Published: 6:18 AM 8/21/2013
By Billy Cox, Herald-Tribune
Three months after six former members of Congress formally appealed to the White House and the Department of Veterans Affairs for the release of medical service records to two Air Force veterans, the initiative has gone nowhere.
Fortunately for the USAF, this also involves a UFO encounter, which means the military’s pretty much off the hook because nobody’s paying any attention. Yet.
The principals in this case are retired tech sergeants Jim Penniston and John Burroughs, the 81st Security Police Squadron veterans who were first responders to what would become known as the Rendlesham Forest Incident in December 1980.
Its centerpiece was the alleged nighttime landing of a UFO in a stretch of woods between two U.S. air bases in eastern England. No desire now to wedge that blue whale into this small space, but rehashing the details that have bitterly divided “skeptics” and “believers” wasn’t the reason Burroughs and Penniston agreed to testify at the controversial Citizen Hearing on Disclosure’s mock congressional exercise in Washington, D.C., in May.
These guys just wanted to see their medical records from when they were in the military. They’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to acquire them since 2011.
Twenty-five years ago, De Void spent months wading through the shuck-and-jive of what was then the Veterans Administration as it routinely denied military service-connected disability compensation to troops who developed radiogenic illnesses from exposure to fallout from atmospheric nuclear testing.
There were no presumptive qualifying diseases back then, at least not until Congress finally intervened, and the VA’s traditional fallback formula was always that a number of requested records had been -- sorry, folks! -- lost in an archives fire in 1974. which was actually true.
Some of those denials, however, were egregiously careless. I’ll never forget Sallie Hoyle, the very sweet Florida widow of an Army grunt named Fred Hoyle, who was ordered into ground zero from Camp Desert Rock, Nev., in 1953.
Fred died horribly of cancer 20 years later but the VA said its records indicated he’d never been deployed to the Nevada Test Site. But Sallie still retained the vinyl recording of an on-location media interview Fred gave prior to the shot, the same disc the Army itself had proudly forwarded to Frank’s hometown radio station for one of those macabre espirit de corps broadcasts.
Shortly after the "atomic veterans" newspaper series rolled — voila, and without explanation or apology — Fred’s records were located and Sallie was getting her bennies.
In what was arguably the most interesting new testimony of the week-long Citizen Hearing witness parade, Burroughs and Penniston told listeners they were suffering from illnesses consistent with exposure to radiation, which they attributed to their encounter at Rendlesham Forest.
Not only had the DVA been stonewalling on their medical records (a routine request, I’m told by local veterans service officers, that usually involves no more than a 90-day turnaround), Burroughs was actually informed there were no records of his USAF service at all during his initial stint from 1979-81.
With an assist from Sen. John McCain’s office and his Jackson, Miss., attorney Pat Frascogna, Arizona resident Burroughs is working to acquire his DD-214 discharge papers from his first Air Force tour. Burroughs has already produced a point summary sheet indicating he was in the USAF in 1979.
“At the very least,” Frascogna tells De Void, “we’re dealing with bureaucratic idiocy. At worst, we’re looking at a cover-up.” And, as he informed the audience in Washington, Frascogna also sent FOIAs to the CIA, the NSA, DARPA, and the USAF Office Special Investigation — not to mention the USAF and the DVA — in hopes of getting some satisfaction. “None of them said they had any records we were looking for, except the CIA. They gave us a Glomar response.”
Glomar is legal shorthand for “neither confirm nor deny.”
“We don't intend to be the last two casualties of the Cold War, left hung out to dry by our chain of command and obsolete notions of national security,” Burroughs told the half dozen Citizens Hearing panelists in the spring. “There is no reason at this late date to deny us the information that could extend our lives, the bulk of which we spent in service to our country.”
But still — no White House or DVA response to the Disclosure panelists’ appeal for clarity. “Not even a staff form letter saying we'll look into it,” says Frascogna. “This is insulting.”
If one were going to be cynical and assume the DVA’s unwillingness or inability to produce those records is to save a few disability bucks, one might also venture an even more damaging long-run forecast. Fence-sitters on the Rendlesham Forest Incident might come to think the 1980 encounter — which occurred near an American nuclear weapons storage facility — had legitimate national security ramifications after all.
Of course, nobody wants to believe that. But the longer this standoff simmers...