors, and territorial seas of Vietnam during the war, and their loved ones have been fighting Veterans Affairs for decades to get their claims approved.

    While the VA to date has not budged, the tide now appears to be turning toward the sailors. Former Secretary David Shulkin, who was fired by President Trump in late March, voiced his support of the Blue Water Navy during his tenure.

    “I would like to try to find a way where we can resolve that issue for them, rather than make them continue to wait,” Shulkin said. “I do not believe there will be scientific data [to] give us a clear answer, like we do have on the Agent Orange presumptive” list. “For the Blue Water Navy… epidemiologic studies just aren’t available from everything I can see. So, we’re going to have sit down and do what we think is right for these Veterans.”

    This month, the House Veterans Affairs Committee approved legislation to extend Agent Orange-related benefits to the Blue Water Navy. The committee voted unanimously to send a bill to the full House. The idea reportedly has bipartisan support in the Senate, too.

    Joe Moore, a former VA attorney and founding partner of Bergmann & Moore, which has successfully handled disability appeals for hundreds of Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and other toxins during their service, said the House decision on the Blue Water Navy is a positive sign.

    “The Blue Water Navy Veterans were exposed to Agent Orange in many different ways that VA has known about for years,” Moore said. “That exposure came from such things as ingestion of polluted water, cleaning off planes covered in Agent Orange, the onboard storage of Agent Orange, and missions to Vietnam that did not make it into personnel records.”

    Moore said the VA has forced each of these Veterans to prove the exact source of their Agent Orange exposure, and that this is “close to impossible” in most cases because the records that would prove most of these exposures simply don’t exist.

    “Even when such records do exist, it is extremely hard for the average Veteran to track them down,” Moore said.

    Mike Yates, 68, who served on the USS Bainbridge off the coast of Vietnam from 1971 to 1972, has prostate cancer, which is on the presumptive list. But the VA has denied his disability claim.

    “I’m pleased to see the House Veterans Affairs Committee approve the legislation,” Yates said. “It’s a long time coming. But it’s only the first step.”

    Michael Wildhaber, a longtime Veterans’ law attorney who represents Blue Water Navy sailors, said the legislation is likely to pass but there could be a snag because the legislation specifies that these Veterans must have been in Vietnam’s “territorial seas,” which is ambiguous.

    During the Vietnam War era, the generally accepted definition of territorial seas was three nautical miles offshore. In 1982, Wildhaber said, most countries signed a treaty that calls for the definition to be 12 nautical miles offshore.

    “Unless the VA agrees that the zone is 12 miles out, many Navy Veterans still could be excluded because many Navy vessels never got anywhere near three miles of the coast of Vietnam, including aircraft carriers and their big-draft support ships, such as oilers and ammo supply ships,” Wildhaber said.

    “I would not put this past VA officials, who historically have been very hostile to presumptive compensation for Vietnam Veterans who claim exposure to herbicides,” he said.

    Kathy Josenhans, who spoke along with Scarlett at the National Academies meeting, is both a Blue Water Navy widow and a glioblastoma widow. Her husband, Frank Josenhans, spent six years in the waters off of Vietnam as a Navy diver. He died of glioblastoma in 2011.

    Kathy, who’s struggled physically and financially without her husband, has been fighting the VA for her survivor benefits for the last seven years. The House vote, and the fact that Scarlett and some other widows are beginning to get their claims approved, give her new hope.

    “My husband was my hero, he took care of me,” Josenhans said. “After he died, I only got survivor benefits from Social Security, $500 a month. I have spina bifida, it gets worse as I get older. I have a bad limp, neuropathy, phantom pain from nerve damage. It makes it hard. I can’t go to work.”

    Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam Vet with two Purple Hearts who went on to be a U.S. senator and secretary of defense, said the current fight over Agent Orange benefits is all too familiar.

    He was a pioneer in the fight for Agent Orange awareness: A top deputy at what was then called the Veterans Administration, Hagel resigned in 1982 after a bitter disagreement with his boss, Robert Nimmo, a World War II Veteran who wanted to cut funding for Agent Orange studies and psychiatric counseling at Veterans’ centers.

    “The Reagan White House wanted to cut funding for Veterans centers and Agent Orange epidemiological studies that had begun under Max Cleland and Jimmy Carter,” said Hagel, who from that era to now has been widely lauded as a champion for Veterans.

    While he would not comment specifically on the type of claims coming from the Blue Water Navy or glioblastoma patients and families because he has not studied their claims, Hagel said all who file an Agent Orange claim need to be heard and respected by the VA.

    “When you are dealing with these deadly toxic chemicals, we owe it to these people to take a closer look,” he said. “The fact is, we needed to know more about Agent Orange then, and we still do.”

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  • VN Navy Vets

     

    The USS Ronald Reagan and her gallant crew of men and women recently performed a heroic service for thousands after the devastating earth­quake and tsunami on the east coast of northern Japan. They just don’t know it yet.

    Davenport, a Navy public affairs officer during the Vietnam war. It shows U.S. Navy Ships with the coast of Vietnam clearly visible in the background.

    The Reagan, and her carrier strike group, USS Chancellorsville and USS Preble, were nearly 100 miles offshore when they were engulfed by what the Navy described as: “A month’s radiation in just one hour.” The 7th Fleet command quickly repositioned these ships after contamination was detected aboard. If anyone in Washington has common sense, the incident should bring an end to the long and contentious war by the Department of Veterans Affairs against sailors of the Vietnam War who were exposed to Agent Orange.

    But because Washington, D.C., is the last place anyone would expect to find common sense, and because this story involves the worst in bureaucratic confusion and ineptitude as well as a callous disregard for the plight of men who once sailed in harm’s way in our nation’s defense, this story is being written from a small town in Pennsylvania. It’s a disgraceful nightmare not only to these Veterans, but in many cases their families with only the widows left to fend for themselves as their husbands have paid the ultimate price for serving their country.

    The Navy Veterans who are still alive are all over 50. They manned the decks of the greatest navy in the world, on ships large and small, determined mostly by the luck of the draw. And it was this luck of the draw that has now left the majority of them without benefits for their service. Senior bureaucrats in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs seem relentlessly determined to prevent Navy Veterans of the Vietnam War from receiving benefits that are automatically granted to all other Vietnam Veterans.Veterans Affairs officials made a decision to cut off previously granted benefits by reinterpreting their own regulations, and as a result, have left thousands of Navy Veterans to suffer and die without disability and health benefits from the government that sent them to that distant war. It was a war that I firmly believe caused their illnesses.

    Agent Orange is the term used to describe the dioxin-laced herbicides that were repeatedly sprayed over Vietnam to defoliate the jungles. The goal was to eliminate hiding places for enemy soldiers. The term originated from the orange stripe around the barrels of chemicals. Most of this deadly stuff was flown out of the large base at Da Nang, Vietnam, under the mission term Operation Ranch Hand. Literally, tons of it were dumped by multiengine aircraft, often three and four abreast. On the one hand, it did its job. Untold acres of Vietnam’s jungles were turned into a deadly wasteland. But it also exposed American servicemen and women to a chemical that now has them dying on average 13 years earlier than their counterparts who did not serve in Vietnam. This despite the manufacturers, Dow Chemical and Monsanto, assuring the government, that all was safe.

