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COVVHA Testifies to the Institute of Medicine
By Heather Bowser
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) is further examining the birth defects and illnesses that Vietnam veterans and their children are suffering from. The adverse affects of Agent Orange, the toxic dioxin-based herbicide sprayed over the jungles of Vietnam, are well known to veterans and their families, long before the government first admitted the connection in 1991. For years, veterans and their families have been saying birth defects and rare illnesses have affected their children's health. These birth defects and illnesses have not only happened to the children of Vietnam veterans (2nd generation), but are now showing up in alarming numbers in the grandchildren (3rd Generation) of Vietnam veterans.
On January 16, 2013, Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance (COVVHA) participated in the public hearings held by the IOM's Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans Exposure to Herbicides. Tanya Mack, COVVHA Core Chairperson and California resident, gave testimony on behalf of COVVHA to the committee. She is the daughter of a recently-deceased Vietnam veteran who succumbed to service-connected Agent Orange illnesses. She was born with severe hip dysplasia and has developed several rare aggressive cancers in her thirties, which she is currently still fighting.
The Institute of Medicine is an independent, nonprofit organization that works outside of government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to decision makers and the public (from their website at iom.edu). They have been commissioned to review the most current data available about herbicides and the health effects on our veterans. In the past, the IOM has been responsible for getting new illnesses added to the presumptive list for our ailing Vietnam veterans. On October 13, 2009, the VA added three new medical conditions for veterans presumptively-associated with exposure to herbicides to the list of covered illnesses: hairy cell and other B-cell forms of leukemia, Parkinson's disease, and ischemic heart disease.
COVVHA included in their testimony to the committee the number and types of illnesses and congenital anomalies found in the second and third generation members of COVVHA. This includes the ailments that mirror Vietnam veterans and the congenital anomalies found on the list of birth defects covered in the children of female Vietnam veterans. COVVHA made several recommendations to help the children of Vietnam veterans in the most practical ways. The first recommendation is to approve the currently-covered birth defects for children of female Vietnam veterans for the children of male veterans. The second recommendation is to make available free DNA and epigenetic testing for the biological children of Vietnam veterans (as needed) and to create an official Agent Orange Registry for Children of Vietnam Veterans.
In addition to COVVHA's testimony at the public hearing, there were several other notable presentations. Ken Holybee, Director at Large of Vietnam Veterans of America, pointed out in the Veterans and Agent Orange 2008 Update, the IOM Committee concluded that it was plausible exposure to herbicides could cause paternally-mediated effects in offspring as a result of epigenetic changes, and that such changes would most likely be attributable to the TCDD (dioxin) contaminants in Agent Orange. He urged the committee to follow-up on their 2008 recommendations due to the continued suffering the VVA sees in the families who attend their Agent Orange Town Hall Meetings.
Debra Kraus, a widow of a Vietnam veteran, activist and artist, shared a slideshow presentation of her art that is based on her experience through her husband's dealings with the VA and health issues.
Elayne Mackey, National Health Committee co-chair for the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America (AVVA), recommended the creation of Centers of Excellence to provide for research, treatment, and social services for the offspring of veterans of all eras who have been exposed to toxins while in service to our country.
Wesley T. Carter, Chair of the C-123 Veterans Association, requested that first, the Department of Defense designates the contaminated C-123 aircraft, by specific tail number, as Agent Orange exposure sites, and second, the VA to accept claims from veterans able to provide evidence of service aboard the aircraft known to have been contaminated.
COVVHA is committed to serving as a voice for the children of Vietnam Veterans including second and third generation victims of Agent Orange and Dioxin Exposures worldwide. We believe in empowering each other to hold the companies and governments responsible for causing so much devastation and suffering to our generations. We fight for justice globally. We hope the IOM will make the responsible recommendations to the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Visit us at www.COVVHA.NET.
Heather A. Bowser, MsEd, LPCC, is the National Coordinator of Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance (COVVHA).