Thursday, April 29, 2021

The End

It has been an honor and pleasure to work with the AOZ Staff these last 11 years, but alas, time has come to hang up the scissors and put the paste back in the cupboard.

Physical and other health issues have made it necessary to pull the plug on the Agent Orange Zone.

Many thanks to Paul, Nancy, Mokie, Wayne, and everyone who contributed to AOZ.

Best wishes and keep the peace.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

A Lush Lawn Without Pesticides


Shortly after Lydia Chambers had her first child, in 1995, her family moved to a new home in Ohio. “It was this neighborhood with perfect lawns,” recalls Chambers, now 60. In her previous home, when a swath of dandelions appeared shortly after she and her husband moved in, she spent two weeks pulling them out by hand.

In their Ohio home, however, she had no time to take care of the yard. So she hired a service to come and treat it. At the time, she didn’t realize that the chemicals the service used might be dangerous. “Even though I kind of sensed it . . . I didn’t know,” she says.

In her professional life as a hydrogeologist, Chambers was beginning to learn about how long-term, low-dose exposures to dangerous chemicals could lead to cancer and other chronic diseases. This made her increasingly suspicious of the pesticides her landscaping company applied. By 2005, her family had moved to New Jersey and her elementary school-aged kids were playing in the yard constantly. As she did more research, she learned a particularly disturbing fact: One common weed killer, 2,4-­dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), was also an ingredient in Agent Orange, a chemical used during the Vietnam War.

“I guess if anything flipped a switch, it was that,” she says. Chambers and her husband finally committed to taking care of their yard with no synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers—even if that meant it sprouted a few weeds. “I was proud that I had a few weeds in my grass,” she says. “It was a symbol I was doing the right thing.”


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Amplify Parkinson’s Advocacy from Home


This week, hundreds of advocates participated in the Parkinson’s Policy Forum — and today many of them are holding virtual meetings with legislators to ask for an increase in federal investment in Parkinson’s research. And you can join these advocates (from wherever you are) to help amplify our message by emailing your legislators now.



Right now, members of Congress are working on the federal budget for the new fiscal year starting October 1. They need to hear directly from their constituents (i.e., you!) about the importance of increasing funding for Parkinson’s research.

In recent years, we’ve seen incredible progress in Parkinson’s drug development, but we still need better treatments and a cure. The Parkinson’s Research Program at the Department of Defense is key to advancing critical progress.

Email your Senators and Representative now and ask them to invest in Parkinson’s breakthroughs.

Michael J. Fox Foundation Advocacy Tool Kit 


Service dogs can help veterans with PTSD – growing evidence shows they may reduce anxiety in practical ways


As many as 1 in 5 of the roughly 2.7 million Americans deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD, a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening traumatic event, is a complex condition and can be hard to treat. Our lab is studying whether service dogs can help these military veterans, who may also have depression and anxiety – and run an elevated risk of death by suicide – in addition to having PTSD.

We’ve been finding that once veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder get service dogs, they tend to feel less depressed and less anxious and miss work less frequently.

Complementing other forms of treatment

The traditional treatments for PTSD, such as talk therapy and medication, do work for many veterans. But these approaches do not alleviate the symptoms for all veterans, so a growing number of them are seeking additional help from PTSD service dogs.

The nation’s estimated 500,000 service dogs aid people experiencing a wide array of conditions that include visual or hearing impairments, psychological challenges, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.

For our PTSD research, we partner with K9s For Warriors and Canine Companions for Independence, two of many nonprofits that train service dogs to work with veterans with PTSD.

There is no single breed that can help people this way. These dogs can be anything from purebred Labrador retrievers to shelter mixes.

Unlike emotional support dogs or therapy dogs, service dogs must be trained to do specific tasks – in this case, helping alleviate PTSD symptoms. In keeping with the Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs are allowed in public places where other dogs are not.


Monday, March 29, 2021

Sweeping Measure Would Provide Care, Disability to Thousands of Vets Sickened by Burn Pits


A sweeping measure was introduced in the Senate Friday that could open up health care and disability compensation to a huge swath of veterans made sick by burn pits and other toxic exposures during military service.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., reintroduced the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act, which would do away with most of the burden of proof on veterans to show they got sick from breathing in burning garbage for up to a year at a time while deployed.

The measure was also introduced last year and never got any serious traction. This year, its bipartisan sponsorship means it could have a better chance of becoming law.

Veteran advocates have grown increasingly impatient, faulting Congress for being unable to pass any significant legislation that delivers care and compensation to veterans made sick by exposure to burn pits and other toxic environments. The VA has also not issued clear guidance on who can get compensation for toxic exposure.

