By Catherine Trombley, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
In 1997, 10 years after retiring from a 34-year career in the Army Reserve and Air Force Reserve, Edward Kosakoski was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Though his last assignment in the Reserve was as commander of the 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts, it was during the mid-1970s and early 1980s that Lt. Col. K was exposed to Agent Orange while flying training missions on several C-123 aircraft previously used for spraying the chemical defoliant in Vietnam.
Last week, VA service connected Col. K’s prostate cancer, awarding him compensation for his C-123 Agent Orange claim.
I’ve never met Col. K, but his story is captured in the claim file that his wife, Ingrid Kosakoski, filed on his behalf. That file shows a man who was drafted into the Army in 1953 and, after serving two years in France, had joined the Army Reserve, and who had received a commission in the Air Force Reserve after graduating from the University of Connecticut Pharmacy School in 1959. That file also shows that VA received Col. K’s claim prior to the recent regulation change.
After spending decades searching for proof of a connection between C-123s and the conditions known to be caused by Agent Orange, the Institute of Medicine issued a review that provided the supporting evidence VA needed to provide care and compensation to the Air Force and Air Force Reserve personnel who were exposed to Agent Orange through regular and repeated contact with contaminated C-123s and who also developed an Agent Orange-related disability.
When the regulation change took effect earlier this summer, it took VA just 16 days to grant Col. K’s claim. Granting this claim represents a welcomed success for hundreds of flight, ground maintenance, and medical crew members who were assigned tocertain Air Force and Air Force Reserve units from 1969 to 1986.
“I have only praise for the VA personnel who handled Ed’s claim in Baltimore and St. Paul,” Ingrid said. “They were professional and compassionate, and I would urge others exposed to Agent Orange with known disabilities to file claims as soon as possible.”
In a recent phone conversation, longtime C-123 advocate and close friend of Col. K, Wes Carter, also stressed the importance of not waiting.
“The Secretary and his staff have worked hard, along with C-123 veterans in getting to this point,” said Carter, who also chairs the C-123 Veterans Association. “VA is ready and eager, already reaching out and helping our aircrews and maintenance personnel who are ill.
“This is the time for C-123 Veterans to get their claims to VA if affected by any of the Agent Orange-associated illnesses. Call the C-123 hotline at 1-800-749-8387 for any questions. I also recommend that vets ask their local VA medical center’s environmental health coordinator for an Agent Orange Registry exam.”
If you or someone you know was exposed to Agent Orange (whether in in Vietnam or its inland waterways, an area the Department of Defense has confirmed use of AO, or as in Col. K’s case aboard a C-123) AND you have a condition presumed to be related to AO, please file a claim for compensation.
If you need help filing a claim or want to talk to someone, you have many options:
- Speak with an accredited Veterans Service Officer who can help you gather records and file a claim online
- Call VA at 1-800-827-1000 for advice
- If you want the fastest decision possible, consider filing a Fully Developed Claim through ebenefits.va.gov. An FDC allows you to submit all your evidence up front, identify any federal records for VA to obtain, and certifies that you have no other evidence to submit.
If you (or your loved one) meet certain conditions, such as financial hardship, advanced age, or terminal illness, VA can expedite your claim – just make sure we are aware of your situation. You or your VSO can notify us in writing, or by calling 1-800-827-1000. If your situation is dire, don’t wait.