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.


MJFF Urges US Veterans’ Affairs to Better Fund Disease Care, Research


The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) encouraged the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to expand healthcare access for veterans exposed to hazardous chemicals, and to better support research into service-connected Parkinson’s disease.

Recently, the committee hosted a roundtable discussion about healthcare costs for veterans exposed to certain substances during their service, such as garbage burn pits, warfare chemicals, jet fuel, and cleaning solvents.

Committee members heard from community activists and advocates, including those with the MJFF, who called for a change in how U.S. veterans with health problems as a result of their service are treated.

“We are a country that purports to love its veterans — we support the troops, we put on our flag pins, we stand, veterans get discounts at Denny’s … but when a veteran is sick and dying due to the service they gave to this country, and they come back and are put under scrutiny … in a case concerning their own health care and lives? It’s unacceptable,” Jon Stewart, a veterans’ activist and television personality, said in an MJFF press release.

In a letter sent to Veterans’ Affairs committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-California), the MJFF explained that soldiers may experience physical or psychological stress, head trauma, severe brain injury, or be exposed to substances known or suspected to trigger Parkinson’s disease.


Thursday, February 3, 2022

Biden just reduced 'financial distress' for veterans by allowing most of their medical debt to go unreported to credit bureaus


The Department of Veterans Affairs just established a new rule to prevent medical debt from weighing down veterans.

On Wednesday, the VA, along with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), announced new minimum requirements for reporting debt to credit bureaus. Specifically, legislation signed in 2020 allowed the VA Secretary to establish a methodology for reporting debt to credit bureaus, and under the new rule, the VA will not report to those bureaus "until all available collection efforts are exhausted and the specified debt becomes classified as not collectible," according to a press release.

"Reporting debt to consumer reporting agencies impacts credit worthiness and negative reports may cause financial distress for Veterans," VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. "Late remittance or nonpayment can lead to debt collection. However, overpayment of benefits funds is often debt accrued through no fault of the Veteran."

According to the VA, if benefits are overpaid, it can result in a deduction of a veteran's monthly benefit until the debt is repaid. This can be caused by an error in paperwork on the veteran's end, along with processing errors on the agency's end.

"These new changes will result in a 99% reduction in unfavorable debt reported to consumer reporting agencies, thus reducing financial distress for Veterans," McDonough added.


Sens. Moran, Tester Introduce Landmark Bill to Provide Health Care for Post-9/11 Toxic-Exposed Veterans


WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) – the ranking member and chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) – today unveiled their bipartisan Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act—landmark legislation to offer Post-9/11 combat veterans, including those suffering from conditions caused by toxic exposures, such as burn pits, access to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care.

“Post-9/11 veterans are the newest generation of American heroes to suffer from toxic exposures encountered during military service,” said Sen. Moran. “The Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act is an important first step to make certain our veterans receive the care they need as a result of their service. I appreciate the entire Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee for working together to craft this consequential legislation to care for our servicemembers who put their life and health on line for their country.”

“Today, we took a critical step in our bipartisan effort to do right by all toxic-exposed veterans across the country with the introduction of our Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act,” said Sen. Tester. “This landmark bill will allow us to connect a generation of burn pit veterans with the care they’ve earned, while moving the ball forward on addressing toxic exposure in the comprehensive way our veterans deserve. Our work here is just beginning, and together we will keep fighting to deliver quality care and benefits to the men and women who stood in harm’s way to protect our country.”

Approximately 3.5 million Post-9/11 combat veterans may have experienced some level of exposure to burn pits during their service—many of whom are living with undiagnosed illnesses linked to military toxic exposures—and nearly one-third of those veterans are currently unable to access VA care. Among its many provisions, the senators’ bipartisan Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act would:

Expand the period of health care eligibility for combat veterans who served after September 11, 2001 from five years following discharge to ten years;

Provide a one-year open enrollment period for any Post-9/11 combat veterans who are outside their 10-year window;

Establish an outreach plan to contact veterans who did not enroll during their initial period of enhanced eligibility;

Direct VA to incorporate a clinical screening regarding a veteran’s potential exposures and symptoms commonly associated with toxic substances;

Mandate toxic exposure related education and training for healthcare and benefits personnel at VA; and

Strengthen federal research on toxic exposures.


