After years of battling the Veterans Affairs Department for health
care and compensation for illnesses related to Agent Orange exposure
from aircraft flown after the Vietnam War, a group of up to 2,100 Air
Force personnel and reservists finally will receive service-connected
VA announced Thursday it will expand eligibility for
benefits to Air Force members who flew in C-123 aircraft after they were
used in Vietnam to spray the toxic herbicide.
The move could
provide health care and disability payments for 1,500 to 2,100 former
service members, some of whom are suffering illnesses listed among the
14 presumed to be related to Agent Orange exposure.
year, the Institute of Medicine concluded that the veterans had been
exposed to dioxins in Agent Orange while flying the aircraft after they
had been used in Operation Ranch Hand.
The report's conclusions were similar to those reached by another federal agency in 2012.
VA has insisted for years that trace 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."
VA paid multiple consultants and
the Institute of Medicine more than $1 million to study the issue, all
the while denying claims or questioning their validity.
point, Alan Young, a consultant hired by the Veterans Benefit
Administration to study possible exposure on the aircraft, labeled the
airmen seeking compensation "freeloaders" and said the only reason the
reservists were seeking presumptive compensation is so they could "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 wrote
in an email in 2011.
But Air Force documents dating as far back as
1994 noted that tests on at least one C-123 aircraft came up positive
for dioxin; in fact, the Air Force destroyed 18 of the aircraft in 2010,
smelting them out of concerns about potential liability for Agent
Orange, according to service documents.
Still, it took years for
VA to do an about-face. But now that has happened, according to the
newly published regulation. Veterans will be eligible to file claims
VA Secretary Bob McDonald called the personnel a
"deserving group of Air Force veterans and reservists," saying that
ruling their illnesses are service-connected is "the right thing to do."
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," McDonald said
in a statement released Thursday.