Dean K. Phillips, 42, a highly decorated veteran of the war in Vietnam and a passionate advocate of Vietnam veterans' rights, died of cancer Aug. 22 at his home in Alexandria.

Mr. Phillips was a lawyer with the Veterans Administration from 1977 to 1984. His duties included liaison work with various veterans organizations and review of VA policy regarding veterans benefits, veterans preference and upgrading of discharges. At the time of his death he was a lawyer on the staff of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

He was among those who worked for the establishment of a Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and he testified frequently before congressional committees in support of legislation to benefit Vietnam veterans.

Born in Youngstown, Ohio, Mr. Phillips joined the Army after graduating from Ohio University. He completed parachute, Ranger and air assault schools, and served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968 with the 101st Airborne Division as a paratrooper on long-range reconaissance patrols. Friends said he regularly volunteered for the most dangerous assignments, and he was awarded two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart, given for war wounds.

"I got nicked a couple times," he recalled in 1980.

Mr. Phillips left Vietnam convinced that the war was being fought by men at the bottom of the nation's socio-economic ladder, and he was determined that they should not be denied full veterans benefits.

After the Army, he earned a master's degree at Ohio University and a law degree at the University of Denver.

He began working on behalf of Vietnam veterans while he was in Denver. He was active in the Colorado Jobs for Veterans Task Force, the Colorado Board of Veterans Affairs and the National Association of Concerned Veterans. He also participated in several lawsuits aimed at protecting veterans' rights.

He came to Washington when he joined the VA in 1977 and he served there as special assistant to the general counsel, special assistant to VA administrator Max Cleland and adviser to the Board of Veterans Appeals.

In 1980, 12 years after he left Vietnam, Mr. Phillips applied for and received a commission as a captain in the Army Reserves, and he had served since then as company commander of a Special Forces unit at Fort Meade, Md. Although disenchanted with the Army when he left Vietnam, he had concluded in the intervening years that the military service deserved all the support it could get, according to friends.

For the last several years, Mr. Phillips had made four or five parachute jumps a month and trained with his unit for about a month every year. To keep in shape he jogged six or seven miles each morning in his combat boots and Army fatigues.

He is survived by his wife, Carla, and two children, Sharra and Frank, all of Alexandria; his parents, Frank and Helen Phillips, and a sister, Penelope Phillips, all of Youngstown; and a brother, Terry Phillips of Jamestown, Colo.