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News for Seneca County Veterans

Commissioner Passing

On August 11, 2017 Commissioner P. Mike Ringle passed away.  He will be greatly missed and fondly remembered.  One of his proudest accomplishments was being a part of the Patriot Day Salute.  Please visit our Facebook page to see a video of Mike talking about the placement of a Vietnam monument in Tiffin Ohio for the Patriot Day Salute committee that he dedicated himself to.  It was an honor to know him and to have worked with him.

VA Burial Benefits Pre-Enrollment  

More than 10,000 eligible veterans have taken advantage of a new VA benefit that allows them to pre-enroll for interment in a VA national cemetery, which means less paperwork for survivors to complete following their loved one’s death. Interested veterans should contact this office for assistance or application can be made by submitting VA Form 4010007, Application for Pre-Need Determination of Eligibility for Burial in a VA National Cemetery (https://www.va.gov/vaforms/va/pdf/VA40-10007.pdf ) , and supporting documentation, such as a DD Form 214, if readily available, to the VA National Cemetery Scheduling Office by toll-free fax at 1-855-840-8299; email to Eligibility.PreNeed@va.gov; or by regular mail to the National Cemetery Scheduling Office, PO Box 510543, St. Louis, MO 63151.    The VA will review applications and provide written notice of its determination of eligibility. VA will save determinations and supporting documentation in an electronic information system to expedite burial arrangements at the time of need. Laws and personal circumstances change, upon receipt of a burial request, VA will validate all pre-need determinations in accordance with the laws in effect at that time. VA operates 135 national cemeteries and 33 soldiers’ lots in 40 states and Puerto Rico

Phony Telephone Number Scam Targets Veterans

The Federal Trade Commission has issued a warning regarding a new scam, preying on veterans who are making decisions about their medical care. The VA’s Veterans Choice Program allows eligible vets to use approved health-care providers outside of the VA system. Veterans or families can call the VCP’s toll-free number to verify their eligibility for the program.

Scammers have set up a phony telephone line that resembles the VCP’s real telephone number. Con artists are using a phone number that’s almost identical to the real thing, counting on creating confusion. You call and think you’ve reached the VCP. The fake line’s message says you’re entitled to a rebate if you provide a credit card number. But if you give up your account information, they’ll debit your account and you’ll get nothing in return.  There is no rebate and you’ll need to cancel your credit card.

Remember these tips to avoid a scammer’s tricks:

  • Be sure you’re calling the real number for the Veterans Choice Program:           866-606-8198. 
  • If you’re not sure you’ve reached the VCP, hang up. Check the VCP’s site for the real number and try again.
  • The VA – or any government agency – will not ask for your financial account information.


Our new outreach building

Veterans Day at Seneca County Fair

Veterans day at the Seneca County Fair took place on Monday, July 24, 2017. Veterans were able to enter the fair for $2.00 and if they were in uniform, they had free entry.  That day, there was a free dinner for veterans to honor their sacrifice and service to our country generously provided by Real Living Generations.  Many different agencies were present to inform veterans about the services they offer.  Abe Lincoln and B Gen (Retired) Mark Scheid spoke and two different music talents performed for the veterans and family members present.  If you missed it this year come on out and see us next year!  

VA Appeals Backlog

Veterans Affairs Secretary, David J. Shulkin said that it might take about another decade to start dealing with a backlog of 470,000 legacy appeals claims for VA benefits. Between 2015 and 2017, the number of pending appeals ballooned from 380,000 to 470,000, and the average wait time on appeals now stands at about five years.

The agency is looking at 2026, however, before addressing the backlog in legacy claims, he said. Shulkin explained that the VA is going to have to “whittle away on them,” and hesitantly revealed to committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA) that it would take $800 million to address the backlog immediately.

Shulkin said that veterans with existing claims would be able to opt into a modernized appeals process, allowing for expedited service. “So that is my hope to be able to accelerate the backlog, to encourage veterans, who unfortunately right now would have to wait years to get decisions, to opt into a new process,” Shulkin said.

Isakson thanked Shulkin for his honest answer that there is no process in place for addressing the legacy claims, before noting that the oldest legacy claim on record is 25 years. “Eventually he’ll die, and we’ll get that one solved,” Isakson said.   “We share that frustration,” Shulkin said.