    After years of denial in a prolonged battle by Vietnam Veterans, the government finally acknowledged the disabilities likely caused by Agent Orange, and a system was established to process claims for those who now have one or more of the diseases recognized by the VA as likely linked to exposure to these chemicals. The National Academy of Sciences was charged with determining which diseases were connected to Agent Orange. The list includes many cancers, multiple myeloma, type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, among others.

    The Agent Orange Act of 1991 provided for benefits to all who had earned the Vietnam Service Medal during the 10-year war. The legislation was clear: Anyone who served, whether on land or sea, was presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. For many, it was too late, including Lt. Elmo R. Zumwalt III, the son of then Vice Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr, commander of Naval Forces, Vietnam.The younger Zumwalt was a swift boat skipper who died of cancer in 1988 at age 42. It also was too late for my friend, Marine Capt. Robert B. Scholl, whom I had talked into joining up with me in 1958. Bob flew 324 combat missions out of Da Nang during two tours, one in F4 Phantoms, the second as a helicopter gunship pilot. He died of cancer at 52.His younger brother, Jim, would follow him into the Marines, to Da Nang, and into the grave from cancer. Several other personal friends of mine have gone the same way, from the same cause.

    After 1991, Veterans were able to apply for disability benefits when they were stricken with deadly cancers. Besides their diagnosis, all they needed to submit was proof of Vietnam service on their Department of Defense Form 214. To this day, for Veterans of the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps, the process remains clear and fast. You were there, you have it, you are eligible. But shamefully, that is not the way it works for Navy Veterans. As far as the VA is concerned, most Navy Vietnam Veterans were never there and are not entitled to Agent Orange benefits, even though the government of Australia has shown that its Vietnam naval Veterans are dying at a higher rate than counterparts who served on the ground.

    VA bureaucrats did not seem to warm to the idea of Agent Orange benefits in the first place. This was something that had been imposed upon them by Congress. Implementing this new disability benefit was going to be cumbersome, costly and impose upon their authority to determine which Veterans would get what. Nevertheless, in 1990, VA regulations defined service in Vietnam to include “service in the waters offshore or service in other locations if the service involved visitation in Vietnam.” Thus, when the Agent Orange Act was passed by Congress, the simple way to determine eligibility for any Veteran who was diagnosed with one of the related disabilities was proof of service in Vietnam.

    Initially, eligible Veterans, including Navy Veterans, applied for and received the disability benefits to which they were entitled.

    But in 2001, George W. Bush and his administrative team, many of whom avoided service in Vietnam, were calling the shots. Within a year, Blue Water Navy Veterans would be stripped of their eligibility for Agent Orange benefits.The Bush administration bureaucrats said that sailors who served aboard ships offshore could not have been exposed to Agent Orange. Only those who could prove they had left the ship and set foot in Vietnam would be eligible for benefits. Many Navy Veterans already receiving benefits had their disability revoked and payments stopped. New claims were denied, and it was left to each individual to prove on appeal that he was exposed under the new rules. Suddenly, two new terms entered the Vietnam history books: Brown Water Navy and Blue Water Navy.

    Brown Water Navy Veterans are eligible for Agent Orange benefits; Blue Water Navy Veterans are not. The Brown Water Navy referred to boats and ships that operated on inland waterways such as swift boats skippered by Zumwalt and by Lt. John Kerry, the former presidential candidate. It also included a few landing ship tanks and other amphibious naval ships and landing craft. The Blue Water Navy was composed of larger ships that operated mainly on the open seas, particularly at Yankee Station in the Tonkin Gulf, anywhere from several miles to 50 or more miles offshore. These were the capital ships of the Navy and their escort and supply vessels. Under the modified VA rules, sailors serving aboard a Blue Water ship had to document proof that they had gone ashore in Vietnam. Few sailors could make this claim, and even for those who could found securing actual proof next to impossible in many cases.

    Ironically, there is much scientific evidence to prove that Blue Water sailors were not only exposed to Agent Orange, but probably to a greater degree than troops on the ground. Because of that evidence, sailors from Australia are granted disability benefits for Agent Orange just as U.S. sailors were until 2002. Australia conducted extensive medical and scientific research from many sources, and the government concluded that its sailors and ships were exposed to Agent Orange while sailing off the coast of Vietnam and that the water distillation process then in use by Australians, as well as the U.S. Navy, likely made the contamination worse. The most important evidence is that Australia’s sailors, most of whom stayed offshore, are contracting Agent Orange cancers at a higher rate than Australian Veterans who served on the ground in Vietnam.

    The Australians did not reach their conclusions lightly. Their scientific studies were thorough and exhausting. All the evidence was there, and the government of Australia acted accordingly, in 2006 granting Agent Orange benefits to the very sailors whose ships sailed alongside ours. In the United States, VA bureaucrats also responded quickly. They began to nitpick potential flaws in the Australian scientific studies. To do otherwise would endanger their own positions.

    But Blue Water sailors were not going quietly. Former Navy Cmdr. Jonathon L. Haas, who had served in Vietnam aboard the ammunition tender USS Mount Katmai, appealed his 2004 denial of benefits to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.As part of his claim, Haas testified that clouds of Agent Orange propelled by offshore prevailing winds covered his ship, much like what occurred in March 2011 to the USS Reagan battle group off Japan. Haas was represented by the National Veterans Legal Services Program and joined by a friend-of-the-court brief from the American Legion.

    CAVC agreed with Haas that the regulation change by the VA was improper, a decision that effectively would have restored benefits to everyone if accepted by the VA. The VA, however, refused this change and appealed the CAVC decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which overturned CAVC, ruling that the VA had authority to change the rules. The appeals court did not, however, rule on whether the VA’s rationale for making the changes was sound.

    The U.S. Supreme Court eventually declined to hear Haas’ further appeal, and in January 2009, Blue Water claims, which had been put on hold pending the outcome of Haas, were now ordered to be processed, meaning they would again be denied without proof of “boots on the ground.” It didn’t matter to the VA that Haas had proved his case before CAVC. Nor did it matter that the government of Australia’s evidence had now been reinforced by U.S. studies, in particular, the Selected Cancers Study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1990, which showed that Veterans who served in Vietnam had a much higher rate of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, 50 percent, than Veterans from the same era who did not go to Vietnam. These findings were largely responsible for the subsequent passage of the Agent Orange Act of 1991, but there was a specific part of the CDC study that should have raised the same alarms that went off in Australia.

    The study concluded that of all those millions, and all those units and designations involved, the highest incidence of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was experienced by none other than the sailors who served aboard ships off the coast of Vietnam. We now have two studies by two governments, one that shows that Vietnam Veteran sailors, most of them Blue Water, have a higher rate of all Agent Orange cancers, and the other that shows they also have a higher rate of one Agent Orange cancer studied, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And we have a government bureaucracy that has been fighting for almost 10 years to deny benefits to these same Veterans. How would you explain it?

