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.
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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