Sunday, December 5, 2010

Poland's Syndrome & Integenerational Effects of Agent Orange

by Sharon L. Perry, Founder
Agent Orange Legacy - Children of Vietnam Veterans

One day I received an email from a couple who were both exposed to agent orange in Vietnam. To my surprise there are a number of families that meet the above description. This family was the first to write me about their grandchild.

Their child was born without any birth defects, however. Their grandchild was born with Poland's Syndrome. They asked about DNA. I have to admit my gut reaction was the same as it usually is; we all know in our hearts that agent orange has caused this but little research has been done.

As I mulled this over in my mind I looked at the email again. Just for a moment I thought they mentioned both the mother and father were exposed to agent orange while serving 67-68. This did turn out to be a rare occasion. One where I was able to give a much more positive response than usual.

That was because a number of birth defects have been recognized by the VA in the children of women Vietnam veterans. To my surprise Poland Syndrome was on this list. The only question left was if this would include the grandchildren of these same women.

What I realized, as I have with the children of Vietnam veterans who suffer from spina bifida, is appearances can be deceiving. What I mean by this is most people think the children of male veterans exposed to agent orange born with spina bifida are being take care of because their birth defect is recognized by the VA.

The fact of the matter is that nothing could be further from the truth. They have to struggle to get the care they need. One case I am familiar with involves issues surrounding whether recent operations were related to the spina bifida or not. This often requires time & energy to respond & the filing of additional paperwork which also creates a great deal of stress for the entire family.

Even if you disregard that issue there are the multiple operations required to deal with all the issues related to this birth defect. The pain and suffering of these children and their families is unfathomable. I know there are children living with different levels of this birth defect which are much worse. I've also met a few of these children who are much more functional.

The family that sent me the email is another example of the what if's.

The children are covered but what about the grandchildren of women veterans exposed to agent orange? What about the grandchildren of male veterans exposed to agent orange born with spina bifida? This question becomes even more elusive when the child who is the parent of the grandchild born with spina bifida was not, themselves, born with that same birth defect.

If the birth defect skips a generation is the VA absolved of their responsibility when the birth defects in these children turn about to be intergeneraional? Should Abraham Lincoln's promise be revised to not only to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan but all the following generations affected?

Will the VA recognize these birth defects in the grandchildren? This unanswered question is disturbing, especially, to those of us who are trying to find out if something can be done to help all the children and grandchildren, who suffer from a seemingly never ending list of birth defects and illnesses, of male veterans exposed to agent orange.

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