Bureaucracy is failing Blue Water Vietnam veterans


In 1961, when many avoided the Draft, Ray Sarbacker decided to enlist in the military. A fresh-faced kid of 18, Sarbacker wanted to be a patriot like his dad. Sarbacker’s father was one of the WWII heroes who’d parachuted onto Normandy Beach on D-Day. Sarbacker knew his father was traumatized by what he’d witnessed that day — so much so that he’d never discussed it. But young Sarbacker, determined to follow in his dad’s footsteps, joined the Navy.

Within months, Sarbacker found himself on an aircraft carrier. When he’d enlisted, U.S. action in Vietnam was limited to “advisors” on the ground, but the nation’s engagement escalated rapidly. Soon, Sarbacker’s carrier was in the Gulf of Vietnam, and Sarbacker’s responsibilities included washing Agent Orange off of helicopters and planes that returned from missions. Then, overworked and exhausted, Sarbacker and his shipmates would sleep on the carrier’s deck, using their Agent Orange-soaked towels as pillows until the next wave of helos returned.


3 Wartime Exposure-Related Documentaries

1) "The Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act"

2) Agent Orange exposure on Thailand military bases, veterans fight to get disability compensation

3) America's Vietnam Shame: Children Of Agent Orange | Timeline

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Agent Orange update, disability and VA health care, unemployment and more



Bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism were added to the Agent Orange Presumptive List when the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act was passed. Veterans who previously filed and were denied claims involving these conditions will be eligible for VA disability benefits. The VA was ordered under the Defense Authorization Act to locate and contact the veterans who were denied their claims for these conditions so that appropriate reconsideration by the VA could be conducted. If you are a veteran whose disability claim for any of these three new presumptives was denied and the VA has not contacted you, please contact your VSO (preferably the VSO who assisted in the filing of the original claim) to take further action on your claim.


Are you a veteran who was denied VA health care because your income exceeded the means test for eligibility (your household income was above the VA income means test)? Medical conditions and their proven relationship with exposure change periodically as the VA gains more data. If you have been diagnosed with any medical condition or disease that has been determined to be caused by an exposure, you should file a claim for service-connected disability compensation regardless of how long you have been out of the military or how long ago you filed and were previously denied. If your claim is approved, this disability makes you eligible for VA health care and you should apply as soon as you get the approval of your disability claim.


A veteran who cannot work because of a disability related to their service in the military (a service-connected disability) may qualify for “individual unemployability.” Such a veteran may be able to get disability compensation or benefits at the same level as a veteran who has a 100% disability rating. If, 1) a veteran has at least one service-connected disability rated as 60% or more disabling, or 2) has two or more service-connected disabilities with at least one rated at 40% or more disabling and a combined rating of 70% or more AND the veteran cannot hold down a steady job that can support the veteran financially (known as substantially gainful employment) because of the service-connected disability.


House Approves Bill to Automatically Enroll Vets in VA Health Care


Eligible veterans would be automatically enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system under a bill passed by the House on Thursday.

The House voted 265-163 to approve the Ensuring Veterans' Smooth Transition, or EVEST, Act. The vote fell largely along party lines, though 44 Republicans joined Democrats to support the bill.

Right now, veterans must proactively apply for health care benefits at the VA. The bill approved Thursday would require the department to instead automatically enroll veterans who meet existing eligibility criteria for VA health care. The VA would also have to provide a way for veterans to opt out of coverage.

The bill, which does not change who is eligible for VA health benefits, would apply retroactively to veterans discharged 90 days before it becomes law. The bill must still be voted on by the Senate before being sent to the president to be signed into law.

