Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Vietnam to master homegrown dioxin remediation

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Vietnam will develop its own technique to clean up dioxin left from the Vietnam War instead of relying on U.S. collaboration.

Colonel General Nguyen Chi Vinh, Deputy Minister of National Defense, told a Friday meeting Vietnam targets to complete dioxin remediation across all contaminated areas that have been detected by 2025.

Affected areas include Bien Hoa Airport, the most contaminated spot in the country in Dong Nai Province, neighboring Ho Chi Minh City, and A So Airport in central Thua Thien-Hue Province.

Related agencies will continue to investigate the current status of toxic chemical and dioxin residues in other areas sprayed during the war that last from 1955 to 1975.

Vietnam is expected to develop its own method of cleaning up dioxin, with all such projects thus far completed in collaboration with the U.S.

Between 1961 and 1971, the U.S. army sprayed some 80 million liters of Agent Orange, compounds of dioxins and dioxin-like mixtures, over 78,000 square kilometers (30,000 square miles) of southern Vietnam.

Dioxin, a highly toxic chemical contained in the defoliant, stays in the soil and at the bottom of lakes and rivers for generations. It can enter the food chain through meat, fish and other animals, and has been found at alarmingly high levels in human breast milk.

Between 2.1 to 4.8 million Vietnamese were directly exposed to Agent Orange and other chemicals, which have been linked to cancers, birth defects and other chronic diseases.

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One year later, VA has processed more than half of Blue Water Navy claims

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On Jan. 1, 2020, the Blue Water Navy (BWN) Vietnam Veterans Act went into law, supporting Veterans who may be eligible for benefits based on presumption of herbicide exposure. One year later, VA reflects on its progress.

Granting benefits

As of Nov. 30, 2020, VA has processed 39,061 of 75,205 claims received. Of those, 27,366 were granted – awarding more than $724 million in retroactive benefits. The most common granted claims included medical conditions diabetes, malignant growth of the lung, coronary bypass surgery, malignant growths of genitourinary system and coronary artery disease.

In addition, the law provides benefits for children born with certain health conditions whose parent was a Veteran with verified herbicide exposure while serving in Thailand. 

Eligibility

The law affects Veterans who served on vessels operating not more than 12 nautical miles seaward from the demarcation line of the waters of Vietnam and Cambodia, as defined in Public Law 116-23 . Veterans, their dependents, and survivors who meet this criteria can apply for these approved benefits.

Veterans – and survivors of deceased Veterans – who served in or near the Korean Demilitarized Zone from Sept. 1, 1967, to Aug. 31, 1971, can apply for benefits.

Increasing accessibility

To help implement the law, VA collaborated with the National Archives and Records Administration to digitize all Navy and Coast Guard deck logs for ships with known Vietnam service. Digitization of the Navy deck logs was completed in December 2019; Coast Guard deck logs were completed in September 2020. As part of the agreement, VA provided digital images of the deck logs to NARA to make them digitally available in the National Archives Catalog. Veterans may contact inquire@nara.gov if the deck log they are seeking is not available in the National Archives Catalog.

Learn more about Agent Orange exposure and VA disability compensation or call 800-827-1000 for more information.

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Veterans exposed at K2 push for federal action

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The federal government is taking its first steps toward formally acknowledging U.S. troops were stationed at a secret base in Uzbekistan where veterans say they were exposed to toxic hazards that have caused deadly diseases and illnesses.

President Donald Trump signed legislation Jan. 5 requires VA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to conduct a 10-year study of cancers and other diseases among Karshi-Khanabad (K2) veterans. The Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020 also opens VA’s burn pit registry to servicemembers who served at the former Soviet base in southern Uzbekistan.

Trump also is considering an executive order allowing former servicemembers who served at K2 to apply for the same VA care and benefits as veterans who were exposed to burn pits or depleted uranium in Afghanistan. In addition, a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act directs DoD to conduct an epidemiological study of toxic exposure among K2 veterans.

None of these measures provide presumptive service connection that would require VA to cover health-care costs for K2 veterans who are dealing with rare cancers and other illnesses they believe were caused by toxic exposures at the base. However, the executive order and NDAA directive are steps toward the federal government’s acknowledgement of the base’s hazardous legacy, K2 veterans say.

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Monday, January 4, 2021

VA Must Re-Examine Policy on Vets Exposed to Radiation, Court Says

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A half-century ago, Air Force veteran Victor Skaar and hundreds of other troops were exposed to radiation when they responded to a Cold War-era accident in rural Spain involving lost nuclear weapons, a nightmare situation known best by its code name: Broken Arrow.

In December, a federal court demanded the Department of Veterans Affairs re-examine its longstanding policy that has for decades prevented the troops from getting compensation for cancers and illnesses they allege came about from their response to the accident, which spread radioactive debris.