The VA estimates 3.5 million veterans have been exposed to burn pits, according to a 2015 report. Yet the department has denied claims of roughly 75% of veterans. As of January, the VA had approved claims related to burn-pit exposure for 3,442 veterans out of 13,830. It is unlikely the data paints a complete picture. It’s unclear how many suffer from serious burn pit-connected health ailments, or how many veterans are sick and unaware that illness is linked to service abroad.


State: Illegally dumped radioactive fracking waste will stay in E. Oregon landfill

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A state agency has chosen to leave millions of pounds of illegally dumped, radioactive fracking waste in an Eastern Oregon landfill.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports the Oregon Department of Energy’s decision Wednesday comes just over a year after it issued a notice of violation to Chemical Waste Management.

The company operates Oregon’s only hazardous waste landfill, outside of the Columbia River town of Arlington.

An investigation found CWM had dumped 1,284 tons of radioactive waste in the landfill over three years.

Oregon law prohibits the establishment of a radioactive waste disposal facility. The state Department of Energy says removing the waste “would pose a greater risk to landfill workers than leaving the waste in

Read more at:

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Lawmakers relaunch landmark bill to create path to VA care for veterans ill from toxic exposure

Veterans exposed to toxic substances during their military service could qualify for additional care and benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs under landmark legislation reintroduced in Congress this week.

The Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act creates sweeping mandates for VA to further research, track and care for eligible veterans who fall ill because of exposure to toxic substances during service -- perhaps the most comprehensive legislation on military toxic exposures ever introduced in Congress.

A 29-year-old Marine is dying of a rare brain cancer. Burn pits caused it, his family says.

The TEAM Act was introduced by Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who represents one of the largest populations of troops and veterans in the country, including the largest Army base in the world, Fort Bragg. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., who represents Pease Air Force Base where troops and their families have been exposed to high levels of "forever chemicals" including PFAS, cosponsored the bill at its introduction.

Last year, the bill passed out of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, a key endorsement, but did not receive a vote on the Senate floor before the end of the year, meaning it had to be reintroduced in 2021. Tillis said in a press conference on Tuesday he believed the reason the bill didn't pass last year was because of its late introduction, and now he and Hassan are working to partner with House members on a companion bill, and that additional amendments and provisions are on the table.

"We're trying to put a framework in place that lets us end mistakes we made dating back to Agent Orange," Tillis said. "When a veteran is experiencing an illness, they've got so many other distractions on their mind, we should not make it difficult for them to get the care they deserve."

Dioxin Mischief Everywhere - 1965–1966: Dioxin Experiments


1965–1966: Dr. Kligman conducted dioxin experiments on 70 prisoners at Holmesburg on behalf of Dow Chemicals. Dioxin has proved fatal in laboratory animals given small doses. These experiments were uncovered in 1980 at EPA hearings. (NY Times, 1983) In testing dioxin, a component of Agent Orange, Kligman went beyond Dow Chemical’s instructions. The Times reported that Kligman subjected 10 inmates to 7,500 micrograms of the toxic chemical — 468 times as much as Dow had requested. He reported that “Eight of the 10 subjects showed acne lesions. . . In three instances, the lesions progressed to inflammatory pustules and pules. These lesions lasted for four to seven months, since no effort was made to speed healing by active treatment.” EPA sought the identity of the 70 men, but Kligman refused to cooperate, claiming no records of the prisoners’ identities were kept.

In 2006, in response to a New York Times reporter’s inquiry about prisoner research, Kligman stated: “My view is that shutting the prison experiments down was a big mistake. . . I’m on the medical ethics committee at Penn, and I still don’t see there having been anything wrong with what we were doing.” “Nothing wrong” from his perspective inasmuch his experiments generated enormous profits from his patent of Retin-A, an anti-acne cream; and from the hundreds of experiments he performed on prisoners for Johnson & Johnson, Dow Chemical, the U.S. Army and his own corporation, Ivy Research. (Prison Legal News, 2008)

The University of Pennsylvania website praises Dr. Kligman as: “an innovative, captivating teacher… inspired generations of researchers and clinicians… a giant in the field…”

Tester, Moran Urgently Call on VA to Immediately Expedite Vietnam Veterans’ Blue Water Navy Claims


Senators: “Veterans have waited long enough, and it is time for them to have their claims properly adjudicated”

(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) are urgently calling on Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough to implement provisions under the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act to quickly provide long-overdue benefits and care to veterans suffering from Agent Orange exposure.

“Veterans who have suffered for decades would welcome quick Departmental implementation of this law,” wrote the Senators in a bipartisan letter. “In response to questions prior to your confirmation as Secretary, you agreed to provide a timeline on when these veterans could expect Departmental action. We reiterate this request and ask that you provide this information as soon as possible, along with any additional resources your Department needs to adjudicate these claims expeditiously. We also request that you detail any renewed filings veterans or their survivors must undertake to receive benefits under the law. Veterans have waited long enough, and it is time for them to have their claims properly adjudicated.”