We at this office find it really difficult to tell people who have submitted into the appeals process that they have six years to wait on average to get a response. Anger and frustration over the appeals process will only grow louder and deeper, and the VA has an obligation to honor veteran benefits.  At this time, this office tries to submit new evidence and a reconsideration to the VA in the event of a denial, however the 1 year timeline before a decision becomes final will often interfere and an appeal must be filed to ensure the date of the claim is saved.

PREPARE YOUR LOVED ONES

Sometimes difficult conversations are very important to have with your loved ones. No one wants to think about it, let alone discuss it, but helping your loved ones to be better prepared for when you die is one of the most important conversations you can have. Ensure your loved ones know where to locate your discharge papers and any insurance policies you may hold.  Talk about your burial wishes and possibly pre-arrange for your burial.  When the day does come, your loved ones will probably not be thinking clearly and this type of preparation could reduce some of the stress during this time for them.  Also, please be sure to instruct them to contact this office to investigate any benefits they might be eligible for based upon your military service.

Kuwait Liberation Commemorative Books

Are you a veteran of Desert Storm?  Would you like to have a book honoring your service in Desert Storm?  Please stop by our office and we will happily provide you with one.  If you have never visited our office please be sure to bring a copy of your DD Form 214 with you.

VA Benefits Assistance - Do Not Pay   

It can be difficult navigating the government bureaucracy to obtain veterans disability and other benefits, but all it should cost you is time, not money.   Recently  veterans, active service members and their families have been encouraged not to pay for assistance to file paperwork that they can get free help with. "Through the years we have seen businesses and individuals who offer ‘free’ help applying for veterans benefits, but in the end they issue a bill under the guise of financial planning or some other service rendered,” Brig. Gen. Tony Carrelli, Pennsylvania’s adjutant general, said in a consumer advisory last month. “Understanding and learning about benefits can be challenging at times, and the last thing our veterans and their families need to worry about is an unexpected charge for something that should be provided for free," Carrelli said. Veterans can obtain free help or guidance from County Veterans Service Offices, the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, (ODVS) and service organizations such as the American Legion, VFW and Disabled American Veterans. Disability benefits are among the most well-known benefits offered by the federal government. But there are other benefits as well, some of which can be obtained at the state and local level, such as real estate tax exemption for 100 percent disabled veterans.  We are happy to help you apply for any and all benefits that you may be eligible for.

DoD Drug Testing Expansion for all Military Applicants

The Defense Department will be expanding drug testing for military applicants to check for all drugs that are tested in active duty military members, according to DoD.  The change projected for 3 APR, is meant to reveal illicit and prescription medication abuse among civilians, as well as the increase in heroin and synthetic drug use within the civilian population.  Currently, military applicants are tested for illicit drugs and prescription drug abuse during their time at a Military Entry Processing Station, overseen by United States Military Entrance Processing Command, a joint service command.  All branches of the military, to include the Coast Guard, National Guard, Air National Guard, reserves, appointees to the service academies, incoming members of the ROTC and officer candidates undergoing initial training in an enlisted status, require applicants to attend MEPS where they are either accepted or rejected for military service.  Military applicants are currently tested for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamine, designed amphetamines such as MDMA (also known as Molly or Ecstasy), and MDA (also known as Adam).  The expanded test will test for 26 drug types, including heroin, codeine, morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, and a number of synthetic cannabinoids (also known as spice) and benzodiazepine sedatives.  Active members of the military are subject to random drug testing three times per year.

      Roughly 279,400 applicants are processed for entry into military service each year, with around 2,400 of them failing drug tests. It is estimated that 450 additional people will test positive using the expanded testing.  Applicants who fail the new drug tests are allowed to reapply after 90 days at the discretion of the particular service. An applicant who tests positive for any of the drugs twice is permanently disqualified from military service in any branch of the armed forces.  Under the current policy, there are different standards for reapplication depending on the type of drug found in the applicants system. The updated policy allows for one opportunity to reapply, regardless of which drug (or drugs) the applicant tests positive for.  The drug epidemic has reached epic proportions here within our community and throughout the United States.  It appears that DoD has recognized this and is taking steps to ensure that individuals who want to serve the nation are totally drug free.

