October 7, 2014 In 2011, Wes Carter was talking to a handful of friends when he realized they had something in common: They all flew on the C-123 planes after the Vietnam War, and they were all sick.
During the Vietnam War, C-123s were used to spray the herbicide Agent Orange. Although the planes were being used for cargo and medical flights by the time Carter served after the war, he and his fellow veterans believe their illnesses—which range from diabetes to cancer—are tied to their time on the planes between 1972 and 1982.
"We were physically scraping goop from nooks and crannies trying to get the thing as clean as possible, because there's quite an odor to it," said Carter, 68, who flew on a C-123 plane and believes that his prostate cancer and heart disease are tied to his time in the service.
So far, C-123 veterans have had little luck getting their disability claims granted.
Last year, C-123 pilot Paul Bailey, who died in October 2013 after suffering from prostate cancer, became the first of Carter's group to get his exposure to Agent Orange recognized without having to seek help from the Board of Veterans Appeals.
"I've said that because they've granted one, that becomes the de facto standard, why not grant them all?" said Thomas Bandzul, a lawyer representing the C-123 veterans.
The Veterans Affairs Department said in a July 2013 letter to Bailey that the "preponderance of the evidence suggests that you were exposed to herbicide onboard the U.S. Air Force C-123K aircraft." But the claims are considered on a case-by-case basis, meaning the decision isn't factored in when VA staff look at other disability requests.
The C-123 crew isn't the first group of veterans to accuse the VA of being unwilling to recognize that their illnesses are tied to Agent Orange exposure. For decades, veterans who served in the Vietnam War tried to get disability compensation, to no avail. It wasn't until almost 20 years after the war that the VA began to link certain illnesses in Vietnam veterans to Agent Orange. They are still pressing the department to cover more illnesses, with former Secretary Eric Shinseki in 2010 tying four more diseases to Agent Orange for Vietnam veterans.
And, as before, the VA and the C-123 veterans each believe they have science on their side.READ MORE