Thursday, February 27, 2014

The New Trail of Tears: The Agent Orange Story [Part 3 of 3]

Title 38 United State Code
Title 38 United States Code is the section of Federal law governing Veterans benefits, including medical coverage.  It deals most specifically with the term “service-connected disability.” 

The meaning of the term “Service-connected” is pretty much self-evident: any condition, the cause of which can be traced directly to a Veteran’s service. 

Title 38 Section 1:
(11) The term “period of war” means the Spanish-American War, the Mexican border period, World War I, World War II, the Korean conflict, the Vietnam era, the Persian Gulf War, and the period beginning on the date of any future declaration of war by the Congress and ending on the date prescribed by Presidential proclamation or concurrent resolution of the Congress.

(12) The term “veteran of any war” means any veteran who served in the active military, naval, or air service during a period of war.

(16) The term “service-connected” means, with respect to disability or death, that such disability was incurred or aggravated, or that the death resulted from a disability incurred or aggravated, in line of duty in the active military, naval, or air service.
When the Agent Orange Act of 1991 was passed, the VA wrote its policy based on Admiral Zumwalt’s second option, the catch-all that ensured all who were exposed to herbicides were covered, even though some who were not, but had herbicide-related diseases, would also be covered. 

If you received the Vietnam Service medal, and had an Agent Orange Disease, and a discharge from the military under other than dishonorable conditions, you were eligible for service connected disability benefits. 

The Congressionally enacted bill, Public Law 102-4 enacted on 6 February 1991, was vague in its definition of service in Vietnam:
For the purposes of this subsection, a veteran who, during active military, naval, or air service, served in the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam era…
Section 3 of the act, includes this paragraph:
(e) RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ADDITIONAL SCIENTIFIC STUDIES.—The Academy shall make any recommendations it has for additional scientific studies to resolve areas of continuing scientific uncertainty relating to herbicide exposure. In making recommendations for further study, the Academy shall consider the scientific information that is currently available, the value and relevance of the information that could result from additional studies, and the cost and feasibility of carrying out such additional studies.

We are aware of such requests made by the National Academies of Science regularly in their biennial reports, and we have seen such requests have been made in their biennial reports, only to have them spurned by the VA.

In a 2012 address before the Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides [Ninth Biennial Update] during their June 28 inaugural session, we made just such a request of the committee.  To date there has been no response.  We asked for a comprehensive study of the health outcomes of Vietnam Veterans, Vietnam Era Veterans, and non-Veterans of the Vietnam Era, all of a same age grouping, of both sexes, and with the Vietnam and Vietnam Era Veterans broken down into areas of service [Branch and location during Vietnam Era, including multiple periods of service].  We hope this will appear in the near future and that, finally, the VA will undertake to fund the study.  Further, we can think of no better person to lead the study than Dr. Jeanne Stellman of Columbia University.

The question arises: Why is the VA afraid of new studies? 

The First Lies
As posted in part 2, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt recognized the VA for its contentious nature on the Agent Orange issue:
Such a resolution of the embarrassingly prolonged Agent Orange controversy would be on the order of decisions to compensate U.S. soldiers who contracted cancer after exposure to radiation from atomic tests and U.S. soldiers involved, without their knowledge, in LSD experiments. With the scientific basis now available for it to be stated with confidence that it is at least as likely as not that various health effects are related to wartime exposure to Agent Orange, there is the opportunity finally to right a significant national wrong committed against our Vietnam Veterans.
Zumwalt made no secret of the fact that he ran into constant interference by the VA, in particular with the Cancer Studies done by the Centers for Disease Control [CDC] in 1988-1990.  In the final report of the Association of Selected Cancers with Military Service in Vietnam, conducted by the Selected Cancers Cooperative Study Group, in September of 1990, we find this curiously worded passage:
Furthermore, the risk for Hodgkin's disease was not elevated among men with greater potential for contact with Agent Orange, including men who served in combat units, men in Ill Corps (the most heavily sprayed area (Craig, 1975; Westing, 1984)), or men stationed in Vietnam between 1966 and 1969, the period of heaviest spraying. ln addition, compared with other Vietnam veterans, the risk for Hodgkin's disease did not significantly differ between those in the Navy (most of whom were stationed on ocean-going vessels with little potential for exposure to Agent Orange) and men in other service branches P.91

 First, we find it highly suspect that a bunch of scientists would put what is clearly an assertion “[most of whom were stationed on ocean-going vessels with little potential for exposure to Agent Orange]”  not based on any scientific evidence into a report. 