Supporters of the bill touted it as a common sense measure that will help ease the transition from the military to civilian life.

"We know that the months following transition out of the military can be very stressful and particularly risky for new veterans in terms of mental health," House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., who sponsored the bill, said Thursday on the House floor. "This helps simplify the process and prevents veterans from potentially missing out on lifesaving care. It also keeps veterans from having to opt-in to VA care later and attempt to navigate a new bureaucracy on their own."

The bill could affect about 58,000 veterans annually who might otherwise not enroll in VA health care, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, or CBO.


Toxic air pollution in West Virginia


Institute is a small town in West Virginia and one of two majority-Black census tracks in a state that is 94 percent white. It’s home to West Virginia State University, an HBCU whose alumni includes NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson (who was featured in the film “Hidden Figures”).

And nestled near Institute is the Union Carbide chemical manufacturing plant, owned by Dow Chemical. And while it’s been a source for jobs in the area for decades, many residents of Institute associate the plant with chemical leaks and fires.

Last year, a West Virginia state health department report found that the towns of Institute and South Charleston are seeing a spike in cancer related to ethylene oxide, a chemical produced at the Union Carbide plant.

In this edition of Local Spotlight, we talk to the reporter behind an investigation into the toxic air pollution in Institute, West Virginia, and explore how the town compares to other Black communities in the country that face disproportionate health risks from air pollution.


Reminder: Midland and Tittabawassee River area still under dioxin advisory for livestock


Area residents are being reminded to not eat eggs or meat from animals raised downstream from Midland along the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers due to possible dioxin contamination.

Representatives from Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) gave an online presentation Tuesday night regarding dioxin contamination along the Tittabawassee River by Midland and the hazards that come from it. These groups advise against the raising of chickens and other livestock due to possible health risks from humans consuming too much dioxin.

The dioxin contamination is due to past Dow waste handling practices, said environmental engineer specialist at EGLE, Dan Dailey. This stemmed from burning dioxins or discharging them into the river, he said.

Dioxin chemicals can then spread from the river onto the land during flooding events when the water picks up sediments with dioxin and deposits them on land. Even though Dow no longer discharges dioxins, the chemical lingers for a long time, Dailey said. High amounts of dioxin have been measured in parts of Midland and along the Tittabawassee River.

When asked about the destructive 2020 flood in Midland, Arthur Ostaszewski, environmental quality analyst for EGLE, said EGLE did not see a spike in dioxin in the area after the flood.


Chemical defoliants sprayed on Amazon rainforest to facilitate deforestation in Brazil

Chemicals created to kill agricultural pests are being sprayed by aircraft into native forest areas.

Glyphosate and 2,4-D, among others, cause the trees to defoliate, and end up weakened or dead in a process that takes months. Next criminals remove the remaining trees more easily and drop grass seeds by aircraft, consolidating deforestation.

Brazil’s environmental agency, IBAMA, discovered that in addition to land grabbers, cattle ranchers use the method in order to circumvent forest monitoring efforts.

Pesticides have been dropped from planes and even helicopters with the aim of evading IBAMA, the Brazilian environmental agency, for years as a method to clear remote and hard-to-reach areas of the Amazon rainforest. That practice — used more frequently since 2018 — takes longer than clear-cut deforestation (the removal of all existing vegetation using heavy machinery). On the other hand, pesticide use cannot be detected via real-time satellite imagery.

According to IBAMA, some pesticides work as defoliants. The dispersion of those chemicals over native forest is the initial stage of deforestation, causing the death of leaves — and a good part of the trees. The material is burned and surviving trees are  removed with chainsaws and tractors.

“Although human-induced forest degradation takes a few years to happen, the process is advantageous to criminals because chances of being caught are very low. We can only see the damage when the clearing is already formed,” notes an IBAMA official who spoke with Mongabay on the condition of anonymity. “A dead forest is easier to remove than a living one. Certain (not all of them) pesticides practically leave only big trees standing.”