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act changed the law to guarantee that veterans who served off the shores of Vietnam and exposed to Agent Orange could access health care and benefits related to their exposure from VA. President Donald Trump signed this legislation into law on June 25, 2019.

“I submitted my Blue Water Navy Claim to my local Veterans Service Organization in Kalispell more than a year ago, and VA has yet to provide a resolution,” said Bigfork Vietnam Veteran Mike Stone. “As a veteran living with three of the seven qualifying service-connected conditions, including Type 2 Diabetes and Ischemic Heart Disease, I simply can’t afford to wait another 14 months for VA to take action. I appreciate Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran’s attention to ensuring that these claims are expedited immediately for myself and countless others who served on behalf of this nation.”


Lawmakers introduce bill to extend VA care to 490,000 more veterans ill from Agent Orange


Efforts in Congress last year to add hypertension to a list of diseases linked to Agent Orange at the Department of Veterans Affairs failed, keeping Vietnam-era veterans from accessing care for high blood pressure connected to the toxic exposure.

Now, lawmakers are making another attempt to add hypertension and MGUS (Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance), to a list of presumptive conditions at VA, which will qualify those veterans for care and benefits. As many as 490,000 Vietnam-era veterans could benefit from the change, if the bill passes Congress and becomes law.

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Montana, introduced the Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act this week, along with support from 16 other senators. Tester said the bill would "put an end to decades of veterans wrestling with bureaucratic red tape" at VA, adding that there is sufficient scientific evidence to connect the illnesses to the toxic herbicide.

Earlier this month, Tester and Moran urged VA leaders to expand care and benefits to as many as 160,000 affected by Agent Orange-linked hypertension.


The Victims of Agent Orange the U.S. Has Never Acknowledged


America has never taken responsibility for spraying the herbicide over Laos during the Vietnam War. But generations of ethnic minorities have endured the consequences.

It was a blazing-hot morning in October 2019 on the old Ho Chi Minh Trail, an intricate web of truck roads and secret paths that wove its way across the densely forested and mountainous border between Vietnam and Laos. Susan Hammond, Jacquelyn Chagnon and Niphaphone Sengthong forded a rocky stream along the trail and came to a village of about 400 people called Labeng-Khok, once the site of a logistics base inside Laos used by the North Vietnamese Army to infiltrate troops into the South. In one of the bamboo-and-thatch stilt houses, the ladder to the living quarters was made from metal tubes that formerly held American cluster bombs. 

The family had a 4-year-old boy named Suk, who had difficulty sitting, standing and walking — one of three children in the extended family with birth defects. A cousin was born mute and did not learn to walk until he was 7. A third child, a girl, died at the age of 2. “That one could not sit up,” their great-uncle said. “The whole body was soft, as if there were no bones.” The women added Suk to the list of people with disabilities they have compiled on their intermittent treks through Laos’s sparsely populated border districts.

Hammond, Chagnon and Sengthong make up the core of the staff of a nongovernmental organization called the War Legacies Project. Hammond, a self-described Army brat whose father was a senior military officer in the war in Vietnam, founded the group in 2008. Chagnon, who is almost a generation older, was one of the first foreigners allowed to work in Laos after the conflict, representing a Quaker organization, the American Friends Service Committee. Sengthong, a retired schoolteacher who is Chagnon’s neighbor in the country’s capital, Vientiane, is responsible for the record-keeping and local coordination.

The main focus of the War Legacies Project is to document the long-term effects of the defoliant known as Agent Orange and provide humanitarian aid to its victims. Named for the colored stripe painted on its barrels, Agent Orange — best known for its widespread use by the U.S. military to clear vegetation during the Vietnam War — is notorious for being laced with a chemical contaminant called 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-P-dioxin, or TCDD, regarded as one of the most toxic substances ever created.


Monday, March 15, 2021

Attorney Gerson Smoger's Filing Against the Roundup settlement

Some of you may remember Gerson Smoger from our days arguing against MDL 381, the Agent Orange Class Action Suit, settled (against the wishes of Vietnam veterans) in May 1984. We're just trying to stay ahead of any new developments with respect to exposures and what the government continually tries to hide from its citizens.

Paul Sutton

They are proposing a new herbicide get out of jail free card for Monsanto like the Agent Orange settlement that was so destructive.  As with that, I am opposing it.  I thought that you may be interested in my court submission.  Keep up your updates -- I do read them.



Gerson Smoger, Smoger & Associates, P.C.


