At least 10 veterans exposed to Agent Orange while serving aboard
aircraft contaminated by the Vietnam-era defoliant have died after being
denied care by the Department of Veterans Affairs, two veterans groups
The veterans, who served between 1972 and 1982, flew or maintained
the C-123 aircraft that were used to spray Agent Orange on Southeast
Asian forests during the Vietnam War. They maintain that the residue
from those flights exposed them to deadly toxins – a charge the Air
Force has disputed.
While the VA has said it presumes that certain illnesses among
Vietnam veterans were caused by exposure to Agent Orange, the veterans
groups said they don't extend the same presumption to those postwar
veterans who flew in contaminated aircraft. The reason is that the
agency has adopted an unscientific notion of the definition of
"exposure," the groups said.
"VA continues to deny all claims from post-Vietnam C-123 veterans,
while at the same time deceptively assuring Congress that claims are
considered 'on a case-by-case basis,'" the Vietnam Veterans of America
and the C-123 Veterans Association said in a joint statement. "In fact,
VA does not tell Congress that all C-123 claims are refused following a
year or two delay."
This argument is playing out in a more restrained way before the Institute of Medicine, which recently took testimony on
the question of whether C-123 veterans were exposed to dangerously high
levels of toxins from contaminated aircraft. On one side was a VA
consultant named A.L. Young, who has long argued
that any exposure to Agent Orange residues by C-123 crews was
"negligible." On the other was a C-123 veteran and an array of
scientists including Rutgers professor and microbiology researcher Peter Kahn.
"What the government has been doing," he told the panel earlier in
June, is "putting up the façade of scientific objectivity in order to
avoid action. I regard it as a failure of political courage and moral
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