VA Tests New Automated System that Could Speed Up Claims Decisions


Department of Veterans Affairs officials are hoping a new automated system that helps render decisions on disability claims will accelerate the process and decrease the backlog of claims applications.

The automated system being considered by the VA has proven to shorten the disability claims review process from 100 days to two under certain circumstances and conditions, according to the agency.

A pilot run of the VA Automated Benefits Delivery System, launched in December, looked at claims filed by veterans seeking upgrades to their disability ratings for hypertension and cut 98 days from the process for those with complete files.

VA officials said the program is part of a plan to address 260,000 current disability claims, including 59,000 that are older than 125 days and are considered backlogged.

"We saw an opportunity to look at our traditional disability claims process and see how we can better leverage the data we have ... to introduce business-process automation," explained Rob Reynolds, acting deputy undersecretary for the VA's Office of Automated Benefit Delivery, during a press conference with reporters Tuesday.

The system takes electronic or paper claims and uses algorithms to determine whether the file contains enough data and information to render a decision. It then weighs the information against the rules that govern disability claims and makes a recommendation whether to approve or disapprove the claim.

The system's recommendation is reviewed and validated by a rating veterans service representative. If at any time the system decides that more information is needed -- the veteran needs a comprehensive medical exam or more data is required to render a decision -- the claim is sent to a claims reviewer for traditional processing, Reynolds said.


Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Exposed to Environmental Toxins in the Military? A House Committee Wants to Hear from You


The House Veterans Affairs Committee wants to hear from troops and veterans about their environmental exposures while serving in the U.S. military.

Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., has set up an online survey for veterans asking about what they've experienced as effects of toxic exposure.

The request for help gauging the impact of exposure was announced just before Takano's planned roundtable with veterans organizations Wednesday, titled "The True Cost of our Promise to Toxic Exposed Veterans."

The survey seeks info on the extent of exposure, health conditions possibly related to environmental pollutants, the VA's response and what lawmakers can do to help affected veterans.

"Your responses will help the Committee better understand veterans' experiences with toxic exposure and how Congress can help ensure these veterans receive the benefits they have earned and deserve," Takano wrote in an announcement last week.

Takano is the lead sponsor of the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics, or PACT, Act, which would broadly expand affected veterans' access to health care disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The $282 billion proposed legislation would designate 23 diseases as presumed to be related to battlefield environmental exposures in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

It also would expand eligibility to veterans who have faced challenges applying for benefits, including those who served in Vietnam and have hypertension, as well as Vietnam-era veterans exposed to Agent Orange and other defoliants outside the war zone.

An unknown number of post-9/11, Persian Gulf War and Vietnam-era veterans are suffering from respiratory illnesses, cancer and other diseases that many believe are related to exposure to chemicals, radiation and heavy metals during their military service.


Association between industrial pollutants including dioxins and dioxin-like compounds and hepatocellular carcinoma risk


The incidence of the most common form of liver cancer (75-85%), hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), has increased since the 1970s. Internationally, liver cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related death. HCC risk factors can include chronic hepatitis B and C virus infection, excessive alcohol consumption, aflatoxin exposure, tobacco use, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Recent studies suggest that the incidence of HCC could be influenced by environmental exposures due to liver cancer’s geographic variation. Dioxin and dioxin-like compounds can be found in environmentally toxic emissions that could have adverse effects on the locally exposed human population. Dioxins and dioxin-like compounds include persistent organic pollutants [e.g., polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs), polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)] that are produced from industrial combustion processes including waste incineration.




In the 1960s, Ernie Rivers taught Navy flight students at the Pensacola Naval Air Station how to live off the land if their plane was downed. He was the officer in charge of the survival unit, overseeing 30 to 35

instructors, who taught more than 100 men a week how to survive with only a compass, map, and a hunting knife. Every week groups of students would camp for three days, using different sites on Eglin Air Force Base Reservation in Florida.

