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DISABLED VETS STILL FIGHTING FOR JUSTICE

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Disabled World War II veteran Parker B. Rice is retired from the Army Air Corps, but his fighting days are far from over.

Rice is senior vice commander of the Disabled American Veterans. His foes these days tend to be bureaucracies that confound his efforts to serve the 1.9-million-member veterans' service organization.Last winter, the DAV and other veterans service organizations fought and won a fight with the biggest bureaucracy of all - the Bush administration - which canceled plans to start a pilot program allowing the rural poor to be

treated in two veterans' hospitals in the South.

This summer, the DAV accused the Veterans Admin-istration of stalling on granting benefits to veterans and children of veterans who had gotten cancer after being exposed to radiation during atomic testing either directly or through heredity.

New conflicts keep coming up. The DAV has successfully challenged the VA on behalf of vets considered "incompetent" whose benefits had been cut off once they accumulated more than $25,000, and convinced the VA to reinstitute discounts on veterans' prescription medications.

"One of the things we've been running into that's never happened before is we're finding VA hospitals billing veterans' insurance companies," Rice said.

Not only is that improper, the vets' insurance companies aren't likely to pay. And even if they did, Rice said, the money would go into the federal general fund, not directly to the VA.

Locally, the DAV is working with Hill Air Force Base servicemen and women who are being discharged, regardless of whether they are disabled.

"These kids don't know what is available to them,"' said Jim Combs, supervisor of the DAV's national service office in Salt Lake City. "And most of them are afraid to ask. We can provide representation before the various boards."

Rice and Combs are in Park City this weekend for the DAV's District 17 conference at The Yarrow. The 100 or so conference attendees will get an update on the bureaucratic battles but won't discuss - officially, anyway - the political brouhaha over Bill Clinton and Dan Quayle's draft records.

That's because the DAV's charter forbids political endorsements. "The major thing we're trying to do is get veterans and their families to vote," Rice said.

The DAV's District 17 includes about 40,000 members and encompasses Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado. Utah's disabled vets account for 6,200 of the chapter's members.