I belong to very few organizations and for good reason. Any time you attach your name to a group, you embody that group’s beliefs and aspirations. I hight three. I belong to the National Organization of Veterans Advocates, the National Rifle Association (Benefactor member) and lastly the Udorn (RTAFB) Reseach Group or simply the URG.
Many who know me recognize why I belong to these groups. My father bought me a life membership in the NRA when I was born in 1951. It wasn’t cheap then and it isn’t now. Such is the price and the courage to defend our heritage. I chose to do the same for my son and upgraded both our memberships to the highest level of participation when I was able to financially. It’s a worthy endeavor. The NRA is responsible for teaching our police techniques they would not ordinarily encounter. In addition, they have taught untold generations of soldiers and kids the shooting arts and most importantly- gun safety. Seems they could take this program on the road to Chicago but that’s a blog for another day.
Likewise, I joined NOVA for the exact same reasons. No legal group is more focused on helping Veterans attain service connection in America and to my knowledge, there is no like group anywhere in the world devoted solely to the betterment of Veterans law. NOVA’s mission is narrow and focused on one goal. To that end, they provide me with many useful tools including a wide circle of others who are engaged in the same field to discuss and formulate policy and technique. I attend every spring session out here on the Left Coast with Cupcake and am grateful for the friendships I have developed. Quite frankly, I’m amazed that the group is so congenial as some organizations develop factions who advocate against themselves and create animosity where there should be mutual agreement as to the mission.
I have belonged to the Udorn Research Group for a number of years as well. It began as group of individuals who were stationed at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB) who wanted to share their experiences and photos from the base’s inception in 1961 through its eventual closure in 1975. Gradually, that group has grown to encompass any who were stationed at Air Force Bases in Thailand. And well it should. We all share a common heritage born in war.
Gradually, as we all grow older, diseases and illnesses crop up and we look to a reason for them. In our case, many diseases presumptive to Agent Orange exposure in the RVN are rearing their ugly head. Being stationed in Thailand doesn’t give you the presumptive of exposure accorded Vietnam Vets with boots on the ground. Look no further than the rude awakening all the Blue Water Navy Vets got when they applied for benefits due to exposure. Eugene Haas became the poster boy for that one.
Some were inadvertently granted service connection by virtue of being awarded the Vietnam Service Medal early on. Fortunately for them, the VA cannot declare CUE and claw back their awards-or at least they have not yet. I wouldn’t put it past them. Likewise, a small number made it under the wire from Thailand, the Philippines and even Okinawa based on the award of their VSM. Eventually, VA also looked for the award of a Vietnam Campaign Medal which, early on, was only awarded to those in-country for six months or more. Gradually, the award was expanded to include any who had directly supported the war regardless of where they were stationed in Southeast Asia. That’s about when VA decided they needed to give a haircut to entitlement to AO exposure.
About 1998, VA began to notice a major uptick in claims filings for Agent Orange secondaries. In order to squelch this influx and reduce awards, they began to examine their M 21 verbiage, revise it and clean house to rid themselves of the outliers. One of the first to feel this brushoff were the Bluewater Navy folks who were gayly sailing the bounding main in the South China Sea. I submit that this denial logic might have been justified as most rarely flew missions a) unless they were on flight crews and b) they never flew behind C-123s assigned to Ranchhand AO spray missions. Any deckhand’s claims of getting AO on themselves due to residue from the aircraft were patently bogus. Another argument that mitigated for exposure,which certainly has far more merit, was their water systems drew in seawater through reverse osmosis and “manufactured” fresh water that was contaminated with AO runoff from the numerous rivers. Not. AO is a heavy metal and sinks like a rock into the sediment in the estuaries that spill into the South China Sea. Exellent induration of soils on the mainland along with a very shallow water table allows it to rapidly permeate the water supply and reside there for eons. Witness the plethora of birth defects to this day-over fifty years later. The coastal areas of South Vietnam were barely above sea level. In fact, as an example, Base Ops at Tan Son Nhut was 33 ft. ASL. I snapped this photo while we were refueling one morning in 1970.