Second, markedly absent from this is the natural follow-on to determine why, then, there was “no significant difference” between Blue Water Navy personnel and those of other branches of the service.  Indeed, the very fact that there was not a significant difference begs to find a scientific vector of possible exposure to Agent Orange in Blue Water Navy personnel since their rates of Hodgkin’s Disease were so similar with personnel in other branches! 

We believe this to be a sign of the VA interference that the good Admiral was referring to. 

More, this time on Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma or NHL:
Results of our study do not suggest that the risk of NHL varies according to known patterns of spraying in Vietnam. The estimated risk tended to be somewhat lower among Vietnam veterans who served in combat units, in the Army, or in III Corps than among other men. Compared with other Vietnam veterans, the risk of NHL tended to be higher among Navy veterans, most of whom were stationed on ocean-going vessels. Overall, the risk tended to be higher for men based at sea than for those based on land. Finally, no greater risk was associated with serving in Vietnam during the period of heaviest spraying, 1966 to 1969.

Ye gads!  “…Compared with other Vietnam veterans, the risk of NHL tended to be higher among Navy veterans, most of whom were stationed on ocean-going vessels. Overall, the risk tended to be higher for men based at sea than for those based on land….

A glaring admission that the principle cancer in the original Agent Orange Act of 1991 has higher incidences in Veterans serving at sea in the Blue Water Navy than on those who served on land.

But the VA has always fallen back on the CDC Study quote noted above: “...most of whom were stationed on ocean-going vessels with little potential for exposure to Agent Orange...”  It is this quote that separates the Blue Water Navy from other Vietnam Veterans, and it has not one shred of science to back it up.  Indeed, the Australian Study which was commissioned by the Australian Government to find out why their Blue Water Sailors were sick and dying of Agent Orange related diseases, clearly found the culprit in the water desalinization system on Navy ships.  Ships need fresh water to run their boilers to generate steam to drive the turbines that move the ship.  From that first batch of seawater that was obviously contaminated with Agent Orange from runoff via streams and rivers, through the processing of the now fresh  water, the system ran the water through a superheated system, one product of which was fresh water for the use of the crew for drinking and bathing.  That second process did not remove the dioxin in the water, it concentrated it.

Does this not answer the missing question above?  Why “…Compared with other Vietnam veterans, the risk of NHL tended to be higher among Navy veterans, most of whom were stationed on ocean-going vessels. Overall, the risk tended to be higher for men based at sea than for those based on land….”?

Of course it does!

In his report to the Secretary of the VA quoted in the previous post, Zumwalt clearly states about the CDC studies:
I further conclude that the Veterans’ Advisory Committee on Environmental Hazards has not acted with impartiality in its review and assessment of the scientific evidence related to the association of adverse health effects and exposure to Agent Orange. p.3
Zumwalt came down hard on this committee, but not as hard as he came down on the CDC. 

It is his word.  It is how Zumwalt described the studies conducted by the CDC in the early and mid-1980s.  Not just how the studies were constructed, but also how they were conducted.  He described the interference as "political in nature." 

Let’s go back a bit.  And we warn you that we will, out of truth and facts and necessity, get a bit political here ourselves. 

In 1968 the Vietnam War was in full swing, though the spraying of defoliants had begun to level off.  1968 was the year of the Tet Offensive.  During a truce for the lunar New Year, North Vietnamese forces buttressed by the irregulars of the Viet Cong guerilla forces, came out of the jungles of South Vietnam and into the cities, towns and villages.  Atrocities were committed on a regular basis, in small villages, and in the old provincial capital of Hue not far south of the DMZ.  The North Vietnamese Army [NVA] and the Viet Cong [VC] guerillas entered those villages, towns and cities with lists of names of people who did not support their cause, and were loyal to the existing government of the Republic of Vietnam.  They hunted down the people on those lists and executed them, usually burying them in mass graves. 

Not without difficulty, the US and RVN forces rolled back the enemy and defeated them across the country, but the damage was done.  The NVA and the VC had won an apparent victory for catching us off guard…not in Vietnam, but on the nightly news in the US. 

In the US, April saw the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and two months later, another assassination, this time it was Robert F. Kennedy.  By the time of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago at the end of August, the nation was so disrupted by unrest, the war news, the assassinations, that the convention itself became secondary news to the anti-war riots and protests on the streets near the convention.  These riots even pushed the Vietnam War into the background…while the war itself had entered into a lull while the enemy waited to see who would be the next President of the United States. 