When the winds and clouds were right, Rivers and his men would watch planes pass overhead, clouds of spray coming from them. Several times he and his men were sprayed. “I’d say, ‘At least we don’t have to use bug repellant,’” he noted, laughing, during an interview. That was a big plus, they thought, for them as well as Army Rangers who were also training out in the bayous of the Florida panhandle, where mosquitoes and other bugs could make life miserable.

Rivers and the students thought they were watching the Air Force spray DDT to kill mosquitoes. What was actually being sprayed, he said, was Agent Orange. Documents show that gallons of the defoliants Agent

Orange, Agent Purple, and Agent White were sprayed at Eglin. In fact, according to officials overseeing the program, the Air Force sprayed a test area on the base with more dioxin than any similar area in Vietnam. The fact that Agent Orange was sprayed in Florida for eight years was not widely known then or even today. Only in the last several years has the documentation on the spraying been made publicly available by Alvin Young, an Air Force scientist for more than 15 years at Eglin. Young oversaw a huge research project evaluating how massive spraying of Agent Orange at the Florida air force base affected its soil, water, plants, fish, and animals.


Residents speak out after high levels of dioxins found in west Eugene


EUGENE, Ore. – Residents are speaking out after soil testing revealed high levels of dioxins at six properties in one west Eugene neighborhood.

The samples were collected from yards north of Roosevelt Boulevard, across the street from the wood preserving facility J.H. Baxter & Co.

"It makes me wonder if a few years down the line, I come up with a positive cancer test, will it be because of the factory that I'm living next to?" said Rose Mead, who lives in the neighborhood.

Soil from her yard was tested. According to the department of environmental quality, the concentration of dioxins found could potentially pose heath risks to children six and younger who are exposed to the soil for at least a year.

According to Mead who has lived in the neighborhood for about two years, there have been ongoing issues with the J.H. Baxter & Co. facility.

"It started just being at nighttime, like somehow we wouldn't notice the clouds of smoke go up and bad smelling air at night when we're trying to sleep," Mead said.


EPA Reapproves Enlist One, Enlist Duo Pesticides With New Protections for Endangered Species


WASHINGTON— The Environmental Protection Agency today issued seven-year reapprovals for both Enlist Duo and Enlist One for use on conventional and genetically engineered corn, cotton and soybeans.

Enlist Duo is an herbicide cocktail containing the active ingredients 2,4-D and glyphosate; Enlist One contains only 2,4-D. Both products are widely used on crops genetically altered to withstand what would normally be a fatal dose of the chemicals.

The agency also announced that for the first time it had evaluated the pesticides’ impacts on endangered wildlife and was putting in place measures to protect dozens of protected species from harm.

“It’s good that the EPA is finally putting at least some on-the-ground measures in place to protect the nation’s most endangered species from these highly toxic products,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But we’re deeply concerned that the agency failed to complete consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service during this process, and we hope that the Service will step in quickly to ensure that the nation’s most endangered plants and animals are adequately protected.”

The new measures to protect endangered species represent a sharp departure from the previous registration of Enlist Duo in 2014. At that time the EPA declared, without engaging in formal Endangered Species Act consultation, that the chemical cocktail would cause no harm to any endangered species.

Key protective measures include prohibiting use of the products where they may harm or kill endangered species in the field. That change effectively bans their use on about 3% of corn acreage, 8% of cotton acreage and 2% of soybean acreage.

However, the EPA has made its determinations about how to protect endangered species without the legally required final input from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the nation’s expert wildlife agency.


Young and Dying: Veterans Are Getting Brain Cancer and Struggling to Get Benefits


The mesh cap that Noah Feehan wore nearly all day, every day, contained 18 terminals that delivered electrical pulses to his brain and the deadly tumor growing inside it.

