Wednesday, March 2, 2022

VA will propose adding rare cancers to the presumed service-connected list as related to military environmental exposure

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs intends to propose adding certain rare respiratory cancers to the list of presumed service-connected disabilities in relation to military environmental exposure to particulate matter.

VA determined through a focused review of scientific and medical evidence there is biologic plausibility between airborne hazards, specifically particulate matter, and carcinogenesis of the respiratory tract, and that the unique circumstances of these rare cancers warrant a presumption of service connection.

Based on these findings, VA’s Secretary is proposing a rule that will add presumptive service connection for several rare respiratory cancers for certain Veterans. The cancers under consideration include:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma of the trachea.
  • Adenocarcinoma of the trachea.
  • Salivary gland-type tumors of the trachea.
  • Adenosquamous carcinoma of the lung.
  • Large cell carcinoma of the lung.
  • Salivary gland-type tumors of the lung.
  • Sarcomatoid carcinoma of the lung.
  • Typical and atypical carcinoid of the lung.

“This is the right decision. The rarity and severity of these illnesses, and the reality that these conditions present a situation where it may not be possible to develop additional evidence prompted us to take this critical action,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “We’ll continue to hold ourselves accountable to Veterans to provide more care, more benefits and more services to more Veterans than ever before.”

VA intends to focus its rule on the rare respiratory cancers above in Veterans who served any amount of time in the Southwest Asia theater of operations and other locations. VA will invite and consider public comments as part of this process.

Once rulemaking is complete, VA will conduct outreach to impacted veterans and survivors to inform them about potential eligibility.

Dioxin cleanup underway at Seabee Base in Gulfport


GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - If you drive 28th Street in Gulfport, you probably have wondered what has been going on in the northwest corner of the Seabee Base.

The area, known as Site 7, is being cleared and cleaned to remove any remaining Dioxin. It’s a dangerous chemical found in Agent Orange, a tactical herbicide used during the Vietnam War that has since been linked to certain cancers and other illnesses.

From 1968 to 1977, the Air Force stored more than 15,000 drums of the herbicide on the Seabee Base. Some of the drums leaked over time, contaminating surrounding areas.

Gulfport was actually the largest storage area for the chemical in the continental United States before it was shipped to Vietnam.

Over the years, the chemical has been removed from areas outside the Seabee Base and brought to a containment site on base which has been contained under one foot of concrete. That area is now used as a mobilization site for Navy heavy equipment.

This 18-acre site, which was a landfill, had exposure from low-level dioxin that was removed from surrounding ditches and placed there. The overall cleanup has been going on for 40 years.

“This is a fairly substantial milestone for the environmental restoration program on board NCBC Gulfport. That all of the sites that were identified have been remediated and put into a long-term status with not only the Navy, but also with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality,” explained J.D. Spalding with Naval Facilities and Engineering Command Southeast.

Spaulding called this phase of the cleanup, “the end of an era” that was established in the 1980s.


What Lies Beneath - Vets worry polluted base left them ill


FORT ORD NATIONAL MONUMENT, Calif. (AP) — For nearly 80 years, recruits reporting to central California’s Fort Ord considered themselves the lucky ones, privileged to live and work amid sparkling seas, sandy dunes and sage-covered hills.

But there was an underside, the dirty work of soldiering. Recruits tossed live grenades into the canyons of “Mortar Alley,” sprayed soapy chemicals on burn pits of scrap metal and solvents, poured toxic substances down drains and into leaky tanks they buried underground.

When it rained, poisons percolated into aquifers from which they drew drinking water.

Through the years, soldiers and civilians who lived at the U.S. Army base didn’t question whether their tap water was safe to drink.

Rusted barrels rest outside barracks at Fort Ord on Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in Fort Ord, Calif. Hundreds of Fort Ord veterans are being diagnosed with rare blood cancers, according to a database compiled by a former soldier and shared with The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

But in 1990, four years before it began the process of closing as an active military training base, Fort Ord was added to the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of the most polluted places in the nation. Included in that pollution were dozens of chemicals, some now known to cause cancer, found in the base’s drinking water and soil.

