Friday, June 19, 2015

VA to grant benefits for Agent Orange exposure
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 benefits.
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.
Earlier this 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.
But 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.
At one 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 starting Friday.
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."
"We 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.

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