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AGENT ORANGE BLAMED FOR KIDS’ BIRTH DEFECTS

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The two children of Thomas Goonan of North Logan had birth defects - cleft lips and palates - even though his wife had three children with no birth defects in an earlier marriage.

Because such defects had never before occurred in either of their families, he told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Friday, he and some doctors believe his exposure to Agent Orange in the Vietnam War may be the cause.And as associate director of the Agent Orange Family Assistance Program at Utah State University, he says he's found many other Vietnam vets with the same suspicions.

"I have found a large group of children born with musculoskeletal deformities, malformed urinary tracts, children born without anal orifices or vaginal openings," he testified.

Other veterans - such as those exposed to radiation during atomic bomb tests in Nevada, or to toxic smoke and chemicals in the Persian Gulf War - also say their service may have led to sterility and deformed children, and the Department of Veterans Affairs often will not treat their families for it.

Some government scientists said no firm evidence yet exists linking such problems to victims' military work. But some congressional prob-ers said better studies are needed.

And Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., called for reform in how veterans' hospitals address such problems.

"When we try to meet the health needs of veterans, we need to continue to consider physical and mental battle wounds . . . but we also need to think about the more subtle and sometimes long-term risk of unseen enemies, such as diseases and chemical exposures," Rockefeller said.

Goonan told the committee that his program, set up to help people exposed to Agent Orange - a herbicide used in the jungles of Vietnam - has worked with 465 families and 1,097 children in six Western states.

"Our in-house data indicates that 17.8 percent of the spouses of Vietnam veterans requesting services from our program have had at least one miscarriage. Many have had more. Some have had as many as five," he said. "Thirty-one of the 1,097 children are de-ceased."

Albert G. Parrish of Hackensack, Minn., said he and other soldiers who measured radiation after atomic bomb tests in Nevada also have had similar problems.

"Our biological daughter was born before I was exposed to radiation in Nevada. After I returned from Nevada, my wife and I tried to have more children but were unsuccessful. We had three stillborn babies and two miscarriages," he said.

But Parrish said Veterans Affairs wouldn't consider his claim for service connection of such problems because it "couldn't consider my wife's miscarriage as a disability for me."

The committee was also told by soldiers of the Persian Gulf War and those sent to Hiroshima and Nagasaki after atomic bombs there they suffered high rates of sterility and birth defects.

But Susan Mather, a Veterans Affairs doctor, testified several scientific studies have found no direct link "between adverse reproductive outcomes such as stillbirth, neonatal death and infant death and paternal dioxin (Agent Orange) exposure" - but added some additional studies are under way.

She also said studies are under way looking at whether exposure to toxins in the Persian Gulf War may have such effects.

The U.S. General Accounting Office, a research arm of Congress, said it found Persian Gulf War veterans were exposed to 21 toxins that could affect reproduction and development, including several pesticides, chemicals from oil fires and decontamination agents.

It called for better tracking of Persian Gulf vets for appearance of illnesses and for expanded studies on the toxins.