The Department of Veterans Affairs wants to extend healthcare benefits to children with spina bifida believed to be related to their parents' exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
If Congress approves legislation proposed by the department, it would be the first time the government has extended healthcare benefits to children of veterans. The VA estimates that as many as 3,000 children would be eligible for healthcare benefits and treatment in its facilities. Officials did not estimate how much the extended coverage might cost the government.
The proposed legislation comes in the wake of a March report by the National Academy of Sciences that associates exposure to Agent Orange, a herbicide used to clear vegetation in Vietnam, with spina bifida in the children of veterans.
The VA also will increase funding for research into other birth defects and other health problems that may be linked to parents' Agent Orange exposure. It is seeking bids to start a new research center to study the effects of herbicides on reproductive health.
Since 1981, the VA has provided hospital care to Vietnam veterans suffering from health problems with unclear causes believed to be related to exposure to Agent Orange.
Under administrative actions, the department also plans to add prostate cancer and a neurological disorder to an existing list of seven diseases believed to be associated with Agent Orange exposure in veterans.