Over the years veterans have being fighting the US Department of Veterans Affairs for health care and compensation for illness and disease related to Agent Orange exposure after flying contaminated aircraft. Finally, those airmen will receive the service-connected benefits that they deserve.

It was announced by the VA on Thursday, June 18th that eligibility for Department of Veterans Affairs disability benefits would expand to the 2,100 Air Force members that flew in C-123 aircraft after they were used in Vietnam. This new ruling could provide health care and payments for 1,500 to 2,100 veterans, some of which suffer from Agent Orange exposure related illnesses.

Recently, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) discovered that the former service members were indeed exposed to dioxins while flying certain aircraft after Operation Ranch Hand. The conclusions of that report were similar to those found by another federal agency in 2012.

The VA has insisted for years that small amounts of dioxin on internal aircraft surfaces were not “biologically available for skin absorption or inhalation because dioxin is not water- or sweat-soluble and does not give off airborne particles.”

Multiple consultants and the IOM were paid more than $1 million to study the issue while denying claims and questioning validity.

Alan Young, a consultant hired by the Veterans Benefit Administration, accused the airmen of being “freeloaders.” He also said their motive was to “cash in on tax-free money for health issues that originate from their lifestyles and aging.”

“There was no exposure to Agent Orange or the dioxin but that doesn’t stop them from concocting exposure stories hoping some congressional member will feel sorry for them,” Young sent in a 2011 email.

According to some Air Force documents from as far back as 1994, there are notes that tests on at least one C-123 had positive results for dioxin. The Air Force even destroyed 18 of the aircraft in 2010 in regards to the potential liability for Agent Orange.

Although it took years for the VA to do an about-face, veterans are finally able to file claims as of Friday, June 19th. VA Secretary Bob McDonald called the servicemembers a “deserving group of Air Force veterans and reservists,” and said that ruling their illnesses as service-connected is, “the right thing to do.”

In a statement released Thursday, McDonald stated, “we thank the IOM for its thorough review that provided the supporting evidence needed to ensure we can now fully compensate any former crew member who develops an Agent Orange-related disability.”

According to the new ruling, “flight, medical and ground maintenance crew members who served on C-123s are presumed to have exposed and for any reservist who is ill, the exposure is presumed to have occurred while they were training, making them eligible for VA benefits including disability compensation, medical care, dependency benefits, indemnity compensation and burial.”

The reservists that have been affected may have served in these units from 1969 to 1986: the 906th and 907th Tactical Air groups or 355th and 356th Tactical Airlift squadrons at Lockbourne/Rickenbacker Air Force Base, Ohio; the 731st Tactical Air Squadron and 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts; and the 758th Airlift Squadron, Pittsburgh.

Eligibility may extend to some active-duty personnel. Those who served in a regular USAF location where a dioxin-contaminated C-123 was assigned, had regular contact with the plane, and now have an Agent Orange-related illness are advised to apply for benefits.

Retired Air Force Maj, Wes Carter, a former C-123 officer who has fought for the health benefits and compensation for other C-123 veterans, said the VA decision is “a relief” that is unfortunately “tempered by the grief felt for lost comrades.”

Despite the change, Carter is still outraged that the VA ignored the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry conclusions from a 2012 report. The findings concluded that swabs taken from the planes in 1994 tested 182 times higher for dioxin than the screening values established by the Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine.

Those samples showed a 200-fold excess cancer risk.

In addition, the Veterans Benefits Administration ignored an email from the Defense Department’s Joint Service Records Research Center in 2013 that contained information that at least one of the C-123 tested positive for dioxin in 1994.

“Every medical and scientific fact that convinced the Institute of Medicine of our Agent Orange exposures in 2014 had been presented to the VA years earlier but was ignored. This is wrong,” stated Carter. “We ask Secretary McDonald and [Under Secretary Allison] Hickey for their careful review of VA actions to insure that toxic exposure veterans never again face such an unhappy struggle.”

Veterans with questions related to the exposure on C-123 aircraft can call the VA’s special C-123 Hotline at 800-749-8387 or email VSCC123.VAVBASPL@va.gov .

The Archuleta Law Firm handles injury, death, and veterans medical malpractice claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act. We handle claims in all 50 States and Worldwide. Our focus is helping Veterans, and the families of Veterans and Military Service Members in their claims involving Veterans (VA) Hospitals, Doctors and Clinics and Military Hospitals, Doctors and Clinics. We handle claims involving the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Air Force.

Source: Military Times