Davis Wright Tremaine attorneys are assisting post-Vietnam War veterans in their effort to extract from the Air Force and Department of Veteran Affairs information about the veterans’ exposure to Agent Orange residue, and the health impacts they suffered.
The United States Air Force used C-123K airplanes during the Vietnam War to spray the toxic herbicide to help kill vegetation and uncover enemy fighters. After the spraying campaign ended, the Air Force reassigned the planes to units of the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard stationed in the U.S.
In the decade immediately following the Vietnam War, about 1,500 U.S. military reservists flew cargo and medical missions aboard C-123K aircraft—unaware that the planes they worked, ate, and slept in had been contaminated with dioxins from Agent Orange. The planes were finally decommissioned in the early 1980s.
The VA has long disputed that the reservists were exposed to damaging levels of dioxin, and has repeatedly denied claims for service-connected medical care and disability benefits from vets who served on C-123K planes after the war. The Air Force has also impeded efforts to learn more about the issue—among other things, it quietly destroyed 18 of the contaminated aircraft four years ago.
On behalf of the reservists group, who call themselves the C-123 Veterans Association, a team from Davis Wright Tremaine filed requests with the VA and Air Force under the Freedom of In-formation Act (“FOIA”) for a wide range of records and data. The team is seeking, among other things, information regarding the VA’s justification for denials of service-connection claims, as well as the factual and scientific basis for the agency’s conclusion that the C-123K planes did not expose the veterans to Agent Orange or affect their health .
The agencies initially failed to provide any documents responsive to the FOIA requests. As a result, the DWT team filed suits against the VA and Air Force in March, seeking to force release of the records.
“Rather than uphold their duty to serve these veterans, the VA and Air Force have stymied C-123 Veterans’ efforts time and again,” said Ronnie London, who is representing the client, along with Burt Braverman, Micah Ratner, and Adam Shoemaker, all in our D.C. office. “The VA and Air Force concocted faulty science and medicine, skewed reports, and imposed unsupported policies to deny that these admittedly contaminated aircraft meaningfully exposed C-123 Veterans to Agent Orange and caused them significant harm.”
London said he believes that enforcement of the FOIA may enable C-123 Veterans who are suffering from Agent Orange-related illnesses to successfully challenge VA decisions and win benefits to which they and their families are entitled.