The decision means the department can no longer rely on what the court determined is incomplete science to deny claims, while forcing veterans to provide overwhelming scientific proof to secure claims. Currently, the VA denies Mr. Skaar and others health and compensation benefits related to their claims—including health care at no cost, a benefit typically reserved for those with disabilities connected to their service.

“Such an interpretation would lead to absurd results, something courts should avoid,” the court wrote in its opinion.

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Monday, December 28, 2020

It's a slow Agent Orange news week - so here's a little history...The Fairchild C-123 Provided Just What the Air Force Needed in Vietnam

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The C-123 Provider, which had a crew of three or four, could carry up to sixty passengers or up to twenty-four thousand pounds of cargo.

One of the lesser-known aerial workhorses of the Vietnam War was the Fairchild C-123K Provider, a short-range assault transport that was used to airlift troops and cargo to and from short runways and even unprepared airstrips. The rugged aircraft provided the United States Air Force with the means to reach remote areas, where it could deliver supplies and evacuate wounded, while the hardy transport plane was later used to spray Agent Orange as part of the U.S. military’s defoliant operations.

Originally designed as an assault glider for the Air Force in the late 1940s, the Chase Aircraft XCG-20 evolved from earlier large gliders. A powered variant was subsequently developed with two Pratt & Whitney R-2800-23 air-cooled radial piston engines—and the first of those prototypes made its initial flight in 1949. While Chase began manufacturing the rugged assault transport in 1953, the contract was subsequently transferred to Fairchild, which produced about three hundred C-123Bs.

A second prototype was also built and fitted with four General Electric J47-GE-11 turbojets in two pods. Known as the XC-123A it had the distinction of being the U.S. Air Force's first jet-powered military transport, even if it was just an experimental prototype.

However, the Air Force opted for the piston-powered version, which was seen as well-suited for use as a tactical transport. Known for its ruggedness and reliability, and more importantly, its ability to operate from those short and even unimproved airstrips, it was just what the military needed for the coming conflict in Vietnam.

C-123 Provider, which had a crew of three or four, could carry up to sixty passengers or up to 24,000 pounds of cargo. It had a maximum speed of 228 miles per hour, a cruise speed of 173 miles per hour and a range of 1,035 miles.

Between 1966 and 1969, a total of 184 C-123Bs were converted to C-123Ks with the addition of two J85 jet engines for improved performance. The jet engines increased the C-123’s payload weight by a third, shortened its takeoff distance, improved its climb rate, and even gave a much greater margin of safety should one of the piston engines fail.

During “Operation Ranch Hand,” eight of the aircraft were also modified to spy defoliant, which was used to destroy the heavy vegetation that provided cover to the enemy soldiers near U.S. forward bases. 

Two additional Providers were also modified under Project Black Spot to the NC-123K configuration, and equipped with a long, 57.75-inch nose fairing that housed an X-band forward-looking radar. The aircraft were also fitted with two rectangular aluminum weapons dispensers stacked within the fuselage and each container housed twelve cells containing three Cluster Bomb Units (CBUs) for use in night time operations. Those two aircraft were first deployed operationally at Osan Air Base, South Korea, between August and October 1968, where they flew in support of operations against North Korean infiltrators approaching by boat.

Upon completion of their Korean assignment, the Providers were deployed to South Vietnam for a combat evaluation of the “Black Spot” weapons system and used in night operations against the Viet Cong. 

As the war in Southeast Asia wound down, the U.S. military transferred many of its Providers to the South Vietnamese Air Force as well as the Royal Thai Air Force. The remaining USAF C-123s were transferred to the U.S. Air Force Reserve, which flew them well into the mid-1980s. Other operators of the Provider also included the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as with the air forces of the Philippines, South Korea and Venezuela.


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

VA COVID-19 Updates

COVID-19 vaccines: Stay informed and help us prepare

We’re working to get COVID-19 vaccines to Veterans as quickly and safely as possible. Sign up to help us understand your interest in getting a vaccine when one is available to you. We’ll send you updates on how we’re providing vaccines across the country—and when you can get your vaccine if you want one.

VA releases COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan

Who will get a COVID-19 vaccine first?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized the first COVID-19 vaccine.  We have a limited amount of this vaccine to start.

We’ve worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other federal partners to develop a phased plan that will help us do the most good for the most people during this time. Under this phased plan, we’ll first offer vaccines to Veterans in our long-term care facilities and frontline VA health care workers.  Vaccinating our health care workers first helps us continue providing care for Veterans.

After 2 groups, we’ll begin to offer vaccines to more Veterans who are at high risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. Your VA health care team will contact you if you’re eligible to get a vaccine during this time.