    The VA was beginning to feel the heat from Blue Water sailors and their advocates. The sailors were organizing. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association was formed as was the Veterans Association of Sailors of the Vietnam War. National Veterans organizations continued to voice support, and ever so slight cracks began to appear in the rules.

    Fortunately, for Veterans, there is a part of the VA system called the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. The BVA was established for an obvious purpose like the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The BVA is the initial appeal process for Veterans when their claims have been denied by the regional office where they originate. It is a Veteran-friendly setting, as it is not an adversarial process. There is no one from the VA there to oppose the Veteran’s arguments, but Veterans can have a lawyer or other advocate present their case if necessary. The BVA is right across the street from the VA, but it is a whole new world for Veterans seeking justice as the staff is highly professional and committed to correcting mistakes and applying sound benefit-of-the-doubt judgment to its decisions. That obviously doesn’t mean that appellant Veterans are always going to win, but if they present solid evidence, they have a chance. It was at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals that a decision was made in 2004 that should have changed the entire course of the issue of the Blue Water Navy.

    On July 29, 2004, the BVA ruled Da Nang Harbor an inland waterway. The ruling involved the USS Richmond K. Turner (CG-20). Here is the wording: “The evidence of record clearly shows that Da Nang Harbor is well sheltered and surrounded on three sides by the shoreline of Vietnam. A map submitted by the Veteran and his representative indicates that the harbor is nearly totally surrounded by land and that the entire harbor is located within the territorial boundaries of Vietnam. Further, the Veteran’s description of his ability to observe the activities on the shoreline is consistent with the map’s indication of the proximity of the land... given the location of the harbor as being surrounded by the land on three sides and the evidence that the harbor is within the territory of Vietnam, and resolving all doubt in the Veteran’s favor, the board finds that Da Nang Harbor is an inland waterway for the purposes of the regulation. Service connection for diabetes mellitus is granted.”

    Later BVA decisions ruled Da Nang Harbor an inland waterway as well. In an April 6, 2009, ruling involving the USS Towers (DDG-9), the BVA came to the same conclusion with similar evidence from the Veteran appellant. The ruling states: “Da Nang Harbor appears to be located on an interior river. The city of Da Nang is surrounded by an interior bay as opposed to having direct open sea access. The Veteran reported being only a few feet from the soil while aboard the USS Towers in the Da Nang Harbor. The board finds that the evidence shows service in the interior waters of Vietnam, and consequently, the Veteran meets the requisite Vietnam service for entitlement to a presumption of herbicide exposure. Service connection for diabetes mellitus, type II is granted.”

    A Nov. 2, 2009, ruling involving the USS Oklahoma City (CLG-5) used the same words as the 2004 decision. The sailor involved was granted presumptive service connection for diabetes mellitus based upon herbicide exposure. The rulings, of course, could change everything. BVA rulings are not precedents, but in these cases there can be only one interpretation: Da Nang Harbor is now considered an inland waterway for the purposes of the regulation. Any member of the crew aboard a ship while it was in Da Nang Harbor is considered to have served in the Republic of Vietnam and is granted automatic presumption for exposure to Agent Orange. The question is no longer if the ship docked or anchored and whether anyone went on land.

    This, of course, was big news. However, there was no announcement of this major ruling from the VA; instead the information was posted on the Internet by the Blue Water Veterans groups. In fact, there has been no official recognition at all from the VA regarding the status of Da Nang Harbor as determined by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, and claims are continuing to be wrongfully rejected.It seems the VA has chosen to ignore the rulings it disagrees with.

    As recently as 2009, the VA rejected claim requests from regional offices with the following explanation: “... The USS Ingersoll traveled up the Saigon River on October 24th and 25th of 1965 to fire on enemy bases. No other capital ships have been confirmed by Department of Defense to have traveled the inland waterways for which herbicide exposure is conceded.” In other words, unless you were on the Ingersoll back in ’65, your claim is denied.

    But the VA Compensation and Pension Service Bulletin of January 2010 added 16 ships and several entire classes of vessels to the presumption list such as all landing ship tanks, all of which, while capital ships, were unfairly stalled as Blue Water ships when they, in fact, had been proven Brown Water by the Veteran claimants. These ships, like the previous “only one ship” Ingersoll, also had operated on the Saigon River and some on the Mekong, Song Lon Tao and Long Song Tao rivers as well as Cam Ranh Bay.

    The disability claims that sailors filed with the VA were mostly not for themselves but rather with the hope they could somehow provide a small pension, and more importantly, full medical benefits, to their wives as the only possible legacy of their service to our country. In far too many cases, because they had been denied disability benefits, their finances had been depleted to the point where they knew their widows would be facing poverty. This is the outrage that has been perpetrated upon these brave souls who once sailed in harm’s way for their country.

    If you think I am exaggerating, here are a few postings you can easily find on the Internet at Veteran-related sites:

    “Does anyone know of anyone diagnosed with Agent Orange-related diseases who served in the Vietnam Blue Water Navy 1967-1969? My husband served aboard the USS Yorktown, and he is dying from Agent Orange-related lung cancer. Even the VA doctors admit his ‘type’ of cells, etc., indicate Agent Orange exposure but VA is still denying the claim.” Anonymous poster on Sept. 6, 2010.

    “Please support our Vets, they deserve our respect. I am a proud wife of a Vietnam Vet, and he is now suffering from Stage 4 prostate cancer. He was onboard the USS Constellation. Blue Water Vets deserve the same compensation as all other Vietnam Vets.” Donna, July 29, 2011

    “My brother, Tom Laliberte, is in the Critical Care Cardiac Unit at Tufts’ Medical Center in Boston. For him, time is running out. Please continue supporting benefits for the remaining Blue Water sailors.” Lori Laliberte, Aug 27, 2010

    “A little late for my brother who went in healthy, had three Blue Water tours in ’Nam and died at 56 years old with liver, kidney, pancreas failures and diabetes. We buried him after he threw up all his own blood from a ruptured spleen or pancreas.” James, June 15, 2011

    “I am really concerned about how I will leave this world, and what will become of my wonderful wife of 28 years? It is a sad state of affairs when one who serves their country, and is put in harm’s way, that our government will not even acknowledge the Blue Water Navy. I am ashamed of my government.” Gary, July 17, 2010

    “I lost my husband in July, 2010, for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after being diagnosed in July of 2009. My husband was on the USS Lynde McCormick DDG-8 from ’71 to ’75. I think it is pathetic what the government is doing to these poor guys and their families. Our youngest is only 14 and was extremely close to his dad. My husband applied for benefits in 2009, and we are still waiting. How do you explain to your children that the government is probably waiting till we die before they help those that have lost someone because of them. It is very sad that our government is doing this to their own people, but are first to jump to help other countries.” Lori Belus, Feb. 20, 2011.

    My research for this piece discovered the McCormick was at Da Nang Harbor and should have been on the VA list of ships that now qualify for Agent Orange benefits, but it still isn’t. In fact, the McCormick was one of the few ships that came under fire from North Vietnam shore batteries. Rare footage on the Internet shows the ship being bracketed by gun splashes at seven miles from shore, although there were no injuries. Evidence here should finally qualify the other crew members of the McCormick for benefits.