Camp Lejeune Presumptive Conditions

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) regulations to establish presumptions for the service connection of eight diseases associated with exposure to contaminants in the water supply at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, are effective as of 14 MAR 2017.  They will begin processing new compensation claims from veterans exposed to toxic water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.   “Establishing these presumptions is a demonstration of our commitment to care for those who have served our nation and have been exposed to harm as a result of that service,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Dr. David J. Shulkin.   The presumption of service connection applies to active-duty, reserve and National Guard members who served at Camp Lejeune for a minimum of 30 days (cumulative) between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987, and are diagnosed with any of the following conditions: Adult leukemia, Aplastic anemia, and other myelodysplastic syndromes, Bladder cancer, Kidney cancer, Liver cancer, Multiple myeloma, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease.    The area included in this presumption is all of Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River, including satellite camps and housing areas. This presumption complements the health care already provided for 15 illnesses or conditions as part of the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012.  The Camp Lejeune Act requires the VA to provide health care to veterans, who served at Camp Lejeune, and to reimburse family members or pay providers for medical expenses for those who resided there for not fewer than 30 days between Aug. 1, 1953 and Dec. 31, 1987.

If you have questions or would like to file a claim for any of the above conditions call our office,  we will be happy to assist you or your family members with the process.

Extend the Choice deadline past August

The controversial VA Choice Card program, put in place in the wake of the 2014 wait times scandal, is set to expire later this year (August 2017).   VA  Secretary Shulkin said he sees it as a key program for future VA reforms. The need to see that legislation extended beyond August exists because those resources are needed to provide care for veterans.  The Choice Card program has been described as imperfect and implemented poorly.  Secretary Shulkin has suggested that Congress should reauthorize the Choice Program in August, but only as a temporary measure while better methods for offering veterans choice are developed.

Renewing the program will require congressional appropriators to set aside several billion dollars in coming years to fund the outside medical care appointments, a demand that may be difficult to get past fiscal conservatives in the House.  Shulkin is also promising that if he gets more money for the Choice Card program, he wants to redesign the CHOICE program not put more money into the current program.   Veterans find this program way too complex, there are too many steps to go out and get the care that they need.  Shulkin has promised to eliminate program rules that limit outside care options to veterans who live at least 40 miles away from a VA facility or face a VA clinic wait time of more than 30 days.  The changes will require congressional cooperation. 

     Currently, under the choice program, veterans must either wait 30 days for an appointment or live more than 40 miles away from the nearest VA facility.  All CHOICE Program appointments must be initiated by a VA healthcare provider

Arlington National Cemetery Eligibility Restriction Proposal

An advisory committee suggests eligibility restrictions as a solution to the cemetery's capacity problems.  Retiree eligibility, active duty requirements, and spatial and fiscal constraints are all topics of discussion for delaying maxing capacity at Arlington National Cemetery, Va. Without eligibility changes, there won’t be space for anyone – let alone those meeting exceptional eligibility standards – within the next few decades. Potential courses of action going forward are taking more solid form. The Arlington National Cemetery Advisory Committee held a public meeting this week to provide an update on burial eligibility recommendations and cemetery capacity forecasts.  The advisory committee is tasked with finding solutions to the rapidly shrinking available space at the cemetery and suggesting ways to prolong the maximum capacity point as far into the future as possible.  Current rules permit anyone with an honorable discharge and with at least one day of active duty service to be interred or in-urned at ANC. That's a less rigid eligibility standard than used for other veteran cemeteries, which can require at least 24 months' service.  One course of action is provision to adopt the 24 months’ active duty requirement.  Other potential courses of actions could include changing of eligibility criteria to include only those service members killed in action and/or recipients of the Medal of Honor, however, if approved, those restrictions would not be implemented for another 10 to 20 years.  The committee intends to do a thorough analysis of possible courses of action, after which a final decision is to be provided to the secretary of the Army. The details of that analysis will come in a future report.  It will be interesting to see what changes are implemented for Arlington National Cemetery.  