Petition for Camp Lejeune water registry to be presented to congressional representation


Congressional representatives and state lawmakers from Kentucky are set to convene to discuss water contamination that occurred at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune for more than 30 years from the 1950s to 1980s and to hear out victims' plea for a medical health registry. 

The special event, organized by former Marine Brian Amburgey, will be held on Wednesday, March 17 at the Elks Lodge located at 225 Shoppers Dr. in Winchester, Kentucky. The program begins at 1:00 p.m. with a showing of “Semper Fi: Always Faithful”, a 2011 documentary about the contamination. A Q&A session with retired Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, a main voice in the film and leading proponent of justice for victims, will follow.

Mike Partain, a male breast cancer survivor who was born at Camp Lejeune during the contamination, is also a leading advocate for victims who has worked with Ensminger for well over a decade and has testified before Congress on the subject. He says he plans to drive 11 hours from Florida to attend the ceremony.

“When a congressional office is interested in the issue, you have to go and talk to them, and that’s exactly what we are doing,” Partain said. “Our government doesn't work by getting on Facebook and writing a couple posts or making a phone call. It works by meeting people, talking to them, interacting with them, presenting your evidence and then asking for action.”


Monsanto’s Big Lie About Roundup and the System That Enabled It


Just after midnight on August 1, 2017, attorney Brent Wisner gave his legal team the go-ahead to start publishing a series of internal memos and documents from the Monsanto corporation. The internal communications made clear that Monsanto—the company that created saccharine and went on to develop DDT and Agent Orange—was not only aware that independent scientific studies had found that its blockbuster weed killer, Roundup, and the primary ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, were probably

carcinogenic and harmful to human health, but the company had also tried to bury the findings. The documents also proved that Monsanto ghost-wrote scientific studies that suggested Roundup was safe (when the company knew it wasn’t), paid experts to support those claims, pressured scientists to reverse their previous conclusions that glyphosate could be linked to cancer, and successfully lobbied regulators at the EPA to keep the agency’s own findings—that glyphosate was probably harmful to humans—under wraps. 

Decades of research connected the weed killer to cancer. According to the internal documents Wisner and his team published, Monsanto—instead of doing the right thing and pulling the product off the market given all it knew—did everything in its power to cover it up.

“This is a function of a system where we allow money to wield influence in Washington, DC,” Carey Gillam, author of The Monsanto Papers: Deadly Secrets, Corporate Corruption, and One Man’s Search for Justice (Island Press, 2021), told Sierra. “Scientists are trying to do the work to protect public health, but if their research interferes with the profit motives of a multibillion-dollar corporation, those scientists can see their work limited or even censored. Corporate influence digs deep.”

The Monsanto Papers is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the dangers of glyphosate to human health and the corrupt system of corporate and political influence that enabled Monsanto to sell its toxic weed killer for decades.


Thursday, March 4, 2021

a Message from Paul Sutton

The People vs. Agent Orange documentary will be screening from March 5th to the 18th on the virtual cinema platforms of 37 cinemas around the country.  You can access the film’s link at: 

The film, which has already won two major awards including the Jury Prize at the Eugene Environmental Film Festival, takes a deep dive into Operation Ranch Hand in Vietnam, the contamination of US troops and the illnesses and deformities that were passed down to their children and now grandchildren.

The film describes Agent Orange as a weapon of mass destruction. The character-driven and investigative documentary goes on to detail how the forestry industry in America's Pacific northwest, and agriculture elsewhere, began using Agent Orange and other toxic herbicides even after the use of them was halted in Vietnam.

Two heroic women, one Vietnamese, the other American, crusade to advance the movements to help the victims and hold the American chemical manufacturers accountable.

The film's tag line, on the poster here, declares "We have the right to protect ourselves from being poisoned."  That right is still widely denied to today's victims of toxic herbicides and to those who will sadly fall victims as well because of the epigenetic damages of the chemicals.

Veterans and environmental groups are offering discounted "tickets" for people to book viewings in their homes and in organizational settings. There are extensive details on the film's website including a list through which folks can choose what theater they would like to support with their bookings, how to request discounts, and to view related panels involving veterans, scientists and community activists.

Susan Hammond, the founder and Executive Director of the War Legacies Project, is working with us as the film's outreach and impact director.  We are organizing community-based forums to be recorded and posted on the film's website as the program of cinema screenings continues.

I have not been as moved by any documentary film as I was by this one. Despite nearly 45 years of involvement in advocacy and activism on all matters related to herbicide exposure, primarily exposure in Vietnam to our troops and the Vietnamese; I have unfortunately paid little attention to exposures here in the US. That, despite a huge, never-ending exposure in Newark and other places along the Passaic River here in NJ.