    However, as Lori Belus clearly states, it is still pathetic what the government is doing to these men, because non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma happens to be the one disability on the Agent Orange list for which all Vietnam Veterans, including Blue Water sailors, are covered. Remember that the CDC study showed that the highest incidence among all Vietnam Veterans with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was, in fact, the Veterans of the Blue Water Navy. Lori Belus’ husband already had automatic presumption, and his claim should have been approved before his untimely death. That raises another disturbing question. Why is there not emergency priority for Agent Orange claims from any Vietnam Veteran? The government already knows two things about these claims: All of the Veterans are over 50 years old, and any Agent Orange claim is a possible life-threatening situation.

    The BVA ruled Da Nang Harbor an inland waterway more than seven years ago. That’s seven years that the VA could have asked the Department of the Navy to provide a list of every 7th Fleet ship that sailed into Da Nang Harbor and seven years in which disabled Navy Veterans could have received benefits and assistance from their government just as quickly as their counterparts from the other branches of service. This evidence should cause the president to immediately order the controversial rule change to be reversed and eligibility for benefits to be not only restored, but expanded, for sailors who manned the ships of the 7th Fleet. Proof that these separate and clear rulings on Da Nang Harbor have apparently gone ignored by the VA bureaucracy is to be found in instructions to regional offices handling claims.

    A Sept. 9, 2010, memo from the director of compensation and pension service states: “C&P Service considers open water ports such as Da Nang, Cam Ranh Bay and Vung Tau as extensions of ocean waters and not inland waterways.” To further demonstrate how ridiculous this is, the C&P Service explains: “This is illustrated by a quote from the 1967 ship’s history of the USS Cleveland (LPD-7), which states: 'Da Nang Harbor is easy to enter due to being open to the sea.' ” This is bureaucratic insanity at its best. An offhand quote from a sailor in 1967, totally meaningless to the question, has been blocking benefits to tens of thousands of Veterans who continue to suffer and die from their service while solid evidence to the contrary has been evaluated and ruled upon on three occasions by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.

    It’s shameful. Individual sailors are left to themselves to develop a successful claim for Agent Orange as nobody at the VA is going to help them. If they are lucky enough to learn about the Da Nang Harbor ruling in the first place, which by all rights should make them eligible, they are told by the VA they must provide the deck logs of their ship to support their claim. Few Veterans, and hardly any spouses or widows, know how to do this. But the information is there, and anyone who bothers to look will see that nearly every ship, if not all, that went to Vietnam from 1962 until 1975 was at Da Nang Harbor at some time, even the largest aircraft carriers such as USS Independence, Kitty Hawk, Enterprise, Saratoga and Coral Sea. So was the famed battleship USS New Jersey, which took her place at the “Man of War” outer anchorage in September 1968, and the USS Fox (CG-33), which carried Lt. Robert Upshur Woodward, a naval intelligence officer later known as Bob Woodward of The Washington Post.

    More important than the ships themselves were the men aboard. The highest number of Navy Vietnam Veterans is shown at MilitaryUSA.Com, which gives the total as 242,491. Other sources show the number serving in Vietnam as 174,000, out of 229,000 in all of Southeast Asia. Even so, during hearings before congressional committees considering previous Agent Orange equity acts and the now all-important subject of cost, VA representatives testified that if the regulation were restored to cover all sailors, it would result in more than 800,000 new claims. It is an outlandish figure, but even that should not detract from the fact that no matter the actual number, all who served honorably deserve the benefits Congress intended.

    It is vitally important that all survivors know there is no time limit on filing a claim for a survivor’s pension. All widows who remain single, even those remarried and later divorced, are entitled to file for the monthly pension and benefits their husbands earned for them by their sacrifice. What happened recently to the USS Reagan battle group off the coast of Japan is what the Blue Water Navy faced every day off the coast of Vietnam.

    In all of the so-called studies about Agent Orange, none has focused on the one thing to which sailors have testified: that the stuff often appeared in cloud form, in addition to being mostly invisible. And that is why service aboard any ship that saw Vietnam service must be granted presumption, no matter when the service occurred.

    Most capital ships had at least two tours, and ammunition and supply ships had eight to 10 tours. On each tour, each ship was exposed to potential herbicide contamination every day for months at a time. I suspect that contamination could have easily gotten into the shipboard ventilation and water systems. The president could order the Department of Veterans Affairs to ask the Department of the Navy for the U.S. Naval Forces Vietnam Monthly Historical Summaries 1965-1973, which will show the monthly history of every ship in the 7th Fleet.

    The Monthly Historical Summary shows that 100 ships of the 7th Fleet were at Da Nang Harbor in June 1967 alone. Research for this story also unearthed another 132 ships that were at Da Nang Harbor, containing a total of 78,205 crewmen who should always have been eligible for benefits, according to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. These facts alone, in the name of common sense, should persuade the president to order that Agent Orange eligibility be immediately restored to all Navy Veterans of the Vietnam War. It is way past time to stop this nonsense of denying these Veterans the same coverage as other Veterans of Vietnam.

    This was an administrative rule change by the bureaucracy without warning or notice to anyone. It was a slap in the face to the intent of Congress, which nevertheless allowed the Veterans Administration to do as it pleased for years. If more proof of nonsense is needed, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science just completed another exhaustive study, this one ordered, and presumably paid for by the VA and reported on May 20, 2011: “Lack of essential data make it impossible to say whether Blue Water Navy Veterans — who served aboard deep-sea vessels during the Vietnam War — face higher, lower or the same risk as other Vietnam Veterans for long-term health problems associated with exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides. It is plausible that service personnel assigned to deep-sea ships could have come into contact with the herbicides, but the military carried out no measurements of herbicide concentrations in the atmosphere or waterways or of service members’ exposures during the war, so efforts to extrapolate from limited data on air and water currents and personnel locations provide insufficient data on air and water currents, and personnel locations provide insufficient information to make determinations.” Once again, common sense goes out the window in Washington.

    First, if it is “plausible” that they were exposed, then why are we still resisting granting them benefits? What happened to the vaunted concept of benefit of the doubt? The military did not take measurements during the war because the military thought at the time there was no danger from Agent Orange. The notion that there was limited data on air currents is nonsense. Every sailor knows that the prevailing winds from Vietnam are constantly blowing offshore. My high school classmate and lifelong friend, Retired Vice Admiral Edward Straw, testified to Congress during the summer about prevailing winds in Vietnam and the scientific evidence of the USS Reagan, to no avail. Congress has repeatedly shown it is incapable of correcting this injustice to its own intents.

    President Obama can and should resolve this issue. This is, in its simplest terms, really only a matter of regulation. I am calling on President Obama to award benefits to all Veterans who served on any ship that earned the Vietnam Service Medal. He is commander in chief of our armed forces, and he also is head of the government bureaucracy. Will he side with the bureaucrats or will he side with Veterans?Will he side with Florence Langston of Carl Junction, Mo., whose husband, Bruce, a 20-year Navy Veteran, lost his battle with Agent Orange in 2010, leaving his widow to continue his decadelong battle with the VA for rightful benefits? Her story was in Legion magazine in March.