The VA operates 135 national cemeteries.  Currently, burial in a VA national cemetery is open to all members of the armed forces and veterans who have met minimum active duty service requirements, as applicable, and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Members of the reserve components of the armed forces who die while on active duty or who die while on training duty under certain circumstances are also eligible for burial, as are service members and former service members who were eligible for retired pay at the time of their death. A Veteran’s spouse, widow or widower, minor children, and, under certain conditions, unmarried adult children with disabilities, may also be eligible for burial. Eligible spouses and children may be buried even if they predecease the Veteran.  VA provides the gravesite, grave liner, opening and closing of the grave, government headstone or marker, U.S. burial flag, Presidential Memorial Certificate and perpetual care of the gravesite at no cost to the family.

VA Prescription co-pay changes

Effective February 27th, 2017 the co-payment regulations and associated cost for Veterans filling outpatient medications prescribed to treat non-service connected conditions will change, establishing three classes (tiers) of outpatient medications. Each tier will have  fixed co-payment amounts and will only vary depending upon the class of outpatient medication in the tier.   Tier 1- Preferred Generics will cost $5 for a 30-day or less supply.   Tier 2 Non-Preferred Generics will cost $8 for a 30-day or less supply.   Tier 3- Brand Name -$11 for a 30-day or less supply.  Please be sure to check with your provider to ensure that you are being billed appropriately for your prescriptions to avoid any future unexpected debts.

Flag Cases

The Seneca County Veteran Service Commission tries to ensure that spouses of deceased veterans of Seneca County receive a flag case for the burial flag. Cases are not provided to other family members, however cases are available for purchase at various merchants in the area.

VA Debt Billing Policy Update 

Beginning as early as December 20, 2016, Veterans Healthcare Administration (VHA) will begin using the Department of the Treasury's Cross-Servicing program to collect unpaid debt on any first party co-payments for non-service connected care. VA Medical Centers (VAMCs) will have 30 days to comply with the technical enhancements required to roll-out the program in their facilities. Communication about the program began last year to encourage Veterans to satisfy their first party delinquent co-payment debt before they are referred to Treasury for collection.   VHA's current process provides Veterans with three monthly billing statements in increments of 30, 60 and 90 days in an attempt to collect first party co-payments. Under the new Cross-Servicing program, first party debts that are not paid after 90 days will automatically transfer to VA's Debt Management Center (DMC) for offset of VBA benefits (if available). If VBA benefits are not available, Veterans will have an additional 30 days to make payment arrangements to satisfy the debt. If arrangements to pay the debt are not made, VHA will automatically refer it at 120 days to the Treasury Cross-Servicing program who issues official notification letters to Veterans. If the letters go unanswered, Treasury will use the Treasury Offset Program (TOP) collect delinquent debt. The Treasury Offset Program (TOP) is used to offset any federal payments to include federal tax refunds, Social Security benefits, military pay, retirement pay, and other federal payments that are not exempt by law.  Please contact our office if you have issues with making co-payments, perhaps your eligibility priority group could be reviewed and changed or a payment plan established.  One thing is certain, the VA will get the money it is owed, so be sure to make co-payments on time to avoid getting behind and creating a problematic situation.

Ohio War Orphans Scholarship

The Ohio War Orphans Scholarship Program awards tuition assistance to the children of deceased or severely disabled Ohio veterans who served in the armed forces during a period of declared war or conflict.  To receive War Orphans Scholarship benefits, a student must be enrolled for full-time undergraduate study and pursuing an associate or bachelor's degree at an eligible Ohio college or university. Ohio residency is required. Applicants must be under the age of 25.  Scholarship benefits cover a portion of instructional and general fee charges at two and four-year public institutions and a portion of these charges at eligible private colleges and universities.   For the 2017-2018 school year the deadline for application was May 15, 2017.  

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a liver disease.  It can lay dormant for years with no signs or symptoms.  It is commonly transmitted by exposure to contaminated blood. Veterans have three times greater risk of having Hepatitis C since exposure could happen during training or in combat.  Good news, there is a new treatment that will cure the disease.  If you are concerned about having been exposed or know you have Hepatitis C please contact your Primary Care Physician.