Yes, I knew of the exposures in Oregon and other places in the Pacific northwest. I even met and talked with Carol Van Strum at an Agent Orange conference in Roseburg, OR in 2003.

This film needs to be seen by everyone in the world, especially in the US. Folks have no idea what toxic exposures they live with, day in and day out, especially schoolchildren, because they are our future and they need to know what our generation has done to our earth.

I was particularly taken by the juxtaposition of the Oregon exposures and those in Vietnam. You only need one visit to a Peace Village in Vietnam to know what we did to that country. And, coupled with the exposures in the US, we all need to become aware of the dangers of these on-going exposures.

We Americans - in the words of John Lewis - need to "..make good trouble..."  There is much yet to do!

I’ve had the signal honor of being able to preview this riveting film. This film will be in my mind and dreams for months to come.

Paul Sutton

Lessening Exposure To Dioxins May Help Protect the Immune System


According to experts, dioxins slowly decompose in the environment and may travel or be transported long distances.

( -- March 3, 2021) Orlando, FL -- The pandemic has undeniably made it extremely important to protect and enhance immune system health.

According to experts, having a strong immunity may improve the body’s ability to combat the potentially dangerous effects of Covid-19.

Researchers have long recommended making dietary and lifestyle improvements , but there are actually other factors helpful in protecting and boosting immunity. These include keeping the body from toxins.

Dioxins have long been one of the toxins experts warn exposure against. It is often produced in burning processes, such as those involving oil, coal, or wood.

There are also some human activities that produce this health hazard, such as burning household trash, dismantling and recycling electronic products, chlorine bleaching of pulp and paper, and production of pesticides and herbicides.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reveals that the most reported causes of dioxin contamination happen in industrialized nations, and in other places, high dioxin levels often go unreported.

Low level dioxin exposure is often through contact with water, soil, or air that usually happens when breathing in air containing trace amounts, accidentally ingesting soil with dioxins, and using tampons and water bottles with dioxins.

According to experts, dioxins slowly decompose in the environment and may travel or be transported long distances.

It is also found that when this toxin enters the food chain, they tend to accumulate in fat. There have been many studies finding that dioxins can produce adverse health effects, and these include infertility, cancer, hormonal problems, and diabetes.


Senators urge VA to take 'decisive action' for 160,000 veterans with Agent Orange-linked hypertension


Senators are once again urging Department of Veterans Affairs leaders to expand care and benefits to thousands more veterans ill from Agent Orange exposure. This time, for veterans with high blood pressure linked to the toxic herbicide.

Last year, Congress approved adding three new illnesses to a list of conditions VA recognizes as connected to Agent Orange and therefore provides care and benefits for -- bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson's-like symptoms. But just before leaving office in January, Trump administration VA officials said the about 34,000 veterans affected may not see benefits from Congress' action for months or even years.

VA disagrees with scientists’ findings linking 4 more diseases to Agent Orange exposure

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, had been a fourth condition lawmakers, advocates and veterans pushed for Congress to include, but ultimately was left out, and Congressional staff with knowledge of those negotiations told Connecting Vets cost was a leading factor. Estimates suggest the expansion of benefits could cost as much as $11 billion to $15 billion over the first 10 years.

VA officials under the Trump administration argued against adding hypertension to the list because of continued doubts about its link to Agent Orange, despite the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in 2018 finding "sufficient" evidence to connect the two. VA argued it needed to continue to conduct its own studies on all four conditions before making a decision, and the results of those studies (due by the end of 2020, then delayed by the coronavirus pandemic to mid-2021) have not yet been publicly released.


Monday, March 1, 2021

Pentagon says reported sexual assaults at academies dropped


WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of sexual harassment and sexual assault cases reported at the military service academies dropped in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 school year, the Pentagon said Thursday.

The report, which is required by law annually, comes as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said that reducing sexual assault is one of his top priorities. He was recently briefed on the military service's programs to counter the problem.

“We have been working at this for a long time in earnest, but we haven’t gotten it right,” Austin said last week at his first Pentagon news conference. He promised stronger efforts.

“You can look for us to take additional steps in looking in detail at ourselves and what has worked, what hasn’t worked and what measures we need to take going forward to ensure that we provide for a safe and secure and productive environment for our teammates,” he said. “Any other approach is, in my view, irresponsible.”

Thursday's Pentagon report said the number of reported sexual assault cases at the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy fell to 129 from 149 in the previous academic year. Sexual harassment reports dropped to 12 from 17.

The report said the reason for the declines is unclear, but it noted that in-person classes at the military academies were suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Officials altered most academy activities, including holding graduations virtually and postponing commissioning ceremonies. Thus, it said, the academies offered only about three-quarters of normal levels of interaction.