Richard Nixon got elected by about a half-million votes.  The demonstrations continued with slightly less violence.  As the war dragged on despite Nixon’s promise to end it “with honor,” the demonstrations continued.   Nevertheless, Nixon’s second term election was by one of the largest landslides in US history.   This provided some impetus to bring the North Vietnamese to the table for peace discussions.  In early 1973 the Paris Peace talks yielded an agreement and the war wound down for the US, but not for the South Vietnamese.  On the 29th of April, 1975, the US presence in Vietnam came to an end in a hasty helicopter withdrawal from the US Embassy in Saigon.  The next day, April 30, the Republic of Vietnam surrendered.   The War was finally over. 

Where did the protestors go?
One needs to ask, what happened to all those protestors?  To answer that you need to know who they were.  Most were young college students, some were disaffected veterans returned from Vietnam, some were draft dodgers, many were college professors, and some were, quite simply, anti-American anarchists.  All were, to one degree or another, idealists, politically indoctrinated in their classrooms and lecture halls, coffee houses, sit-ins, be-ins, and rallies where anti-war agitators would continue their political indoctrination.  Very few were political conservatives.  They were the extreme left of the liberal/progressive movement in the US, and they targeted their own political party’s presidential convention because the party was positioned too far to the right in conducting a war they were against. 

So where did they go?  Most went back to the classroom.  Those who taught, continued to teach the catechism of anti-government, socialist rhetoric that had been instilled in them by the leaders of the anti-war movement.  Many of those who were students became teachers and professors who were highly unwilling to keep their politics out of the classroom and lecture halls.  Generations of college graduates since then have been the recipients, willing or not, of this political indoctrination.  Many became lawyers.  Many went into government, local, state and Federal.  Some worked their way up in the bureaucracy to middle and upper level management, in some cases very rapidly.  They were the movers and shakers in the Executive branch of government, filling the upper ranks of the cabinet level departments by the 1990s in a wave that has only finally begun to diminish. 

One of those departments is the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The same people who demonstrated at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968, and elsewhere, were the same folks who spat on you in airports, train and bus stations around the country when you came home from the war.  They are the reason you were suddenly allowed, even encouraged to go ashore, or off base in your civvies – uniform no longer required.  They are the same reason the VA fought so hard to prevent the recognition of the damage done by herbicides to our soldiers, and the subsequent granting of disability benefits…it was what you deserved for participating in that “dirty, illegal war”.  To them we are all war criminals.  And what better place to dish out your “just desserts” from than the VA?  They dedicated their lives to doing just that, and from within the law, too, no matter how perverted it became. 

They are the ones who, in 1993, removed the US Air Force from coverage under the Agent Orange Act of 1991, and the Navy in 2002.  They could not remove the Army or the Marines because they were “sprayed directly,” and the scientific evidence of the link between the illnesses and dioxin in the herbicides was too strong to annul the entire law.   But they were the ones who define “service in Vietnam,” a role reinforced by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in the Haas case, and further strengthened by the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear an appeal  In Haas, the court ruled that cabinet level departments had the inherent duty to interpret laws enacted by congress so those laws could be implemented properly.  Ergo, whatever the VA decided the definition of service in Vietnam was, they VA had the right and the duty to make that decision.  It was not the court’s duty to determine the correctness of that decision.

And now you have our thoughts on why the Blue Water Navy and the Blue Sky Air Force were removed from eligibility for Agent Orange benefits by the VA:

The very same people who spat on you and called you a “murderer,” “war criminal,” “baby-killer” in the early 1970s, have continued to do so for four decades from positions well ensconced in government, and education – positions of power and authority they did not possess when rioting in the streets.  You are still being made to “pay for your sins” of going to war illegally and illegally conducting that war. 

Even recently in the White House a few have served as advisors to President Obama.  One or two still do. 

And people like “Hanoi” Jane Fonda, who actively, and very publicly, aided and abetted the enemy, and made tons of money from the notoriety she gathered from those actions, went unpunished.

It is people like these who have needlessly caused pain and suffering, and often early death to an untold number of thousands of Vietnam Veterans.  It is a crime against humanity.  It is inhumane.  It is criminal.  And it is purely, totally and utterly political. It must stop!

In spite of all this, we now say to you, persevere, as we will; keep fighting for what you should have, and to keep what you do have, as we will; do not ever give in or give up, as we will not give in or give up; and from the bottom of our heart, thank you one and all for your service. 

It was a distinct honor to serve with you then, and a humbling one to do what little we can now. 

Welcome back Brothers and Sisters!  Hang in!

For further reading:

The Basis for Blue Water Navy Ban: VAOPGCPREC 27-97

The CDC The DVA NHL and Hodgkins Disease

The Case Against Mary LouKeener [By Chuck Graham]


”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

"The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Obama Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--VNVets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --President Abraham Lincoln

"It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

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