CHOICE PROGRAM  

 There have been many questions about the choice program recently.  The Choice program is confusing.  Veterans cannot just decide the program would be more convenient for them to use and make an appointment with a Dr. and expect the VA to pay the bill.  The VA must not be able to provide an appointment to you within 30 days.  Then you may opt into the choice program.  The Choice program should contact you within 15 days of the date the VA notifies the Choice program of your decision to opt in.  YOU NEED TO FOLLOW UP ON THE APPOINTMENT IF THE CHOICE PROGRAM DOES NOT CONTACT YOU.  Contact the referring VA clinic and ensure the VA has completed the requirements on their end, then go ahead and call the Choice program to prompt an appointment to be made. Choice program will give you a list of approved physicians or make an appointment for you with a Choice program approved physician.  Not all physicians will even meet all the requirements to participate as providers in the Choice program. The VA states providers wishing to provide services through the Choice program must:  Accept Medicare rates.  Meet all Medicare Conditions of Participation and Conditions for Coverage.  Be in compliance with all applicable federal and state regulatory requirements.  Have a full, current, and unrestricted license in the state where the service(s) are delivered.  Have same or similar credentials as VA staff.  Submit a copy of the medical records to the contractor for medical care and services provided to Veterans for inclusion in the VA electronic record.  If it is possible to receive the treatment you require through the clinic or medical center where you are enrolled you may find it to be far less difficult to navigate.  Keep in mind that you need to stay on top of the actions of the VA and the Choice program physician when using the Choice program or you may find yourself in quite a quandary. 

50th Vietnam Commemorative Functions

The Seneca County Veterans Service Commission will continue to hold dinners to honor the service of Seneca County Vietnam Veterans.  There will be more commemorative dinners to come, if you or a loved one is a Vietnam Veteran, who resides in Seneca County, and has not been in contact with the Seneca County Veterans Service Office please have the veteran do so to ensure that they will receive an invitation for a future dinner.  Please remember that if the office staff is unaware of your residency in Seneca County it will be difficult to invite you.  Please make contact with one of the service officers to ensure that your contact information is current.

Ohio Veterans Bonus

The deadline to apply for the Persian Gulf (8/2/1990-3/3/1991) or Iraq (3/19/2003-12/31/2011) bonus has expired.

Veterans or Active Service Members who have not received a Bonus for service after October 7, 2001 (in locations: Anywhere else in the World, or service in Afghanistan) may apply.  An undeleted copy of discharge papers or other documentation for active duty service members, and an Ohio driver’s license will be needed for the application.  Please call our office if you have questions or would like to set an appointment to apply.  You may also visit the Ohio Department of Veterans Services website for more information.

Gulf War Syndrome

The Department of Veterans Affairs has extended the time limit for Gulf War Veterans who are suffering from chronic unexplained multi-symptom illness to file claims for compensation.  The time period was extended from December 31, 2016 to December 31, 2021.  If you or a loved one would like to discuss this topic, please call our office and speak to a service officer.

SUICIDE PREVENTION

Veteran suicide needs to end.  At the same time, it is apparent that the VA Suicide Hotline is being criticized for poorly answered calls in the news.  Please remember that this hotline is only one avenue to help.  Please remember that you can contact Military One Source (800-342-9647) and also your local Vet Center.  For the veterans who reside in Seneca County the nearest Vet Center is in Toledo and the telephone number is (419) 213-7533.  Please remember that if you are at the end of your rope, tell someone that you need help.

ProMedica and CHOICE 

In local papers there has been a news release published notifying the public about a partnership between ProMedica and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Please keep in mind that this partnership is to provide care using the VA CHOICE program.  You must be receiving care from the VA and the appointments will have to be coordinated through the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Veterans should not set up appointment through ProMedica without prior authorization from the VA.  It is highly likely that they will find themselves responsible for the payment of those medical services if the proper steps are not followed. Please feel free to contact the office with any questions you may have regarding the VA healthcare system, including enrollment or the CHOICE program.

Future Seamless Transition

A 2015 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report recommended that the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs work together to create a seamless transition for veterans leaving active duty service.  It appears that there is no system capable of supporting the clinical management and operations at the same time due to different IT systems.  A VA electronic record that is fully inter-operable with DOD is years away.  The VA is hopeful that a system might achieve this by mid- 2018 with advancements in IT.  Until this time, veterans should ensure that they obtain a complete copy of healthcare records whether on disc or paper and keep them safe.  