Diagnosed with a form of cancer called glioblastoma in December 2020, Feehan, a 38-year-old Minnesota Air National Guard master sergeant, had vowed to do whatever it took to battle his illness even if it meant that, in addition to radiation and chemotherapy, he would wear the device 18 hours a day, sometimes enduring shocks so painful they forced him to his knees.

But the treatment triggered more than momentary pain. He stopped eating -- and smiling.

At a baseball game last summer, Noah’s wife of 13 years leaned in and asked him whether he wanted to take off the cap permanently, even if it meant abandoning an experimental weapon on which the family’s hopes rested.

"He goes, 'Can I?'" Jenny Feehan said. “I said, ‘Of course, you can.' I never saw him happier. It was like a light switch went on."

No one knows for certain why Feehan, who serves as an avionics technician, developed a rare brain cancer with an average life expectancy of 12 to 18 months that usually afflicts those in their 60s or older.


Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Support Birth Defect Research for Children - Because every birth defect has a cause

Cancer-causing waste found at troubled paper mill on SC river. How did it get there?


As Carolinas residents complained last year about nauseating fumes from a York County paper mill, a less visible threat lurked in some of the mill’s aging waste lagoons along the Catawba River. The threat is dioxin, an industrial waste generated for decades by paper and pulp mills as they produced white paper for sale in many widely used products. Known as one of the world’s most toxic chemicals, dioxin has been tied to the deaths of domestic animals and illnesses in children who came in contact with the material. It is known to cause cancer and is of particular concern because dioxin can linger in the environment for decades. Even microscopic amounts can be a danger to people and wildlife. TOP VIDEOS WATCH MORE × Panthers vs Bucs The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control recently confirmed that dioxin has been identified in waste sludge in four lagoons at the New Indy LLC container board plant south of Charlotte. The lagoons hold about 6.5 million cubic yards of sludge, the agency said. It is unclear how much dioxin is in the sludge and who is responsible for the contamination because various companies have owned the paper mill since it was built in the late 1950s. New Indy says it didn’t release dioxin.


Decades later, EPA still working on cleanup of Florida’s “Mount Dioxin”


Pensacola wood treatment plant just one of 92 Superfund sites around the Sunshine State.

Florida has lots of communities with a history that is — oh, what’s a good word? Let’s say “unusual.”

Sweetwater, for instance, was founded by a troupe of Russian circus midgets whose bus broke down. Sanibel’s drive to incorporate as a city was led by a trio of retired CIA agents, one of whom became the first mayor. Nalcrest, was built by and for retired letter carriers, so dogs are, of course, banned.

Or take my hometown of Pensacola. It’s one of the great also-rans of history. It was founded before St. Augustine, but a storm smashed the Spanish colonists’ supply ships, chasing them away. That’s why St. Augustine, not Pensacola, gets all the tourists who want to visit the oldest continuously occupied city in North America.

Then, in 1861, the Civil War almost started there. Confederate troops planned to attack the Union-held fort guarding the mouth of the harbor. Once again, though, a storm interfered, forcing the Rebels to postpone their bombardment. That’s how Fort Sumter, S.C., made it into the history books, instead of Fort Pickens in Florida.

But Pensacola does have a couple of modern claims to notoriety. It was the first place where a doctor carrying out abortions was murdered by someone claiming to be “pro-life.” And it is the site of one of the worst Superfund sites in the nation, one that ranks up there just behind Love Canal and Times Beach.

We live in an era of “supers,” as comic-book superhero movies from Marvel and DC rake in big bucks. But this super is far more vital to saving our lives and our planet than Iron Man and Batman and all their gadgets put together.  Jimmy Carter. Official portrait, 1977. 39th President of the United States. Credit: Wikipedia.

“Superfund” is a fairly benign nickname for something that is both scary and necessary. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act was passed by Congress in 1980 and signed into law by then-President Jimmy Carter.