Separately, an in-person survey of military academy students that is normally conducted to give the Pentagon a better understanding of the sexual assault problem and its prevalence was canceled because of the pandemic.

VAOIG - VA Needs Better Internal Communication and Data Sharing to Strengthen the Administration of Spina Bifida Benefits


Executive Summary

The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) reviewed key aspects of VA’s spina bifida program in response to wide-ranging concerns raised by Senator Michael K. Braun and by Vietnam Veterans of America. The concerns were about whether eligible individuals are receiving the compensation, health care, home services, and other related benefits to which they are entitled.

Regular monthly payments under this small but critical program serving more than 1,000 beneficiaries with disabilities exceeded $20.8 million in 2019, and medical reimbursements topped $45 million.

Spina bifida is a birth defect that occurs when a fetus’s spine and spinal cord do not form properly. An individual with spina bifida may suffer from nerve damage, paralysis, and bowel or bladder problems.

Children born with spina bifida may receive benefits from VA if one of their biological parents is a veteran presumed to have been exposed to herbicides during the Vietnam War.

Benefits can include monthly payments, vocational training and rehabilitation, and health care with services such as home care and case management.

The spina bifida program is jointly managed. The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) determines eligibility for benefits and issues monthly payments. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) covers all medically necessary health care, which includes all medical services and supplies, not just those related to spina bifida. The OIG assessed how effectively VBA and VHA carried out their respective responsibilities in managing the spina bifida program.


Water near Arizona Air Force base is tainted in latest case


PHOENIX (AP) — The U.S. Air Force says it will be distributing bottled water to thousands of residents and business owners near its base in suburban Phoenix until at least April, marking the latest case of chemicals from military firefighting efforts contaminating the water supply in a nearby community.

Luke Air Force Base announced this month that studies showed high levels of contaminants had affected drinking water for about 6,000 people in roughly 1,600 homes as well as a few neighboring businesses.

A contractor is scheduling deliveries of drinking water to the homes of people who picked up their first bottles this week, said Sean Clements, chief of public affairs for the 56th Fighter Wing at the base. Those deliveries will go on until a long-term filtration facility can be set up in April, Clements said Thursday.

The base has recommended people use bottled water for drinking and cooking but deemed tap water safe for bathing and laundry.

Similar contamination tied to the use of firefighting foam has been found in water supplies near dozens of military sites in Arizona, Colorado and other states and has triggered hundreds of lawsuits. Growing evidence that it's dangerous to be exposed to the chemicals found in the foam has prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to consider setting a maximum level for those chemicals in drinking water nationwide.

But they aren’t regulated now, meaning the base can't be punished even though the EPA says the chemicals stay in the body for long periods and may cause adverse health effects.

The Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities, is scheduling an emergency meeting next week with five water companies to discuss concerns about the contamination, said Caroline Oppleman, spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Depleted uranium from tanks, ammo not tied to Gulf War syndrome, new study finds


Depleted uranium in tanks and ammunition used in the 1991 Gulf War “played no role” in the unexplained illnesses, known as Gulf War syndrome, that veterans faced in the years afterward, according to a new study.

The findings by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the University of Portsmouth in England counter decades of understanding by the military and Department of Veterans Affairs about potential causes for a host of ailments that collectively are now known as Gulf War illness.

“That depleted uranium is not and never was in the bodies of those who were ill at sufficient quantities to cause disease will surprise many, including sufferers who have, over the last 30 years, suspected depleted uranium may have contributed to their illnesses,” said Randall Parrish, a uranium isotope expert at the University of Portsmouth who developed the study’s methodology to scan veterans’ urine for traces of exposure.

The study looked at depleted uranium levels in the urine of 154 veterans, of whom 106 had Gulf War illness symptoms and 48 did not.

The findings may provide a definitive answer on whether there is a connection between depleted uranium exposure and Gulf War illness because of the level of precision used to detect any isotopes in veterans’ urine and the time involved in the study, Dr. Robert Haley, the director of epidemiology at UT Southwestern, a Dallas-based research hospital, told McClatchy in a phone interview.


VA Needs Better Internal Communication and Data Sharing to Strengthen the Administration of Spina Bifida Benefits


Executive Summary The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) reviewed key aspects of VA’s spina bifida program in response to wide-ranging concerns raised by Senator Michael K. Braun and by Vietnam Veterans of America. The concerns were about whether eligible individuals are receiving the compensation, health care, home services, and other related benefits to which they are entitled.1 Regular monthly payments under this small but critical program serving more than 1,000 beneficiaries with disabilities exceeded $20.8 million in 2019, and medical reimbursements topped $45 million. Spina bifida is a birth defect that occurs when a fetus’s spine and spinal cord do not form properly. An individual with spina bifida may suffer from nerve damage, paralysis, and bowel or bladder problems.2 Children born with spina bifida may receive benefits from VA if one of their biological parents is a veteran presumed to have been exposed to herbicides during the Vietnam War.3 Benefits can include monthly payments, vocational training and rehabilitation, and health care with services such as home care and case management. 4 The spina bifida program is jointly managed. The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) determines eligibility for benefits and issues monthly payments. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) covers all medically necessary health care, which includes all medical services and supplies, not just those related to spina bifida. The OIG assessed how effectively VBA and VHA carried out their respective responsibilities in managing the spina bifida program.


