NVLSP Impact Report


M ore than a decade ago, Vietnam veteran Ro yce Estes filed a claim for VA benefits for his daughter, Tara. Children of Vietnam veterans who have spina bifida or certain other birth defects can receive disability benefits from the U.S. Court of Appeals, including monetary compensation and health care, because scientific studies indicate that there’s a link between these birth defects and a parent’s Agent Orange exposure while serving in Vietnam. Tara was born with encephalocele, a birth defect that causes a hernia of part of the brain and the membranes that envelop the brain and spinal cord through a cranial defect. As a result, Tara suffers from profound mental retardation, an inability to walk, incontinence, and an inability to communicate verbally. She is now in her forties, but still needs around-the-clock care and lives with her parents. Estes contacted the VA about Tara’s condition in the 1980s, as a doctor had told him her condition was related to spina bifida, but he was told nothing could be done. It was defeating for the veteran. “There was nothing I could do,” said Estes. “They were just washing their hands of it.” But starting in 1990, the VA was forced to recognize that scientific studies show that many types of cancer and other diseases are the result of Agent Orange exposure. Estes began to receive service-connected benefits for himself at the 100 percent disability level due to illnesses and conditions that the VA linked to his exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam. In 1996, Congress expanded the law to provide for VA disability benefits for children of Vietnam veterans who are born with any “form or manifestation” of spina bifida. So Tara’s condition should have qualified her for benefits.


National Veterans Legal Services Program H

Impact Report

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