    In the end, may God bring rightful justice to every sailor who ever set foot on a U.S. Navy ship that served in Vietnam waters, no matter what the color of water. There should be no such thing as a Brown Water Navy and a Blue Water Navy. It is a red, white and blue Navy. It is our Navy, and these are and were our sailors. It is past time our country treats them like the heroes they are.

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  • Vets claiming AO

     

    WASHINGTON - The Veterans Benefits Administration denied Vic Vreeland’s disability claim even though a VA doctor told him that exposure to Agent Orange while he served in the Air Force in Guam could be the cause of chronic numbness and pain in his hands and feet.

    It took 609 days from the time the Cedar Creek Veteran filed his claim until a rejection notice arrived in August. While he waited, Vreeland created a website that has become a hit among Veterans, judging by the more than 100,000 page-views this year.

    DenyDenyUntilTheyDie.com, it’s called.

    “If you’ve got a bullet hole, they’re not going to deny you. But these things you can’t see, they’ll tell you it didn’t happen,” said Vreeland, 73, who also suffers from heart disease.

    Thousands of Veterans with similar ailments prepared for a stinging defeat in Congress’s waning hours Thursday as two Senators blocked legislation enabling Navy Veterans who served on ships during the Vietnam War to claim Agent Orange benefits like those awarded automatically to soldiers and marines who served on the ground.

    The Senate posture was galling to many Veterans because the House had passed the legislation in June — 382-0. Veterans fighting the VA over exposure to toxins had reason this year to believe that a new day was at hand when former Department of Veterans Secretary David Shulkin expressed support for their cause. But Shulkin was fired in the spring.

    Beyond benefiting as many as 90,000 Navy Veterans, the legislation was widely viewed as opening a door to Veterans of other wars with toxic wounds.

    They include Gulf war combatants who claim cancers from oil smoke and exploding munitions in Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans who attribute their cancers and respiratory problems to the destruction of chemicals, weapons, and even body parts in burn pits.

    On Thursday morning, a dozen House members flanked by leaders of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Veterans advocates made a last-ditch appeal.

    “Senators have to look at one another and ask, how many people are going to die if they have to wait another year for this to pass?” asked Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., a sponsor.

    The tax-free disability awards Veterans seek are calculated according to severity of the condition and can range from $100 monthly up to $2,000. Advocates view the payments as potentially the difference between ailing Veterans living in comfort or barely scraping by.

    Vreeland is among hundreds of Veterans who contend that they suffer from cancers, heart ailments and other afflictions from exposure to herbicides while they served at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, a key U.S. installation since the mid-20th century.

    With few exceptions, the VA denies their claims for compensation, telling Veterans that no records of Agent Orange use or storage on Guam can be found, an analysis of dozens of recent VA rejections shows.

    Findings by the Government Accountability Office could give an estimated 50,000 Guam Veterans more ammunition. The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, reported last month that a ship carrying drums of Agent Orange docked in Guam. While no records tell what happened to the defoliant, the GAO reported the presence of Agent Orange-like chemicals on the island, as have other studies.

    The GAO report offered a reminder that the multi-billion-dollar disaster of Agent Orange from a half-century ago lingers even though the government has paid benefits to nearly 570,000 Veterans and 200,000 survivors for Agent Orange-related illnesses, records show.

    What’s more, the government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up Agent Orange contamination around the world. Congress appropriated $222 million through last year to clean up hot spots in Vietnam, and a report last month by the Congressional Research Service cited a government estimate that cleaning up a single airfield near Saigon could cost as much as $900 million.

    The GAO put its finger on the problem of many Veterans denied disability benefits: shoddy government record-keeping. The Pentagon’s record of Agent Orange locations outside of Vietnam “is inaccurate and incomplete,” the report said.

    “Without a reliable list with complete and accurate information, and a formal process for the Defense Department and VA to coordinate on communicating this information, Veterans and the public do not have quality information about the full extent of locations where Agent Orange was present and where exposure could potentially have occurred,” the report said.

    In 1991, president George H.W. Bush signed the Agent Orange Act into law, providing benefits to Vietnam-era Veterans with symptoms of 14 ailments associated with exposure to the dangerous defoliant, including cancers and heart disease. An estimated 18-20 million gallons of herbicides including Agent Orange, were sprayed over three million acres of land to destroy enemy cover in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in Operation Ranch Hand from 1961-1972.

    But a decade later, the VA excluded Navy Veterans who served on ships offshore, contending there was insufficient evidence their health problems stemmed from their Vietnam service.

    The bill that passed unanimously in the House was sinking in the Senate under the weight of opposition from the VA. The Veterans’ agency claimed that the legislation could cost the government over $6 billion in the coming decade, require new staff to handle tens of thousands of claims and set a precedent for providing benefits absent clear scientific proof their ailments were war-related.

    A protest march in Washington this month and a hand-carried plea to the White House asking President Donald Trump to intervene thus far could not overcome concerns of Senate fiscal hawks.

    On Dec. 10, sponsors failed on the Senate floor to dislodge the bill from committee and pass it unanimously. Two GOP senators — Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Mike Lee of Utah — invoked a parliamentary procedure that prevented further action, according to Veterans’ advocates.

    “It is dumbfounding to me,” said Navy Veteran Richard Shafer, of Crosby, a radarman on a ship that anchored in Da Nang Harbor in Vietnam. Like other Navy Veterans, he contends that he was poisoned by shipboard water systems polluted by Agent Orange, which the VA disputes.

    Shafer has suffered from prostate cancer, systemic heart disease and Type 2 diabetes - illnesses associated with Agent Orange - but the VA rejected his compensation claim.

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  • Spraying of AO 001

     

    After a period of testing, on this day in 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave final approval to “Operation Ranch Hand” — a massive effort to defoliate the forests of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos with an herbicide known as Agent Orange.

    It involved the spraying of an estimated 20 million gallons of powerful herbicides over rural South Vietnam to deprive Viet Cong insurgents aligned with the communist government in Hanoi of food and vegetation trail cover. To a lesser extent, areas of Cambodia and Laos were also sprayed. The U.S. Air Force flew nearly 20,000 spraying sorties from 1961 to 1971.

    During the decade of spraying, more than 5 million acres of forest and 500,000 acres of crops were heavily damaged or destroyed. Some one-fifth of South Vietnam’s forests were sprayed at least once — at up to 50 times the concentration that would be deployed for normal agricultural use.

    Kennedy insisted on approving individual spray runs until November 1962, when the president authorized Military Assistance Command, Vietnam and the U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam to approve them.

    Previously, top administration officials had debated whether to allow the destruction of crops, at the risk of violating the Geneva Protocol, which the United States had signed in 1925. However, Dean Rusk, the secretary of State, had told Kennedy on Nov. 24, 1961, that "[t]he use of defoliant does not violate any rule of international law concerning the conduct of chemical warfare and is an accepted tactic of war. Precedent has been established by the British during the emergency in Malaya in their use of aircraft for destroying crops by chemical spraying.”

