MISSION DRIVEN WES CARTER U.S. Air Force
R etired Air Force Major Wes Carter flew C-123s from 1974 to 1980 with the 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Westover Air Reserve Base. He was among 2,100 reservists and National Guard service members who flew training and assigned missions on C-123s that a decade earlier had sprayed the toxic herbicide Agent Orange during the VietnamWar. In 2011, Carter was diagnosed with potentially lethal prostate cancer, and he suspected there was a link between his cancer and the C-123s he had flown more than 20 years earlier. For one thing, one of the planes, nicknamed “Patches,” had such a heavy chemical stench that the crew often felt nauseated after flying it. For another thing, Carter had heard from a number of reservists who had flown C-123s with him that they too had one of the types of cancer, like prostate cancer, that the Department of Veterans Affairs ( VA ) recognized as associated with Agent Orange. Carter filed a disability claim with the VA for prostate cancer and sent the Air Force numerous Freedom of Information Act requests trying to find out whether the government knew anything about the presence of toxins in the planes he and so many others flew. Carter found a smoking gun. Memos showed that in 1994 during a restoration attempt of the planes, Air Force staff toxicologists concluded that aircraft samples were “highly contaminated” with the dioxin TCDD —the toxic contaminant contained in Agent Orange. Other memos confirmed that the Air Force had not notified any of the former crew about this discovery. Instead, it quarantined the planes in a storage facility known as “the Boneyard” and finally destroyed the planes in 2010—one year before Carter’s diagnosis. Carter showed the memos to his VA doctor, who told VA adjudicators that Carter’s cancer is “likely related to exposure to Agent Orange.”Nonetheless, the VA denied Carter’s claim and those of the other sick C-123 veterans.
National Veterans Legal Services Program H
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