- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dear Sgt. Shaft,I am collecting Social Security disability because I have severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA). I am 61 years old. I have every reason to believe that I could have been exposed to Agent Orange back in the Vietnam era. I was not stationed in Vietnam, but I was stationed on Johnston Island (aka Johnston Atoll). Johnston Island was, among other things, a storage facility for toxic chemicals, which included Agent Orange. I believe Agent Orange could well have been the cause of my contracting RA. Any information concerning collecting benefits for this condition is truly appreciated.


Patrick R.

Dear Patrick:

After the cessation of herbicide use in Vietnam during early 1971, remaining stores of Agent Orange and other tactical herbicides were sent to Johnston Island in the Pacific Ocean for temporary storage and disposal. These herbicides were confined to a fenced and guarded “off limits” storage yard on the northwestern corner of the island, where prevailing winds carried any vapor out to sea. Civilian contractors were in charge of the storage yard.

During 1977, the herbicides were removed from their 55-gallon drums and incinerated at sea. This operation was performed primarily by civilians with military supervision. The empty drums were crushed and sent to a smelter. Soil contamination from the herbicide drums was confined to the storage yard and was not widespread on the island. Soil samples from a 1974 study revealed a restricted and low level of herbicide contamination in the yard. A 1978 Air Force Land Based Environmental Monitoring study concluded there were no significant adverse effects to the Johnston Island environment from the herbicide de-drumming operations and that any exposure that may have occurred among those working on the de-drumming was within permissible levels.

Therefore, a veteran’s presence on the island is not sufficient to establish a presumption of herbicide exposure. There was no widespread aerial spraying or other use of herbicides on Johnston Island as there was in Vietnam. As a result, some evidence of direct herbicide contact would be required, such as a military occupational specialty that would have been associated with handling or transporting herbicide drums or involved with the de-drumming operation.

However, any veteran who thinks that a current disability is related to military service can file a claim for disability compensation and Veterans Affairs will evaluate it on a case-by-case basis.

Shaft notes

- Kudos to the federal workers who once again will generously contribute their hard-earned dollars to charities participating in this year’s Combined Federal Campaign fund drive. As many of you know, the Sarge is partial to the Blinded American Veterans Foundation (BAVF), www.bavf.org. The number used to designate contributions to the all-volunteer BAVF is 11282.

- Officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are warning veterans not to give credit card numbers over the phone to callers claiming to be updating VA prescription information.

“America’s Veterans have become targets in an inexcusable scam that dishonors their service and misrepresents the department that serves them,” acting VA Undersecretary Gerald Cross said. “VA policy does not include personally calling veterans to ask them to disclose personal financial information over the phone.”

The scam comes from callers who identify themselves as working for the “Patient Care Group.”

“VA has not changed its processes for dispensing prescription medicines,” Mr. Cross said. “Nor has VA changed its long-standing commitment to protect the personal information of this nations Veterans.”

Veterans with questions about VA services should contact the nearest VA medical center or call toll-free 877/222-8387.

- There are two ways for veterans to receive their seasonal flu shots: Those who have appointments at the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center can now receive their flu shots during their next primary care visit or beginning Oct. 13. Enrolled veterans may visit the free flu shot clinic located in the atrium of the Medical Center, 50 Irving St. NW in Washington.

The vaccine against the H1N1 flu strain (swine flu) is not yet available, but when this vaccine is released, likely in November, the Washington VA Medical Center will work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and VA to vaccinate individuals as recommended by guidelines. Everybody can do their part in preventing the spread of colds and flu by covering their mouth and nose during coughs and sneezes, practicing frequent hand hygiene and standing away from those who appear sick. For patients with true influenza in need of medical therapy, the D.C. VA Medical Center’s pharmacy is well-supplied with appropriate anti-flu drugs. For more information, call 202/745-8577.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, DC 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

VA officials are warning veterans not to give credit card numbers over the phone to callers claiming to be updating VA prescription information. The scam comes from callers who identify themselves as working for the “Patient Care Group.”

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