    In early 1964, members of The Federation of American Scientists began to object to the use of defoliants. The American Association for the Advancement of Science passed a resolution in 1966 calling for a field investigation of the Vietnamese herbicide program. In 1967, 17 Nobel laureates and 5,000 other scientists signed a petition asking for the immediate end to the use of herbicides in Vietnam. The administration ignored it.

    The spraying program led some 3 million Vietnamese to suffer health problems caused by exposure to Agent Orange, including a million birth defects. Additionally, the toll on members of the U.S. military who handled the chemicals or were deployed in and around the targeted drop zone areas during the war caused another 2.8 million personnel and their offspring to suffer from its long-term affect — chiefly various cancerous conditions.

    While Operation Ranch Hand ended in 1971, its impact is still being felt today. The Veterans Administration recognizes a long list of diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange. Veterans who were exposed and suffer from one of these conditions receive automatic presumptions of a service linkage, making them eligible for treatment at government expense, without the need to positively prove that such connections exist.

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  • VA Opposes BWN

     

    The Department of Veterans Affairs shows no signs of backing off opposition to extending Agent Orange health care and benefits to "Blue Water Navy" Vietnam Veterans, setting up another major battle this year with Veterans groups and overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate.

    The VA still lacks "sufficient evidence" to prove a presumptive link between service off the coast of Vietnam and the illnesses caused by the widespread use of the defoliant Agent Orange, Paul Lawrence, the VA's under secretary and head of the Veterans Benefits Administration, said Thursday.

    "In terms of presumptives, they come with a real requirement of sufficient evidence to indicate it's warranted," he said in a panel discussion on a VA Town Hall webcast.

    Veterans who served on the ground or on the inland waterways of Vietnam are now eligible for Agent Orange health care and benefits. But existing studies do not show definitive causation between the illnesses suffered by the estimated 90,000 Blue Water Navy Veterans and the use of Agent Orange, Lawrence said.

    "We understand the situation," he said. "We talked about having more studies in 2019 that would give us more insight into what the causation was and the definitive conclusions behind it."

    He gave no indication of when the studies might be completed.

    Blue Water Veterans can file a claim, which will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, Lawrence said, but they "must be supported by science."

    He took a similar position on claims by Veterans that they suffered illnesses from the toxic fumes of the burn pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying those claims also must be supported by scientific evidence.

    On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Veterans for damages against companies that managed the open-air burn pits.

    Last August, Lawrence and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie stunned Congress by announcing their opposition to a bill extending Agent Orange benefits to Blue Water sailors that had overwhelming bipartisan support in the House and Senate.

    The bill had passed 382-0 in the House and appeared headed to easy passage in the Senate with the support of Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

    However, Lawrence, at a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, said, "It's difficult to hear from Veterans who are ill," but "there is no conclusive science" from a report by the Institute of Medicine to show a service connection.

    Major Veterans service organizations (VSOs) disputed Lawrence on the evidence, but the bill failed in December when Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, citing the costs, blocked a Senate vote.

    The Congressional Budget Office had estimated that about 90,000 sailors could be covered by the bill, which would likely cost about $1.1 billion over 10 years.

    Last week, House Democrats reintroduced the "Blue Water Navy" bill, setting up another lengthy battle with the VA on extending Agent Orange benefits.

    In a statement, Rep. Mark Takano, D-California, the new chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said, "We must get to work and finally secure the benefits our Blue Water Navy Veterans earned over 40 years ago."

    On Thursday, three VSOs -- the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars -- said that passage of the Blue Water Navy bill would be at the top of their legislative agenda for 2019.

    "One of our key legislative concerns is ensuring that Veterans who were exposed to dangerous toxic chemicals and other environment hazards during their service receive full compensation and other earned benefits," DAV National Commander Dennis Nixon said in a statement.

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  • VA Rips BWN

     

    Department of Veterans Affairs officials say they strongly oppose passage of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (HR 299), which would extend Agent Orange disability benefits and health care to between 70,000 and 90,000 Veterans who served aboard ships in territorial waters off Vietnam during the war, and today suffer ailments associated with herbicides sprayed across its jungles for years.

    The Blue Water Navy bill passed the House unanimously in late June and seemed certain to fly through the Senate, given reports of close coordination on the bill between the chambers’ Veterans’ Affairs committees, and the House having negotiated a plan to pay for the benefits with major Veteran service organizations.

    On Wednesday, however, with Robert Wilkie installed two days earlier as VA secretary, his undersecretary for benefits, Paul R. Lawrence, delivered a blistering attack on the Blue Water Navy bill, and on a proposal to test providing routine dental care to Veterans, during a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing.

    Lawrence testified that there’s still no credible scientific evidence to support extending Agent Orange-related benefits to shipboard personnel who never went ashore in Vietnam or patrolled its rivers. Without such evidence, he said, it would be wrong, and would create a disastrous precedent, to award VA benefits.

    “This committee set the standard to use science to be fair and consistent in cases such as this,” said Lawrence, referring to the Agent Orange Act of 1991. “Once that standard is removed from the equation, it becomes nearly impossible to adjudicate a claim of this type on the merits. The resulting lower threshold sets in motion the prospect of uncontrolled demands for [VA] support.”

    Lawrence, who took charge of Veteran benefit programs in May, warned that if HR 299 is enacted, it will “be referenced when other exposure claims are presented to this committee. At that point, Congress will be under greater pressure to accommodate these requests too, regardless of the evidence.”

    It wasn’t immediately clear what damage Lawrence and his top official on post-deployment health issues, Dr. Ralph Erickson, inflicted on the popular Blue Water Navy bill. A majority of senators on the committee still spoke in favor.

    But the Trump administration has reversed signals of support that a beleaguered VA secretary, David Shulkin, gave Blue Water advocates in March.

    VA for years had opposed the legislation. The usual hard line softened a year after Shulkin became President Donald Trump’s first VA secretary when he told Rep. David Valado, R-Ga., lead sponsor of the House bill, “that these Veterans have waited too long and this is a responsibility that this country has.”

    Shulkin noted that VA lacked scientific evidence that shipboard personnel were exposed to dioxin. But he said his staff was “working hard to look at offsets” — cuts to other parts of the VA budget — to pay for Blue Water Navy benefits.

    “And it is a high priority for us,” he added.

    Two weeks later Shulkin was fired, deepening a leadership vacuum at VA caused by political chaos at the White House. Trump initially nominated his White House physician, a Navy admiral, to replace Shulkin. The choice soon fell victim to controversy. The House, meanwhile, passed its Blue Water Navy bill after the Veterans’ Affairs Committee negotiated with major Veterans organizations a way to pay for it, by raising user fees modestly on VA guaranteed home loans.

    Wilkie became VA secretary this past Monday. By Wednesday, there was no trace of the accommodating tone on the Blue Water Navy issue that Shulkin had expressed months earlier. Lawrence scorched the bill and its “pay for” plan.