OHIO PROPERTY TAX HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION EXTENDED TO VETS ON IU 

Effective March 23, 2016, the homestead exemption for veterans with total service connected disabilities and their spouses has been extended to those veterans who are being paid at the 100% rate due to individual unemployability.  Veterans must have been discharged under honorable conditions and must provide the Auditor’s office that document along with an official DVA letter specifying their compensation or individual unemployability rating.  We would recommend that any of you who fall into this group contact our office first, and we will make sure you have what you need before you go to the auditor’s office to file for the homestead exemption.

VA BENEFIT OVERPAYMENTS

VA recently lost a case involving recovery of more than $38,000 from a veteran who was in prison.  The veteran properly notified VA of his situation, several times in fact, during his incarceration.  His compensation payments continued, and it was only after he was released from prison and home with his 4 year old son that VA decided to recoup the money.  The veteran was lucky to locate a veterans attorney, who appealed the decision to recoup the money, provided proof the error was on VA, not the vet.  Unbelievably, VA still tried several times to recoup a debt that occurred because of its own ineptitude.  Finally, the situation was resolved, but now the veteran has legal bills that VA is refusing to pay.  If any of you ever are notified of an over-payment by VA  - call us ASAP!  DO NOT TRY TO DEAL WITH VA on your own!  Chances are, you will lose if you do.  BTW – the head of the VA branch that does over-payments said that the whole situation happened because “VA is swamped”.  Records show that VA improperly pays out $24 million to 2,200 incarcerated veterans annually that then must be recovered.  Seems like there should be an easier way.

 MILITARY RETIREES – HEADS UP

Two things going on right now that affect retirees.  First, know that even if you (and/or your spouse) continue working beyond the age of 65, you MUST sign up for Medicare Part B at age 65 or you will lose TRICARE benefits.  TRICARE benefits end at age 65, and you are converted to TRICARE For Life ONLY if you have Medicare Parts A and B.  So, if you want, keep working, but get hold of Social Security and get signed up for Medicare B at age 65.

Second, there is a new scam going on that affects retirees.  You may receive a letter, allegedly from DFAS in Cleveland, saying the agency is being audited and they want to verify your information.  If you get one of these, bring it to our office immediately – DO NOT RESPOND TO THIS LETTER.  Not sure what somebody is up to here, but don’t play their game.

DONATION SCAMS AGAIN

Not to knock any particular agency or organization - but, be very careful with your donations.  You should NOT be coerced, or subject to forceful solicitation.  You have every right to ask for information regarding their home office locations, points of contact, and annual reports that are required by law and which show where the money has gone.  You are free to donate to whomever you choose - but, you are also free not to donate. 

Our recommendation would be this - keep your donations LOCAL.  The VA Volunteer Services programs at Toledo and Ann Arbor use donations to provide items the VA budget does not cover for patients, both in patient and out patient.  The Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky is another excellent choice for donations, the recreation funds are obtained only from donations, no state monies are used for activities.  And, don't forget our Funeral Details - they could also use donations, as they are constantly replacing uniform items, outfitting new members, replacing equipment, and so on.

 

Bottom line - think about it - doesn't it make sense to donate to an agency that doesn't take a cut of anywhere from 15% to 86% for themselves??  We think it does..........

MILITARY RETIREE ID CARD ISSUE

Retirees and/or dependents who have a military ID card with an "Indefinite" expiration date are being encouraged to have the cards updated at their convenience.  In 2011, DOD ended the practice of having the sponsor SSN on the cards, but did not require replacement of all existing cards, and they are still not requiring replacement, just encouraging you to update your cards.  With identity theft being what it is, this makes sense.  You can get new cards at the 180th Tac Fighter Wing Pass and ID Office in Toledo.  Call them for information at 419-868-4016.  If you prefer you can also get new cards at the ANG base in Mansfield.

AGENT ORANGE CONTAMINATED AIRCRAFT IN CONUS

Recent charges have been made by retired and separated Air Force veterans that the Air Force knew, at least since 1994, of Agent Orange contamination aboard C-123 Provider aircraft flown at Westover AFB Massachusetts and at other bases but never warned aircrew and maintenance personnel of the health risks.