After numerous battles with Veterans over the years, a list of Navy ships was eventually drawn up with documented records of touching land. These were then granted service connection. Next, certain lines were drawn across estuaries to deliniate what was an inland waterway and what was not. Bingo. Again, another group was disenfranchised out of Cam Ranh Bay. Since most Navy Vets arrived on their respective ships, it was difficult to segregate others who arrived via aircraft to Tan Son Nhut AB and were ferried out to their assigned ships. This further winnowed the list down. For some reason, the VA neglected to consider Rest and Relaxation (R&R) leave on shore at Vung Tau or Australia. How would you find orders showing that? I submit no Aircraft Carrier or Destroyer departed Yankee Station and headed south to Sydney for a week. I rest my case. So does VA.
In the meantime, VA set out to discover who, and who was not, entitled to service connection based on the broader application of the award of the VSM and VCM. There went the Thailand Vets. Extensive investigations by many of these Thai Vets turned up various evidence but none that conclusively showed AO usage at the seven acknowledged bases nor the numerous secret Operating Locations that were never documented anywhere other than on Air Force or AirAm maps. The best Thailand’s Vets could ascertain or prove was that “commercial” or “tactical hebicides” were deployed. Very few of these Thai Vets have won their AO claims which drew my attention to determine why.
As an aside, I have realized over the years that photos of jetguns could not prove the existence of Hepatitis C virus on the nose of a gun. A black and white photo showed a Vet getting inoculated and nothing more. Similarly, a guy standing in front a hootch could have been photographed in Okinawa- or Clark- just as easily as it could have been taken in Phu Cat-or Udorn. A photo does not a nexus make. Unfortunately, very few of these photos show the defoliation of the perimeters to prove the use of herbicides. A bulldozer or lawnmower can scrape the land as efficiently as AO.
Which brings us to the URG. Over the last few years I have contributed advice, a generalized “buddy” letter and photos of some of my wanderings around Thailand and Laos. I have shared this information with the group and noticed there was absolutely no change in the battle plan to win service connection. Virtually to a man ( but not to exclude any round-eye members), they cling to a belief that the ticket to a win is photographic proof, CHECO reports and proof of duty on the perimeters of the bases. Any and all advice I offer on VA law is met with derision or outright guffaws. The last straw was a fellow telling me to quit publishing mistruths and to change my “opinion” to comport with his highly regarded “opinion” that any who served on the perimeter via proof of their AFSC/MOS were automatically entitled to “presumptive exposure”. The actual mistruth I am asked to retract to comport with accepted URG orthodoxy is the belief that Thai Vets’ need an IMO/nexus letter to prove exposure on a direct basis (i.e. 38 CFR §3.303(a)(d)) versus the URG philosophy of a more liberalizing interpretation of §§3.303(b), 3.307(a) and 3.309(e). Wishing doesn’t work in this poker game. Neither does bluffing.
Here is Mr. McCay’s reasoned opinion and my reply.
Today, I spotted yet another who insisted that “brushkillers” were analogous to herbicide agents -ergo merely calling AO a brushkiller was documented proof of the use of Agent Orange in Thailand. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, over?
Here’s the document that “proves” AO was used in Thailand
Hey. I don’t mind getting called out when I step on my necktie. Shit happens and I might disremember the regulations after a few adult beverages. Here, I rarely do so. AO is one of my staples as well as SMC and CUE. I can smell it, sense it and detect it from afar. Hell. I ate it, breathed it and drank it for two years. I have Porphyria Cutanea Tarda rated at 100%. I think I speak from a position of authority. I began coughing up blood a year after I landed. You might catch me out on PTSD or favorable ankylosis. For that reason and others I won’t go into here, I don’t include those in my repertoire.
For all my brothers in the URG, I wish to say I have no ulterior motives. I am defininitely not shopping for customers to represent before the VA. I have plenty to go around. Just ask Dan Smith, Bob Walsh and a host of other NOVA attorneys. I hand out candidates who come to me like Halloween candy. I simply cannot serve everyone. But I must say it does irk me when someone with no training or knowledge calls me out and tells me I’m a boob and/or poorly educated vis-à-vis VA regulations. I’d allow as you can call me Buckwheat or late for dinner but I draw the line there. I reckon this diatribe might get me booted from the URG membership but a man has to stand up to this tomfoolery.
And that’s all I’m going to say about that.