We will follow CDC guidelines for determining who is considered to be at high risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. Factors that may influence the risk of severe disease include the following:

  • Age. The risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 increases with age.
  • Existing health problems. People with certain health problems (like diabetes, heart disease, or obesity) have a higher risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.
  • Other factors that raise a person’s risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19, such as living in a nursing home or other group living facility.

 

More questions answered at: www.va.gov/covid-19-vaccine/

VA receives 73,000 coronavirus vaccines in initial distribution

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WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday administered its first doses of the coronavirus vaccine as part of national inoculation effort to prevent the disease as the death toll from the virus surpassed 300,000 in the United States.

World War II Army veteran Margaret Klessens, 96, is the VA’s first patient to receive the vaccine, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie announced. She is a patient of the Bedford Healthcare System in Massachusetts. The Bedford VA system is a set of three clinics outside of Boston that has seen 473 coronavirus infections and 39 deaths, according to the VA.

The VA has 73,000 vaccines of the initial distribution, according to Christina Noel, a department spokeswoman. It is unclear when the department will get more doses.

Thirty-seven hospitals within the Department of Veterans Affairs have been selected to receive the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine, though VA officials are not confident that every veteran will have quick, easy access to the treatment.

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Monday, December 14, 2020

Wilkie Disparaged Congressional Aide Who Alleged Sexual Assault At VA Facility, IG Probe Confirms

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Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie disparaged a veteran who claimed she was sexually assaulted at a VA hospital and sought to undermine her credibility, a new investigation from the department's inspector general has found. The report did not, however, substantiate reports that Wilkie actively investigated the former service member or ordered others to look into her background.

The VA IG has since February been investigating allegations that Wilkie took steps to discredit Andrea Goldstein, a Navy Reserve intelligence officer and adviser to the House Veterans Affairs Committee, after she said she was groped at the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C. in September.

In a report released Thursday, Inspector General Michael Missal said his office could not substantiate the charge that Wilkie actively sought proof that Goldstein had filed "at least six equal employment opportunity-type complaints" while she was on active duty.

But the VA IG did find that VA officials began to take actions within hours of Goldstein's report that appeared to seek reasons to undermine her credibility. According to the investigation, the same day as the complaint, they began discussing whether Goldstein had complained about verbal abuse from a VA provider. And, the probe found, they ran a background check on Goldstein and circulated the findings before a background check was conducted on the accused, and later launched a media campaign to question Goldstein's credibility, targeting nine national press outlets.

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Military Rape Cases Have No Statute of Limitations, Supreme Court Decides

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In an 8-0 opinion issued Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that military personnel accused of a rape between 1986 and 2006 -- a period previously subject to a five-year statute of limitations -- can be charged for the crime.

At issue in U.S. v. Briggs is a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, or CAAF, to overturn three rape convictions that occurred within that 20-year period.

Prior to 1996, the UCMJ held that rape was a crime punishable by death and therefore had no time limit for prosecuting the crime. A 1998 CAAF ruling established the five-year time limit, which remained in place until Congress moved to abolish it in 2006.

In the new opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, the justices said the Uniform Code of Military Justice favored the government's interpretation that military rape cases are "punishable by death" and therefore, carry no statute of limitations regardless of when the crime occurred.

The justices also agreed with government's argument that rape is a particularly damaging crime in the military context because it disrupts good order and discipline.

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Agent Blue haunts Vietnam War vets

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from Paul Kasper via Paul Sutton

Add one more primary color to the poisonous palette of Vietnam: Agent Blue.

Agent Orange, its toxic defoliant cousin, has become well known in the US for its lethal effects on American troops who served in the war 1965-75 – and on their offspring.

Agent Blue, an arsenic-based herbicide, is becoming known because it has no half-life – in other words, it lasts forever in soil, sediments, rivers, canals and public water supplies.

Once it is in the environment, its toxicity is magnified as it moves up the food chain, slowly killing and disabling humans as it accumulates in the body.

Kenneth Olson, professor emeritus of soil science at the University of Illinois and a US Army Vietnam-era veteran, has studied and published on the soils and sediments of South Vietnam, the roles they played in Vietnam warfare and the legacies left behind.

Olson’s recently released paper, “The Fate of Agent Blue, the Arsenic Based Herbicide Used in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War,” is co-authored with Larry Cihacek, also a US Army veteran, who is professor of soil science at North Dakota State University. It is their most recent in a series of papers on Vietnam soils and sediments and herbicide persistence in the environment.

“Agent Blue was sprayed on 100,000 hectares (one hectare is about 2.5 acres) of mangrove forests and about 300,000 hectares of rice paddies just before rice harvest time,” Olson said. That “resulted in destroying the standing crop and contaminated soils and water sediments with arsenic.”

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