Wednesday, January 5, 2022

The Right Wants to Make Disabled Veterans Into the New “Welfare Queens”


In recent years, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have backed privatization of services provided by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). As part of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the VHA serves about nine million patients and operates the largest public health care system in the country.

Since 2015, billions of dollars have been diverted from VHA care to private doctors and hospitals who treat veterans in costlier and less effective fashion. This cannibalization of the VHA budget began under President Barack Obama, escalated during the Donald Trump era, and continues under Joe Biden.

Up until now, few Republicans, or their allies like the Koch brothers–funded Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), dared to attack the VA-run Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), a sacred cow even for conservatives. Nearly six million veterans currently receive payments for service-related medical conditions that left them partially or totally impaired; among them are 1.3 million men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their total compensation, plus pensions, costs the public about $110 billion per year.

Publication of a new book, touted by Trump’s last VA secretary, signals that any ceasefire over veterans’ benefits has ended inside the Beltway. In Wounding Warriors: How Bad Policy is Making Veterans Sicker and Poorer, Daniel Gade, a retired US Army lieutenant colonel and former Trump administration official, has teamed up with an ex–Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Huang, to demand major “entitlement reform” at the VBA.

The authors — who are definitely not critics of the military-industrial complex — denounce what they call a “disability-industrial complex.” They argue that monthly checks from the VBA foster a costly and unhealthy culture of dependence among veterans — and should be sharply restricted, not expanded.

Robert Wilkie, the Republican operative who helped expand VHA outsourcing while serving as VA chief until last year, has joined the call for benefit cuts from his own new perch at the Heritage Foundation. At a Veterans Day event with Gade in November, Wilkie accused his former agency of being overly “focused on getting veterans checks and not getting them well and getting them back into society.” Like Gade, he claimed that veterans service organizations encourage former military personnel “to play disability” — with the result being that too many noncombat veterans are getting undeserved compensation.


The hidden legacy of Agent Orange



All wars are brutal, but some are more savage than others in the number of people killed and how they died. During World War I (1914-1918) approximately 19.7 million people lost their lives — 9.7 million military personnel and 10 million civilians. Chemical weapons were used by both sides to kill over 90,000 combatants and injure approximately 1.2 million more.

Although the number of deaths in the Vietnam War — 1.35 million military personnel including 58,200 Americans, and up to 2 million North and South Vietnamese civilians — was much less than in World War I, the toxic impact of chemical agents was significant. During Operation Ranch Hand (1962-1971) the U.S. military sprayed approximately 20 million gallons of “rainbow herbicide” defoliants: agents orange, green, blue, pink, purple and white (nicknamed for the color on the barrels in which they were shipped) in Vietnam (primarily), eastern Laos and parts of Cambodia.

Approximately 65% of rainbow herbicides contained dioxin, one of the most toxic materials ever manufactured. Dioxins can cause cancer, reproductive problems (including spontaneous abortions) developmental problems, damage to the immune system, type 2 diabetes, ischemic heart disease and interfere with hormones.

The use of “rainbow herbicides” led to a 1984 class action suit by Vietnam veterans and their families against chemical companies that produced these defoliants. The suit alleged that Agent Orange exposure resulted in cancers, other serious health conditions and birth defects in children of veterans.

Dow Chemical Company utilized the “government contractor defense.” That is, if Dow could prove the herbicides were manufactured to Defense Department specifications, and both parties were aware of the hazards presented by these defoliants, the company could not be held liable for health problems caused by the herbicides.

Arguing against Dow’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, veterans’ attorneys cited a then-secret 1965 meeting of chemical companies wherein Dow scientists warned about significant health dangers of dioxin. As reported in the New York Times, the veterans’ lawyers stated: “Since the mid-1960s, Dow had information that Agent Orange supplied to the Government contained large levels of dioxin, far in excess of anything Dow considered safe or necessary … What did Dow do with this information?” the attorneys asked. “It concealed it from the Government and asked others, it’s co-defendants, to do the same.”