At a meeting in March, a lead analyst in the VA’s compensation service was critical of the media, scientists and the VA’s own administrative tribunal for taking positions that differ from his. The VA said his comments “did not fully or accurately reflect VA’s position” but also said his quotes were being taken out of context.
A key federal official who helps adjudicate claims by veterans who say they were exposed to Agent Orange has downplayed the risks of the chemical herbicide and questioned the findings of scientists, journalists and even a federal administrative tribunal that conflict with his views.
Jim Sampsel, a lead analyst within the Department of Veterans Affairs’ compensation service, told a VA advisory committee in March that he believes much of the renewed attention to Agent Orange — used during the Vietnam War to kill brush and deny cover to enemy troops — is the result of media “hype” and “hysteria,” according to a transcript of the meeting released to ProPublica.
“When it comes to Agent Orange, the facts don’t always matter,” said Sampsel, himself a Vietnam veteran who also handles Gulf War-related illness questions. “So we have to deal with the law as written.”
Part of Sampsel’s job entails reviewing evidence to determine whether a veteran or group of veterans came in contact with Agent Orange outside of Vietnam. By law, veterans are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange if they served or stepped foot in Vietnam; they have to prove exposure if they served at sea or in another country during the war. They also must have a disease that the VA ties to exposure to the herbicide.
“From my point of view, I will do anything to help veterans, any legitimate veteran, and I’ve done it plenty of times,” he told the Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation, a group that advises the VA. “Unfortunately when it comes to this Agent Orange, we have to have a lot of denials.”