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Parkinson’s Foundation, VA Host Online Symposium for US Vets on March 20


A free virtual symposium about U.S. veterans, their families, and Parkinson’s disease (PD) is on tap for Saturday, March 20.

Called “Veterans and Parkinson’s Disease: What You Need to Know,” the three-hour Zoom event runs opens at 9 a.m. EST, and is presented by the Parkinson’s Foundation and the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA).

Those interested in taking part must register at or by calling 770-450-0792.

The symposium’s goal is to make veterans with Parkinson’s and their loved ones better aware of the latest in therapeutic advances, as well as of resources available through the VA and the foundation. Healthcare professionals and the broader Parkinson’s community are also welcome to attend.

“We understand that most people with Parkinson’s develop symptoms at 50 years of age and older. As the population ages, so will the number of Americans living with Parkinson’s, including veterans,” said John L. Lehr, president and CEO of the Parkinson’s Foundation, in a press release.

“Serving those who have served our country is a priority of the Parkinson’s Foundation and we’re honored to partner with the VA to provide this online program to help veterans live better with Parkinson’s disease.”

Of the estimated 1 million people with Parkinson’s in the U.S., some 110,000 are veterans. Of those, about half are at least 65. While what specifically causes Parkinson’s is unknown, scientists think a mix of genetic and environmental factors are likely culprits. Some research also suggests that a Parkinson’s diagnosis is associated with Agent Orange or other herbicide exposure from a veteran’s years of service, particularly during the years 1962 to 1975.


U.S. Bases in Thailand During the Vietnam War and Agent Orange

courtesy Dr. Wayne Dwernychuk, The Hatfield Group, Retired


Over the years of this writer’s service at the Library of Congress, veterans and their families have sent me questions about maps that show the locations of U.S. forces in Thailand during the Vietnam War. Chief among the reasons that they have sought this information is because some American personnel were exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Thailand. Agent Orange is an herbicide that was used to defoliate the thick jungle in Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, such as the Korean Demilitarized Zone. The intended result was to expose enemy forces who relied on the trees for cover. In Thailand, Agent Orange was used to clear the jungle around bases, as a means to enhance security. However, there was a terrible consequence: Exposure to Agent Orange resulted in cancer, birth defects, and other significant ailments. Public outcry and official investigations followed. In response to veterans and their families suffering from the effects of Agent Orange, the U.S. government makes a presumption of exposure for those who served on land in Vietnam for the purpose of filing a claim with the Veterans Administration. But in the case of veterans who served solely in Thailand, the Veterans Administration states: “To receive benefits for diseases associated with herbicide exposure, these Veterans must show on a factual basis that they were exposed to herbicides during their service as shown by evidence of daily work duties, performance evaluation reports, or other credible evidence.” This writer notes that the policy is source of debate, anger, and frustration for some American military veterans and their families. It should also be mentioned that the Veteran’s Administration outlines other situations where veterans may have been exposed to Agent Orange on their website.


Vietnam-era veterans who served in Guam were exposed to Agent Orange, report says


Updated research aims to help Vietnam-era veterans who served in Guam ill from Agent Orange exposure obtain disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Last year, two veterans groups published a white paper citing research to support that "as likely as not," veterans who served on Guam from 1962 to 1975 met the legal standard for exposure to Agent Orange and other "dioxin-containing herbicides." Now, the groups -- National Veterans Legal Services Program and Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law -- have released updated research expanding that timeline to include veterans who served on Guam from 1958 to 1980.

"The conclusion was based on an exhaustive review conducted over nearly two years of government, private, archival, and oral history evidence of herbicide use in Guam during the Vietnam era," the groups said in a news release about the research. The February update includes new developments and information on herbicide use in Guam gathered after the original paper was published in May 2020, including "an EPA-directed soil sampling report published in July 2020 and recently issued decisions of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals."

Veterans Affairs has approved 22,500 – 34% – of all Blue Water Navy claims filed after 14 months

Tens of thousands of American troops served on Guam during the Vietnam War and, at the height of bombing operations during the conflict, more than three-quarters of all U.S. B-52 aircraft available for operations were based in Guam. The rapid buildup of U.S. airpower in Guam, along with climate conditions on the island, housing and water shortages and other challenges, prompted military leaders to work to prevent fires and control tropical growth using the herbicides.

