Retired Lt Col. Paul Bailey belonged to one of those reserve units. Today, he has terminal cancer and, like his sick former co-workers, he has been denied by the Department of Veterans Affairs for Agent Orange-related veterans benefits, despite expert opinions that he was likely exposed to the lingering toxic herbicide. "Magically, once the planes left Vietnam they were no longer contaminated," said Bailey, criticizing what he sees as irrational government policy. "It's frustrating."
Between 1972 and 1982, about 1,500 men and women served aboard 34 C-123s that were previously deployed in Operation Ranch Hand, a large-scale defoliation mission in Vietnam and other countries in Southeast Asia. The planes underwent no testing or decontamination between their decade of spraying and their new state-side assignments with the Air Force Reserve, according to retired Maj. Wes Carter, who himself served aboard C-123s and has been conducting research on their toxic history. Air Force Reserve veterans also recall no warnings about contamination, or equipment to protect them from any potential aftereffects. Presumably, their superiors were themselves unaware of any danger.
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