Decades later, several Fort Ord veterans who were diagnosed with cancers — especially rare blood disorders — took the question to Facebook: Are there more of us?

Soon, the group grew to hundreds of people who had lived or served at Fort Ord and were concerned that their health problems might be tied to the chemicals there.

The Associated Press interviewed nearly two dozen of these veterans for this story and identified many more. The AP also reviewed thousands of pages of documents, and interviewed military, medical and environmental scientists.

There is rarely a way to directly connect toxic exposure to a specific individual’s medical condition. Indeed, the concentrations of the toxics are tiny, measured in parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of an immediate poisoning. Local utilities, the Defense Department and some in the Department of Veterans Affairs insist Fort Ord’s water is safe and always has been.


Thursday, February 17, 2022

Scaled-Down Toxic Exposure Bill Passed by Senate


The Senate on Wednesday quickly and quietly approved a bipartisan bill intended to extend Department of Veterans Affairs health care to more veterans suffering from conditions related to toxic exposure.

The bill was a pared-down version of legislation that had been introduced in both the House and Senate, legislation that would have dramatically expanded benefits for toxic exposure victims but was deemed too pricey by some critics due to projected costs of more than $200 billion. The scaled-down bill was approved by unanimous consent, meaning no one objected when Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., asked on the Senate floor for the bill to pass.

But even though no one objected Wednesday, the bill has garnered criticism from some Democratic lawmakers and advocates who say it does not go far enough to help veterans now suffering from fatal diseases after breathing in toxins during their time in the military.

The bill, which was negotiated by Tester and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee ranking member Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and introduced just two weeks ago, would create a one-year enrollment period for VA medical care for post-9/11 combat veterans who served after 1998 and never enrolled. It would also extend the enrollment period for all formerly deployed post-9/11 combat vets from five years to 10.

The bill would also mandate that the VA screen patients for potential exposure to toxic substances during their military services.


VA to Overhaul Disability Evaluations for Mental Health, Other Conditions


The Department of Veterans Affairs will change its disability ratings criteria for mental health conditions, sleep apnea and tinnitus, part of a major overhaul of the review process to ensure that compensation matches veterans' medical conditions and needs, department officials say.

The VA plans to update its Schedule for Rating Disabilities -- its guide for determining how it evaluates and provides benefits for service-connected disabilities -- for mental health conditions, to include their impact on veterans' lives, and abolish the "0%" disability rating for any service-connected mental health diagnosis in favor of a 10% minimum, according to a notice published Tuesday in the Federal Register.

For tinnitus, the department will get rid of its stand-alone rating and consider the condition a symptom of whatever underlying disease is its cause.

As for sleep apnea, ratings will be assessed based on the effectiveness of treatment and the condition's impact on "earning impairment," according to the notice.

Previously, most conditions were assessed on the number and severity of symptoms, but VA officials said the consideration of lost wages or productivity is needed to ensure that the department compensates veterans appropriately.


Drug Strategy Could Help the Brain After Exposure to Toxic Pollutant


New research shows that exposure to the industrial byproduct TCDD in utero could cause the brain’s immune system to go array later in life, damaging important brain circuits, and potentially giving rise to neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism and ADHD. TCDD is primarily released into the environment by vehicle exhaust and burning wood and low levels of the toxin are found in air, soil, and food. The most common way people are exposed is through meat, dairy, and fish.

In the same study, recently published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, researchers also found that pharmacological manipulation could restore the function of microglia, important cells in the brain’s immune system. “This suggests that defects in microglia function resulting from prenatal exposures can be reversed later in life, indicating a possible additional therapeutic avenue for neurodevelopmental disorders,” said Rebecca Lowery, Ph.D., assistant research professor in the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester, and co-first author of the study.

The research, which was conducted in mice, showed that when the brains of males were exposed to TCDD in utero, it caused inflammation which cause microglia to go array when responding to injury. While the microglia themselves appeared healthy, the cells became over activated while responding to injury in a way that could damage important brain circuits. But investigators found that by using the drug Pexidartinib (PLX3397) they could ‘shut-off’ the hyper-responsive microglia and those were replaced by new microglia that functioned normally.


