Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Announcement on benefits for Westover veterans exposed to Agent Orange should come soon
The four-year battle for medical benefits waged by Westover Air Reserve veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange while flying C-123 planes after the Vietnam War could be over by the end of the month.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald said he plans to make an announcement within a few weeks about care for the crews who flew the twin-propeller driven C-123 Providers after many were used to spray the chemical over the Vietnam countryside to ruin crops and defoliate trees, a department spokeswoman said.
"VA officials have engaged in a collaborative conversation with key stakeholders, including veterans' service organizations and Congressional staff, to discuss existing legal authorities and the steps needed to authorize benefits for all Reserve personnel who had sustained contact with the contaminated aircraft and developed one of the covered Agent Orange presumptive conditions. We will continue to work with Congress on this important matter to provide our Veterans with the benefits they have earned and deserve," a spokeswoman for the Department of Veterans Affairs said in writing.
At least 11 of the 16 planes used at Westover Air Reserve Base between 1972 to 1982 at Westover are known to be former Agent Orange spray planes. Some of them were tested a decade after they were retired and results showed at least one used at Westover was "highly contaminated."
The C-123 planes were also sent to the Pittsburgh Air National Guard Base and Rickenbacker Air National Base in Ohio.
Veterans did not learn that the planes were contaminated until about four years ago when Retired Air Force Maj. Wesley T. Carter, now of Colorado, started requesting reams of documents through the federal Freedom of Information Act after he and a number of fellow reservists started falling ill with multiple cancers, heart disease and other illnesses known to be caused by dioxin, the toxic chemical in Agent Orange.
The reservists have been fighting for the same benefits that people who served in Vietnam receive. Under federal law anyone who spent any time in Vietnam, even if it was only a day, is presumed to be exposed to Agent Orange and eligible for full medical benefits and some disability benefits if they fall ill with one of the diseases caused by dioxin.
For several years the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Air Force have refused to grant the benefits, saying the reservists could not be exposed to dioxin from dried Agent Orange. That changed in January when the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, released a study saying the veterans were made ill from being exposed to Agent Orange.
"The Committee states with confidence that the AF (Air Force) Reservists were exposed when working in the ORH C-123s (used in Vietnam) and so experienced some increase in their risk of a variety of adverse responses," the study said.
It estimated 2,000 to 2,500 pilots, loadmasters, mechanics, medical personnel and others who worked on the C-123s were exposed. A number of them however, including Carter, are already eligible for the benefits because they served in Vietnam or through other means.
A number of veterans organizations, including the Vietnam Veterans of America and the National Veterans of Foreign Wars have been lobbying to support the C-123 veterans.
In February six senators, including Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts signed a strongly-worded to the Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald to show their support. The six have followed that up recently demanding quick action from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

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