The American Legion has endorsed legislation that would entitle Vietnam veterans to disability benefits for three medical problems that might be related to the herbicide Agent Orange. An article yesterday incorrectly reported the legion's position.
Veterans Administration chief Harry N. Walters reportedly plans to hire William A. Connelly, who re- tired June 30 as the Army's highest-ranking enlist- ed man, to serve as his $41,277-per-year liaison offi- cer.
Connelly's main duty will be to visit veterans at VA medical centers to see how they are being treated and to "talk up" VA programs, according to Col. Ferdinand C. Bidgood, Walters' executive assistant.
Connelly should feel right at home in that job because, as sergeant major of the Army, he was responsible for keeping the service's top brass informed about the concerns of enlisted men and women. Walters met Connelly while serving as assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, Bidgood said.
The idea of hiring Connelly has irritated some VA employes who claim Walters has created a "do-nothing" job for the Army veteran.
But Bidgood said that Walters feels Connelly will play a major role in making the agency more responsive to veterans. Old-timers at the agency also have defended Walters, pointing out that most of his predecessors hired special assistants for similar jobs and that few of them were as well-qualified as Connelly. VIDEO GAMES? . . . Meanwhile, Walters has decided to disband his "Agent Orange education team," whose road show last month embarrassed the agency.
Walters had wanted to send three of the department's experts on Agent Orange, a herbicide widely used in Vietnam, on a tour of VA medical centers to explain why the agency doesn't believe sufficient scientific evidence exists to link the herbicide with a variety of Vietnam veterans' health problems.
The VA currently provides free medical care to any Vietnam veteran who can prove his ailments are service-connected, but it has refused to pay disability to those who claim Agent Orange harmed them.
Walters wanted the team to improve the VA's image. But an angry Vietnam veteran yelled at it during its opening night, and his complaints drew more attention in the news media than did the team's presentation.
Walters reportedly wants to replace the team with a videotape presentation. DOING ITS OWN STUDY . . . The American Legion recently announced it will conduct an 18-month study of the health effects of serving in Vietnam.
The study will be conducted by a husband and wife team, Dr. Jeanne Stellman of the Columbia University School of Public Health and Dr. Steven Stellman of the American Cancer Society.
The two epidemiologists will use volunteers to collect data and compare the health of veterans who served in Vietnam with those stationed elsewhere during the same period.
All of the veterans to be examined are members of the American Legion, the nation's largest veterans organization.
The results are expected by November, 1984.
The survey comes at a time when the American Legion has been criticized by some Vietnam veterans for refusing to join its rival, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in endorsing legislation that would "presume" Agent Orange is responsible for several medical problems of Vietnam veterans. That legislation would force the VA to pay disability claims unless there is proof that Agent Orange didn't cause the ailments. EXPENSIVE DENTAL CARE . . . The VA could save $15 million annually by tightening controls on its dental program, according to an audit by VA Inspector General Frank S. Sato.
The agency currently allows veterans to visit private dentists if there are no readily available VA facilities to provide adequate care.
Sato found that about half the fees paid to private dentists are for services that could have been provided at nearby VA centers.