Veterans' claims for exposure to military herbicides (including Agent Orange) on Okinawa

Jon Mitchell filed this request with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration of the United States of America.
Tracking # 15-05685-F ; 024H
Est. Completion None
Status
No Responsive Documents

Communications

From: Jon Mitchell

To Whom It May Concern:

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act. I hereby request the following records:

Copies of Department of Veterans Affairs records pertaining to the number of veterans who have claimed exposure to miltary herbicides (including Agent Orange) on Okinawa - and copies of records pertaining to the number of veterans who have been awarded claims for such exposure.

I am making this request as a representative of the media. I have written extensively about the US military presence on Okinawa - these articles have been published by The Japan Times and Asia-Pacific Journal. In addition, this research has been published in Asahi Shimbun, Ryukyu Shimpo and Okinawa Times. These articles have been the focus of intense public debate.

I refer to the above articles in support that my request receive expedited processing. There is “urgency to inform the public concerning actual or alleged Federal Government activity.” 5 U.S.C. § 552. I believe there is widespread and exceptional media interest in which there exist possible questions about the government’s integrity affecting public confidence.

In the event that fees cannot be waived, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 20 business days, as the statute requires.

Sincerely,

Jon Mitchell

From: Brown, Bertha, VBAVACO

Dear Mr. Mitchell,

My office acknowledges receipt of your request for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The information you are requesting requires extensive research and verification. Once we obtain the documents you are seeking, we will provide that information, if found, and providing that the records are not exempted from disclosure by law. We are attempting to provide a response to your inquiry as expeditiously as possible. We have attached our acknowledgement letter to you for your records.

Thank you for your patience. Please let me know if I can assist you further.
Best regards,

B. Leah Brown
Compensation Service
Email: bertha.brown@va.gov
Phone: (202) 461-9740

From: Brown, Bertha, VBAVACO

Attached please find the response associated with your request for information under the Freedom of Information Act.
Best regards,

B. Leah Brown
Compensation Service
Email: bertha.brown@va.gov
Phone: (202) 461-9740

From: Brown, Bertha, VBAVACO

Attached please find the response associated with your request for information under the Freedom of Information Act.
Best regards,

B. Leah Brown
Compensation Service
Email: bertha.brown@va.gov
Phone: (202) 461-9740

From: Brown, Bertha, VBAVACO

Attached please find the response associated with your request for information under the Freedom of Information Act.
Best regards,

B. Leah Brown
Compensation Service
Email: bertha.brown@va.gov
Phone: (202) 461-9740

From: Brown, Bertha, VBAVACO

Attached please find the response associated with your request for information under the Freedom of Information Act.
Best regards,

B. Leah Brown
Compensation Service
Email: bertha.brown@va.gov
Phone: (202) 461-9740

From: Jon Mitchell

Dear Administrator,

This is an appeal under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552.

On June 15 2015, I made a FOIA request to your agency for:

1. Copies of Department of Veterans Affairs records pertaining to the number of veterans who have claimed exposure to military herbicides (including Agent Orange) in Okinawa.

2. Copies of records pertaining to the number of veterans who have been awarded claims for such exposure.

On July 10 2015, your agency provided the following response to part 1:

“Please be advised that VBA does not track claims for Agent Orange (AO) exposure based on Okinawa service.”

Given the intense media attention on this issue and the Pentagon-directed investigation of January 2013 -- available here: http://www.denix.osd.mil/shf/upload/Allegations-of-Herbicide-Orange-on-Okinawa-January-2013.pdf -- this is implausible and I ask you to re-examine the records.

As for part 2, your agency provided “a no records response” citing “no records found in VBA’s possession.”

Here it is clear that your agency has failed to fulfill its obligation in searching diligently for the documents requested. I draw your attention to the following decisions wherein U.S. veterans were awarded claims for exposure to military herbicides (including Agent Orange) in Okinawa:

1. Citation NR: 9800877 (available here: http://www.va.gov/vetapp98/files1/9800877.txt )

2. Citation Nr: 0831082 (available here: http://www.va.gov/vetapp08/files4/0831082.txt )

3. Citation Nr: 1332861 (available here: http://www.va.gov/vetapp13/Files4/1332861.txt )

4. In addition, please also see the July 22 2010 St Petersburg Regional Office ruling 317/VSC/POST5/MDL - which awarded payment for
Larry A. Carlson.

If materials responsive to my request exist as a subset of a larger dataset, provision of that information would be appreciated. While it may be the case that records regarding the prevalence of veteran Agent Orange complaints are not currently organized by service location and that, similarly, neither are records of claims, it is improbable that no records containing that information exist.

I trust that upon re-consideration, you will re-investigate my request. However, if you deny this appeal, I intend to initiate a lawsuit to compel disclosure.

As I have made this request in the capacity of a journalist and this information is of timely value, I would appreciate your expediting the consideration of my appeal in every way possible. In any case, I will expect to receive your decision within 20 business days, as required by the statute.

Thank you for your assistance,

Jon Mitchell

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

A letter stating that the request appeal has been received and is being processed.

From: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration

A letter stating that the request appeal has been succesful.

From: Brown, Bertha, VBAVACO

Mr. Mitchell,

Attached please find the response associated with your request for information under the Freedom of Information Act.
Best regards,

B. Leah Brown
Compensation Service
Email: bertha.brown@va.gov
Phone: (202) 461-9740

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