Press Release

For Immediate Release Contact: Rick Schultz, Executive Director or Bill Russo, Veterans Benefits Director 202/628-2700

VA Rules on Vets Birth Defect Children Called Unfair

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- (October 6, 1997) -- Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) national president George Duggins today charged that regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) September 30, 1997, on benefits for Vietnam veterans' children with spina bifida are grossly unfair. Spina bifida is a birth defect of the spine and nervous system which affects nearly all bodily systems and functions. Veterans have suspected since the end of the Vietnam War that adverse reproductive outcomes, including the birth defect spina bifida, were related to their Vietnam service.

Last year, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reported a link between Vietnam vets' Agent Orange exposure and the birth defect spina bifida in their children. Congress quickly passed legislation providing compensation, health care and vocational rehabilitation for these children (Public Law 104-204). Last spring, VA proposed draft regulations for the implementation of these benefits.

VVA and several other veterans service organizations, as well as the Spina Bifida Association of America, submitted extensive comments suggesting changes to make the regulations more fair. Sen. Thomas A. Daschle, Senate Minority Leader and the lead sponsor of the legislation, as well as Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller, ranking member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, also submitted comments on several key points. In its final regulations, VA disregarded virtually all of the comments, including those of Senators Daschle and Rockefeller.

-- more -- VVA News Release October 6, 1997 Page 2

VA's proposal fails to compensate children for many of the serious, disabling conditions related to spina bifida. VA also plans to automatically rate all newborn children with spina bifida in the lowest disability compensation category, a move strongly criticized by Vietnam Veterans of America. VVA also pointed out that the regulations would penalize these children for getting appropriate medical treatment, by setting a lower disability rating for those able to achieve partial or temporary relief of their symptoms.

In an October 6 letter, VVA called on Acting Secretary Hershel Gober to make the regulations fair and compassionate for these disabled children. "With the law going into effect October 1, we are very concerned that these flawed regulations will cause many of the children of Vietnam veterans who apply for these benefits to be inappropriately rated and denied vocational rehabilitation benefits," said VVA National President George Duggins. "We believe there are several points on which VA disregarded the intent of Congress as outlined in the statute." VVA urged Gober to ensure that VA's "Putting Veterans First" commitment also applied to these children beneficiaries.

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Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is the only national Vietnam veterans organization congressionally chartered and exclusively dedicated to Vietnam-era veterans and their families. VVA goals are to promote and support the full range of issues important to Vietnam veterans, to assist disabled and needy veterans of all eras and their dependents, and also the widows and orphans of deceased veterans. VVA continues to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to serving and advocating for all veterans as exemplified by its founding principle, "Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another."

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