    “VA is opposed to paying for the provisions of this bill by increasing the cost that some Veterans must pay to access their [home loan] benefits. Veterans will either have to finance the VA funding fee with interest, or pay up front with cash. This means fewer Veterans will buy homes or [will] buy homes using non-VA options, potentially opening them to predator lenders,” Lawrence said.

    He further argued that opening Agent Orange benefits to thousands more Veterans would stunt ongoing efforts to reduce the backlog of compensation claims on appeal, adding time and cost to claim processes.

    In written testimony, Lawrence gave fresh estimates on the cost of the Blue Water Navy bill, at total of almost $7 billion over the first 10 years. Some senators pushed back at his attack on the bill, arguing it wouldn’t be needed if VA didn’t set a high bar for these Navy Veterans to gain benefits for conditions on VA’s list of 14 ailments linked to Agent Orange.

    Erickson told senators most of the ailments presumed to be caused by Agent Orange also are tied to aging, therefore VA needs evidence of dioxin exposure for ships at sea. He said a Blue Water Navy review conducted by the Institute of Medicine in 2011 failed to find sufficient evidence of dioxin exposure.

    He and Lawrence dismissed an oft-cited Australian study that was the scientific foundation for that government to award Agent Orange-related benefits to its shipboard Veterans. That study, said Lawrence, was based on an experiment involving distillation of water with presumed levels of dioxin near to shore. It was U.S. Navy policy to take on water for shipboard use more than 12 miles out to sea, to avoid contaminants, Erickson explained.

    Rick Weidman, with Vietnam Veterans of America, made the strongest case in support of Blue Water Veterans: VA officials have misinterpreted the 2011 study, which did find it plausible that shipboard Veterans were exposed to dioxin. Given that Congress already presumes Veterans who served anywhere in Vietnam were exposed, and doesn’t try to calculate level of exposure, that benefit of the doubt should be applied to shipboard personnel too, Weidman said.

    “How much [exposure] makes no difference,” he said. “You don’t know [the] difference for folks who served in the delta versus the central highlands where I served. Who knows? And you can’t put it together 40 years later.”

    VA’s hard line appears to leave Senate Committee Chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in a tough spot. Veteran service organizations and leaders of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee thought Isakson was set to endorse the bill and shepherd it swiftly toward enactment.

    At the hearing, however, Isakson said “we have more work to do on these issues.” He promised the committee would work “deliberately” to understand all facets of the Blue Water bill, including whether the House plan to raise VA home loans fees was enough to pay for it. Isakson asked Lawrence whether charging non-disabled Veterans an extra $250 on every $100,000 in loan value would cover the cost of extending Agent Orange benefits to Blue Water Navy Veterans.

    “Not in our opinion, no,” said Lawrence. Isakson nodded agreement.

    “I did real estate sales my entire life,” Isakson said. “A lot of VA loans, FHA loans. You can make those numbers look like a lot of things. That is not a lot of money” if VA home loan fees are raised, as the House voted, from 2.25 percent of loan amounts to 2.4 percent, for Veterans with active-duty service. “It’s variable too, and depends on number of loans that actually are closed” in any year, he said.

    It seems the Blue Water Navy bill will be adrift in uncertainty for at least several more months, its future dependent on how Senate leaders react to stiffened resistance from the Trump administration.

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  • Grps Fight BWN AO

     

    Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) met Tuesday with Robert Wilkie to try to coax the new VA secretary out of his department’s newly stiffened opposition to a House-passed bill that would extend VA health care and compensation to tens of thousands of former sailors and Marines with Agent Orange-associated ailments.

    “We haven’t convinced him yet,” Brown said in a next day phone interview.

    Without support from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, faces a difficult decision on whether to allow a committee vote this fall on the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (HR 299).

    “Johnny pays a lot of attention to what the VA thinks, as he should [as] chairman,” Brown said.

    The Ohio senator has had several conversations with Isakson on the Blue Water bill and said he “is about as fair-minded and bipartisan a chairman as there is in the Senate.” But Brown declined to guess what Isakson will decide on HR 299 if the VA secretary continues to oppose the bill.

    “If we get the VA on board, it will make this a lot easier, I’ll just answer it that way,” Brown said of prospects for the bill. “Otherwise, I think it will be hard.”

    We tried polling all 15 senators on the committee to learn what impact VA opposition to HR 299 has had on their support for the bill. A spokesman for Isakson said only that he “is actively working” with the VA, outside stakeholders and his committee “on a path forward on this legislation.”

    Sens. John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), noted they are original co-sponsors of a near identical Senate bill. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the bill should be passed and signed into law “without delay.” A “disappointed” Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said he wrote to Wilkie, urging him to reconsider his opposition. And Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said he still is reviewing HR 299 and working with colleagues to do “what is best” for Veterans.

    Meanwhile, pressure on Isakson builds. Every major Veterans’ group and most military associations urged him this week to move the bill out of committee. Their volley of letters responded to Wilkie’s own Sept. 6 letter to Isakson expanding on why VA opposes extending benefits to Veterans who served on ships off Vietnam and have ailments associated with exposure to dioxin in Agent Orange.

    Wilkie noted again that the latest review of available scientific evidence by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), from 2011, concluded that exposure of shipboard personnel to defoliants sprayed over Vietnam “cannot reasonably be determined.” Also, he said, Navy ships were required to draw seawater for conversion to shipboard potable water 12 miles from any river, making the presence of Agent Orange “highly unlikely” and the “dilution factor would have been significant.”

    He also criticized how the House-passed bill would pay part of the cost of expanding benefits to Blue Water Vets by ending an exemption from VA home loan funding fees for certain disabled Veterans, those not rated fully and permanently disabled and seeking jumbo loans. The amount of such loans can start as low $453,100, or as high as $679,650, depending on local housing market prices.

    If HR 299 becomes law, Wilkie wrote, on a home loan of $500,000 “a disabled Veteran could be required to pay $12,000 to the VA in funding fees (plus interest if rolled into the life of the loan) rather … $11,725 as a down payment, which results in home equity.”

    Advocates for Blue Water Veterans argue Wilkie and staff have fallen into a previous pattern of “cherry-picking” information from scientific reports to conclude there is no scientific basis to support extending Agent Orange-related benefits. They also criticize a fresh VA estimate on the cost of HR 299 — $5.5 billion over 10 years — as wildly high and claim VA exaggerates the impact on home-buying Veterans of planned funding fee increases, particularly for disabled Veterans.

    Former surface warfare officer, retired Navy commander and lawyer John B. Wells, who has served as general counsel to the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association, considers himself the technical expert on the science and shipboard practices that, he argues, support extending Agent Orange benefits.

    The Slidell, Louisiana, attorney also is executive director of a nonprofit corporation that litigates and advocates for Veterans and trains other attorneys on Veterans’ law. Wells complained to Wilkie that VA staff for Blue Water issues have no naval operational experience or expertise in hydrology, thermodynamics and other relevant sciences for determining how Agent Orange reached sailors at sea.

    “The VA consistently cherry picks through the (IOM) reports taking phrases out of context to support their position,” Wells wrote.