“This white paper confirms the reports of countless veterans who served in Guam but whose claims the VA has wrongly rejected,” Bart Stichman, executive director of NVLSP, said at the time of the initial report's release. “It is time that the VA acknowledge the strong evidence of toxic herbicide exposure in Guam and care for veterans exposed.”


Legacies of war, ironically, have brought Vietnam and the US closer together


By Chuck Searcy

Last month, completion of dioxin cleanup on a 5,300-square-meter tract of land at Bien Hoa airport marked a significant milestone.

Officials of both the Vietnamese and U.S. governments could derive satisfaction from knowing that the Agent Orange/dioxin legacy of war is now being addressed, after a troubling post-war history of misinformation and controversy, accusations and doubts.

Not just public officials, but veterans and ordinary citizens of both countries can take pride in looking back over the remarkable transformation that has taken place in the past two decades, from early years of mistrust and recrimination to a positive, working partnership between Vietnam and the U.S. today.

That relationship is now built on mutual trust and respect.

A cornerstone of our dramatically improved relationship is a clear, shared commitment between the people of both countries to address the legacies of war, Agent Orange/dioxin, explosive ordnance (EO), and wartime Missing In Action (MIA) personnel from all sides, in an open and honest manner. We now recognize that the humanitarian component of these challenges rises above politics and demands a concerted, selfless effort of all concerned.

How did we come to this point?

Twenty-five years after Vietnam and the U.S. normalized diplomatic relations on July 11,1995, is an appropriate moment to observe and reflect.

I have been a personal witness to this history: first, as a U.S. Army soldier in the war, in 1967-68, then as a veteran who returned to Vietnam in 1995 to try to contribute to the rebuilding, recovery, and reconciliation that was being painfully pursued by the Vietnamese. Working at the Swedish Children’s Hospital and Bach Mai Hospital in Ha Noi to provide orthopedic braces for disabled children, one of the first projects funded by USAID, I learned of the terrible toll in deaths and lifetime disabilities among ordinary people throughout Vietnam as a result of wartime bombs and mines still remaining in the ground.

I was shocked to discover that more than 100,000 Vietnamese had been killed or injured by explosive ordnance since the end of the war in 1975. When I and other Americans discussed this humanitarian tragedy with U.S. Embassy staff and other government officials, there was cautious agreement that this grim challenge needed to be addressed, yes, and it was an area in which the U.S. could provide assistance.


Experiencing Sexual Assault Doubles Odds That Troops Will Leave Military, Report Finds


U.S. military personnel who have experienced sexual assault are twice as likely to leave the military within 28 months of an attack, according to a new Rand Corp. report.

"Sexual assault and sexual harassment are associated with a wide range of harms to individual service members, but this study highlights another negative impact of these crimes -- higher rates of attrition and associated harms to force readiness," Andrew Morral, senior behavioral scientist at the nonprofit think tank and lead author of the report, said in a Rand news release on Tuesday.

"We estimate that sexual assaults and harassment of service members that occurred in a single year were associated with the premature loss of at least 16,000 person-years of service over the following 28 months."

The report, "Effects of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment on Separation from the U.S. Military," showcases the findings of the 2014 Rand Military Workplace Study, which the organization conducted for the Pentagon. Completed in 2019, the Rand document was "recently cleared for publication by DoD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office," according to the news release.


VA's Complicated Vaccine Priority System Causes Disparities, Confusion


The Department of Veterans Affairs may be out ahead of many states and federal entities in vaccine administration, but the complexity of deciding who is eligible for the vaccine and when has still left many confused and frustrated.

So far, the VA has administered 1.26 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine; 305,197 veterans and employees had received both doses as of Monday.

To decide who has priority for the limited vaccine supply, the VA uses an algorithm to sift through its databases and prioritize veterans. But it also considers other factors, such as local availability of vaccine doses, clinical resources and requirements at each hospital or clinic, and the number of COVID-19 infections in an area.

VA officials say the approach has allowed the department to vaccinate a large number of individuals in a relatively short period of time.

Some veterans, however, say they don't understand why they haven't been contacted, despite being what they believe is considered "high risk."

"My husband, a Vietnam vet, has not been contacted to get the vaccine. ... He is 77 with health issues," said a veteran's spouse in the Dallas-Fort Worth area who asked that her name not be used because she wanted to keep her husband's identity private.

He eventually got an appointment through the City of Dallas, not the North Texas VA Health System, she said.

"He had to wait in a car in line for four hours in Dallas to get his vaccine. It was grueling," she added.

Others cited similar problems in other parts of the country.