Three maps remind us of the horror of the Vietnam War


Wars transform nations. Then they end, and as their veterans die, they fade from living memory into history. That is now happening to the Vietnam War, the conflict that dominated both America’s foreign policy and its domestic politics for much of the 1960s and 70s.

Two million Vietnam vets left

Losing the last living link to a war is an important moment in the life of a nation. The death in 1956 of Albert Woolson (106), the last undisputed veteran of the Civil War, was significant enough to be acknowledged by President Eisenhower himself. For Vietnam, the “Woolson moment” is still far off. Of the 2.7 million Americans who served in Vietnam, just under two million* are still alive. But as many are now in their late 70s, their numbers will start to decline rapidly.

For most other Americans, “Vietnam” is ancient history. Heck, even Rambo is 40 years old. The nearest intimation anybody under 50 has of what the war must have felt like, came last year, with the chaotic U.S. evacuation of Kabul. As some with long memories said, it was so eerily reminiscent of the Fall of Saigon in 1975.

But mostly, the Vietnam War has fallen off the radar. Perhaps, this is not so surprising. The martial appetite of those vast legions of armchair generals is sated by an endless stream of content about World War II. As for Vietnam: Communism, which Americans went there to stop from spreading, is no longer a geopolitical threat. Vietnam itself is now an exotic holiday destination for Americans, even a potential ally against China.

Yet there are still doors in time that open directly from here and now into the horror of what the Vietnamese call “the American War.” Pictures, mainly — of that Buddhist monk, self-immolating in anti-war protest, or of that girl, naked and crying because of the napalm that flattened her village and burned her skin.


Nearly 4,000 More 9/11 Vets Have Died in the Past 20 Years Than Anticipated, Study Finds


Post-9/11 veterans are dying at higher rates than Americans overall, particularly through accidents, suicide and homicide, new research has found. The numbers are even higher for veterans who have suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Veterans who have served since Sept. 11, 2001, are dying via suicide at twice the rate of Americans overall, with homicide claiming retired service members at one-and-a-half times the rate of the general population.

They also had slightly higher rates of accidental deaths, according to a study published Friday in JAMA Network Open.

The death rates were significantly higher for those with a history of traumatic brain injury: Veterans who experienced a mild traumatic brain injury died at nearly twice the general rate for accidents from 2002 to 2018 and three times the rate by suicide, while those with moderate to severe brain injuries were five times as likely to die by suicide and faced a threefold risk of being murdered or dying in an accident.

The study is the first to look at "excess deaths" among veterans who have served since Sept. 11, 2001, examining the number of deaths over and above what normally would have been expected during the 17-year study period.

The researchers, led by Jeffrey Howard, an associate professor of public health at the University of Texas at San Antonio, reviewed records of more than 2.5 million post-9/11 veterans to catalog their long-term health outcomes with a focus on those with a history of a brain injury.




Researchers have found that as many as one in three Americans have a relatively high amount of a toxic weed-killing chemical in their bodies.

In a paper published in the journal Environmental Health, the team explored the prevalence of 2,4-D, a chemical frequently used as an herbicide to control weed growth.

The researchers found that nearly 33 percent of the urine samples collected from 14,395 study participants had detectable amounts of the chemical in their bodies.

“Our study suggests human exposures to 2,4-D have gone up significantly and they are predicted to rise even more in the future,” Marlaina Freisthler, PhD student and researcher at the George Washington University and co-author of the study, said in a press release.


Dublin VA warns 4,600 veterans they may have been exposed to HIV, Hep. B or Hep. C


The Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin had to stop all medical procedures and operations for two days last month due to concerns over reused medical equipment.

On Jan. 12-14 the VA halted all procedures and related operations after an internal review found not all steps were followed to ensure safe cleaning or sterilization between patients, according to a press release.

The VA notified all veterans potentially impacted by this and explained the potential risks, including transmission of Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV. Officials offered any patients who may have been exposed free testing for blood-borne pathogens. Testing is not required but anyone with concerns may come in for the testing.