Several former members of the Air Force Reserve who were crewmates in the 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron are being treated for prostate cancer and other conditions linked to Agent Orange. One of the individuals making complaints was dumbfounded when he began checking and found that the first five crewmen he called had prostate cancer or heart disease. The sixth man he tried had died. Since then, he and friends have found  dozens more former Westover reservists who are sick – with prostate cancer, diabetes, heart disease, peripheral neuropathy and other illnesses connected to exposure to Agent Orange [AO]. In just a few months, they have compiled a list of close to 40 of their fellow pilots, medical technicians, maintenance workers and flight engineers who are sick or have died of such illnesses, many of them from Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Among the documents the veterans cite is a 1994 Air Force report that found one of the airplanes, known as " Patches", was heavily contaminated with dioxins. Tests on other planes showed similar contamination.  In a 2000 legal brief, the General Services Administration argued that the proposed sale of C-123s to a private buyer should be cancelled, stating the planes were extremely hazardous and their release would carry the risk of dioxin contamination to the general public. In a 1996 internal memo, an official in the Air Force Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, Directorate of Environmental Law, had expressed similar concerns about the possibly contaminated aircraft being sold to third parties, but said "I do not believe we should alert anyone outside of official channels of this potential problem until we fully determine its extent".

So far, attempts by Westover reservists to claim veterans‘ benefits linked to Agent Orange exposure on C-123s have been fruitless. Records show that some C-123 planes were held in quarantine storage in recent years, and then disposed of by shredding and smelting in 2010. In June 2009, an Agent Orange consultant to the Secretary of Defense had lobbied for the immediate destruction of the planes, in part to avoid attracting media attention to the health claims of stateside veterans.

Obviously, the government is concerned that a whole new class of veterans may claim that their exposure was due to the fact they were members of aircrews or mechanics associated with the contaminated aircraft that returned from Vietnam, a potential problem identified by the government consultant who advocated immediate destruction and total annihilation of all aircraft wreckage. Work crews who prepared one specific C-123 for display in a museum were instructed in a 1994 memo to wear hazardous material suits and respirators but former aircrews, who had flown the aircraft up to that time, had never gotten any such advisories.  Former crewmembers from the unit at Westover recall the strange chemical smell of the C-123s and the stinging in their eyes and mouths – which according to those crewmembers, they noticed only on the C-123's.

VA APPEALS - REALLY REALLY SLOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We know that many of you have claims that are on appeal and still pending - not at all an unusual situation.  Stick with it - and stick with us.  The appeals system, like the rest of the VA claims system, is bogged down due to the sheer number of claims needing to be processed.  Unfortunately, the normal fix of hiring more people to handle the problem is not going to happen with the current budget situation.  Just hang on - things will come in time.  We completely understand the frustration felt by our veterans whose claims seem to drag on for months, if not years.  Once a claim goes to appeal, it's even worse.  Just remember - there will be a decision - eventually - and if your claim is granted, you will be paid back to the date of claim.  VA is looking at possible  fixes - to include new computer systems, different processing systems, and various other ideas.


  HOT TOPICS

DIRECT DEPOSIT IS MANDATORY NO MORE PAPER CHECKS WILL BE ISSUED!  when filing claims for compensation or pension be sure to have your account information available or bring a VOID check with you.

          Claims Followup - VA does not send our office copies - call us when you hear from them!!!!!!!!!!

          Check our transportation page - PLEASE schedule your VA appointments according to our van schedule if you plan to use the van!  And, please call our transportation number - 419 443 7949 or 1-800-820-0189 to schedule.

          We ask that you call ahead and schedule an appointment if possible - we will handle walk-ins as much as possible but it is better for all concerned if we can schedule an appointment.  It will probably save you an extra trip!

          When you call our office - you will often get our voice mail.  We do not answer phone calls when we are working with a claimant.  Please understand that we are giving our clients our total attention for the time needed to work their claims.  We will do the same for you when you come into our office.  So, when you get the voice mail, leave us a mesage with your phone number and you will get called back, usually the same day.