NGAUS Washington Report
(Aug. 6, 2013) The Department of Veterans Affairs is defending itself against charges that it inappropriately denies claims from C-123 crew members who say they were exposed to Agent Orange after the Vietnam War.
According to a lengthy article in The Washington Post Sunday, the aircraft used to drop the defoliant on the jungles of Vietnam from 1962 to 1971 were flown after the war by reserve-component crews, some of whom now claim illnesses they suffer were caused by exposure to the chemical. Members of the C-123 Veterans Association say they should be eligible for the same compensation as Vietnam veterans who came in contact with Agent Orange and now receive compensation for a range of ailments and conditions.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, have asked the VA’s Office of Inspector General to review the department’s denial of the airmen’s claims.
“It appears that [the VA] does, in fact, plan to deny any C-123 claims regardless of the evidence submitted in a particular case,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki responded to Burr in a letter saying, “VA does not have a ‘blanket policy’ for denying claims” filed by the C-123 veterans in the National Guard and Reserve. The Post quoted a VA statement saying claims are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
The issue is clouded more because the Air Force destroyed most of the airplanes that were retired in 1982. The newspaper cites Air Force memos that say that 18 C-123s were destroyed in 2010, in part, because of liability concerns.