The VA is offering testing through Feb. 25 at specified sites, but testing will continue after that date at the VA so every veteran has the opportunity to be tested.


Wednesday, February 9, 2022

GAO Report About Veterans (Vietnam & Type 2 Diabetes)



What GAO Found

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) considers Type 2 diabetes—which most often develops in adults due to several factors, including genetics, physical inactivity, and environmental factors—to be associated with exposure to herbicides used in the Vietnam War. VA does not assume the same association exists with Type 1 diabetes, for which the exact causes are unknown but most often develops in children and teens.

VA does not have comprehensive data on claims involving Type 1 diabetes. Specifically, data for Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) claims decisions are not available prior to 2003. Further, available VBA data do not distinguish between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes because VBA tracks both conditions using the same medical diagnostic code. Thus, GAO cannot reliably report the number of claims that VBA has granted or denied to Vietnam veterans for Type 1 diabetes. VBA officials stated they do not systematically track claims for Type 1 diabetes, but they can identify Type 1 diabetes claims by performing customized text searches. Accordingly, VBA identified around 1,900 claims decisions as potentially involving Type 1 diabetes from fiscal year 2003 through July 2021, which represented less than 1 percent of all decisions for diabetes during that time. Additionally, officials from VA and representatives from veterans service organizations said they did not expect there would be many claims for Type 1 diabetes, in part, because Type 1 diabetes most often develops at a young age and prior to military service.

VA evaluates veterans' claims for Type 1 diabetes either using evidence of a direct connection to service or by presuming a connection if the condition developed within a year following service. As with claims for any other condition, VBA claims processors may grant benefits if veterans provide evidence that their Type 1 diabetes was caused or aggravated by their military service. Such evidence could include development of Type 1 diabetes symptoms during service (e.g., elevated blood sugar), according to VBA officials. Additionally, claims processors may presume a connection to service if veterans' Type 1 diabetes developed to a certain degree within a year following their service.

Among 30 VBA claims decisions that GAO reviewed potentially involving Type 1 diabetes, claims processors granted or denied benefits for various reasons, and generally explained whether the claim contained evidence to support a connection with the veteran's service. For example, in two of 11 decisions to grant benefits, VBA claims processors identified evidence of veterans being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes during or within a year of completing service, and a disability medical examiner stated that the veteran's condition was "at least as likely as not" due to military service. In contrast, claims processors noted in eight of 19 decisions to deny benefits that the veteran's treatment records did not include complaints, treatments, or a diagnoses of Type 1 diabetes during service.


'A Crisis of Confidence' — After Decades of Failures, VA Sec Seeks 'Game-Changers'


As the 11th secretary of Veterans Affairs since President Ronald Reagan established it as a cabinet-level organization in 1988, Secretary Denis McDonough hardly has big shoes to fill.

Each secretary has made promises, and some have made changes: Jesse Brown expanded service to all veterans but particularly for women veterans, and he extended health care through a series of clinics. Edward Derwinski added some benefits for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange. Bob McDonald created the first Veterans Experience Office expressly to improve the us-against-them feeling so many veterans complain about.

But in the background, scandals arose. Eric Shinseki, beloved by his staff and by his boss, President Barack Obama, inherited a benefits backlog issue that went back years. It was first highlighted during the Walter Reed Scandal in 2007 under Secretary James Nicholson, when soldiers faced a Defense Department backlog in the military medical retirement system. After leaving the military and beginning VA's benefits process, they then faced a second 400,000-plus case backlog at VA. Nicholson had also resigned.

Health benefits were denied to Gulf War veterans, Vietnam veterans, and veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Veterans killed themselves at high rates -- and a VA official issued the infamous "shhh!" memo wondering if VA officials should issue a statement before someone "stumbled" on the problem. And 13,000 old benefits cases were found in a filing cabinet.

Most recently, Sec. Robert Wilkie, a President Donald Trump appointee, chose to discredit a House Veterans Affairs staffer and Navy reservist after she reported being groped and verbally assaulted at a VA facility in Washington -- rather than look into the case and work to prevent it from happening again. Reporting from ProPublica led to a government investigation.