Thursday, January 17, 2019

On the Principle of Double Effect Writ Large

A news item caught my attention in the last few days. (From NPR. If I say "I heard on the news," there's a very good chance that's where I heard it.) The story was Veterans Claiming Illness From Burn Pits Lose Court Fight. The gist of the story is that veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have reported significant health problems that they attribute to trash burned close enough to barracks that troops experienced long term exposure breathing toxic chemicals in the smoke. They have sued the contractor who did the burning, and the federal courts have said they can't sue because the contractor was only following orders. Parallels to the Agent Orange fight of Viet Nam veterans have been noted.

And then in the story there was this comment: "That fight shifts to Congress, which is where burn pit veterans will have to turn next, now that they've lost in court." But, Congress has already made some changes that may well affect this case.

Congress has acted and the President Trump has ordered that veterans have more access to non-Veterans Affairs health care. That could, I think, be a significant difference between this case and Agent Orange. That could mean comment from a lot of physicians that the VA doesn't supervise, and whose comments the VA can't restrict. That could mean more research and more information on what these vets are actually experiencing, and what the likely exposures are. Ultimately, that could mean more information that an administration can't restrict, and that officials can't avoid.

I'm not a veteran of armed service, and I have great respect for those who are. More particularly, some veterans, and specifically Viet Nam veterans have been important people for me. I've also been in health care for 40 years or so. On both counts I've noted the Agent Orange issues over the years. There is too much history of an issue affecting veterans that officials wanted to avoid. By making it easier for veterans to seek care outside the VA system, they may well have made avoidance harder.