    A conclusion VA ignores from a 2008 IOM report is that the evidence its research committee “reviewed makes limiting Vietnam service to those who set foot on Vietnamese soil seem inappropriate.”

    The same report said: “Given the available evidence, the committee recommends that members of the Blue Water Navy should not be excluded from the set of Vietnam-era Veterans with presumed herbicide exposure.”

    Regarding the 2011 report finding that Agent Orange exposure by Blue Water Veterans “could not reasonably be determined,” it needs context, Wells said.

    “What [IOM] actually said was: This lack of information makes it impossible to quantify exposures for Blue Water and Brown Water Navy sailors and, so far, for ground troops as well,” Wells wrote. Therefore, IOM couldn’t “state with certainty whether Blue Water Navy personnel were or were not exposed to Agent Orange.”

    While the IOM was told Navy ships did not typically make potable water within 12 miles of shore, Wells said it also was told that in exceptional circumstances a ship might take up water for distillation close to the coastline.

    Mike Yates, national commander of Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association, wrote separately to Isakson. Among points he made was that naval gunfire support data show many ships operated within three nautical miles of the Vietnam coast for periods long enough to mandate water distillation. Also, some Navy ships were provided potable water from barges operating from shore, a practice not known to the IOM before it produced its 2011 report.

    More arguments are made in two joint letters to Isakson in mid-September. One is from The Military Coalition, a consortium of 27 Veterans groups and military associations, and another from Veteran service organizations: Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion and Paralyzed Veterans of America.

    The second letter reflects a consequential shift of position. The four large Vet groups all now agree they do not support imposing new fees on any service-connected disabled Veteran, even for jumbo home loans. Disabled Veterans “have already paid with their service, and we therefore urge the Committee to strike this provision from HR 299 before passing the legislation.”

    If the senators embrace that change, they would have to find other budget offsets to cover the cost of the bill, which VA contends already were woefully inadequate in the House bill to satisfy balanced-budget law requirements. Also, any change to HR 299 would require the bill’s return to the House to be voted on again, increasing the risk that the 115th Congress will run out of time to pass a Blue Water Navy bill.

    In that case, advocates would have to restart their quest in 2019 with a mix of lawmakers significantly altered by November’s election.

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  • Vets Deprived

     

    When a Veterans bill passes the House by a vote of 382-0, one would think that the Senate would quickly follow suit and send it to the president for signature. However, in today's partisan environment, unanimous votes are hard to get. But after a seven year struggle, Navy Veterans succeeded in doing so.

    A volunteer grassroots effort educated Congress on the need to extend the presumption of agent orange exposure to those ships who serve in the bays, harbors and territorial sea of the Republic of Vietnam. Tens of thousands of sick and dying Navy Veterans and their survivors, cheered the House vote and thought that they would finally receive their earned compensation and medical benefits.

    The tragedy of the so-called Blue Water Navy Veterans began in 2002 when the VA Secretary, with a stroke of a pen, rescinded the presumption of exposure authorized by Congress in the 1991.

    The VA general counsel, ignoring both domestic and international law, decided that the term A service in the Republic of Vietnam was limited to the land mass and internal river system. Despite the fact that the United States recognized Vietnamese sovereignty over their territorial sea, the VA decided that Vietnamese sovereignty ended at the water's edge.

    Reacting to the House vote, VA bureaucrats fought back. At a hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, VA Under Secretary Paul Lawrence, an Army Veteran with no nautical experience, argued that science did not support the exposure of the Navy Veterans.

    The most senior Naval officers and hydrologists agree that the bill is well grounded in science. The Institute of Medicine has confirmed the accepted view that the agent orange petroleum mix floated into Vietnamese estuarine waters. Another study by the State of New Jersey found that a spill in the Passaic River contaminated seafood over 150 miles from shore. The scientific facts speak for themselves.

    The Institute of Medicine also confirmed findings by the University of Queensland that the evaporation distillation system, that converted salt water to potable water, actually enriched the dioxin. Our Australian allies also discovered a higher cancer incidence in Navy Vietnam Veterans than those who fought in country. The Center for Disease Control found similar heightened occurrence of Non Hodgkins Lymphoma in Navy Veterans.

    The VA argued that Navy ships did not distill water within twelve miles of shore. This guidance, issued two decades after the war, allowed potable water distillation at the Commanding Officer's discretion and placed no restriction on the distillation of feed water for the boilers. The same system was used for both. Harbor water used for the boilers contaminated the entire water distribution system. This information had been previously provided to the VA.

    The previous Secretary Dr. David Shulkin supported the bill. In a letter to Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) Shulkin stated that many of our Vietnam Veterans were not treated with the dignity and respect that they deserved. But those were different times. We now can do better. These Vietnam Veterans have waited too long. It is time for us as a country to do the right thing.

    When the VA withdrew support for the bill, it tied the matter up in the Senate Committee where it could die at the end of the session. In a letter to Chairman Isakson, Wilkie complained that the bill would set a precedent and intimated that the archaic Veterans Benefits Administration could not absorb tens of thousands of claims requests from these Veterans, as well as hundred of thousands, or perhaps millions, of claims from other victims of military toxic exposure. Secretary Wilkie has agreed to meet with Military-Veterans Advocacy representatives on Dec. 3 to discuss the issue.

    As the lame duck session comes to a close, the Senate is still considering the House bill to extend the presumption of exposure to ships that served offshore. On the horizon, is the case of Procopio v. Wilkie, pending at the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit which could result in the same expansion. The question is will relief come first from the courts or Congress; or not at all.

    President Trump has stated repeatedly that it is the VA's job to take care of Veterans. Yet these Veterans have been deprived of their earned benefits for the better part of two decades. Whether through the courts, Congress or the VA itself, it is time for this country to recognize the sacrifice of these Veterans and restore their benefits.

    John B. Wells is a retired Navy commander who served for 22 years on several ships as a surface warfare officer. In his second career, he is an attorney emphasizing military and Veterans law. He now acts as executive director of Military-Veterans Advocacy aSlidell,Louisiana based non-profit.

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  • Website Updates 002 

  • AO Symptoms

     

    WICKLIFFE, KY — October is Agent Orange Awareness Month.

    Agent Orange is a powerful herbicide that contains the deadly chemical dioxin. About 11 million gallons were sprayed in Vietnam between 1962 and 1971.

    The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says any Veteran who served anywhere in Vietnam during the war is presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange.

    Kathy Diehl lost her husband, Ron, a year ago to the effects of Agent Orange.

    A poster at the Kentucky Veteran and Patriot Museum is dedicated in his honor. They didn’t know the herbicide was the cause until after his death.

    Diehl warns Veterans to be aware of symptoms of conditions linked to Agent Orange exposure and not to ignore them.

    “If you look at the list of symptoms from exposure to Agent Orange, there are those signs. And people need to look at those, our Veterans do. And they need to seek early treatment and get those things documented.” Diehl said.

    Agent Orange has been linked to several diseases and other health conditions. For a list of those issues and more information about Agent Orange, click here.

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