Veterans Administration chief Harry N. Walters has created an 18-member committee to advise him on the problems of female veterans. But missing from the group was Lynda Van Devanter, a well-known advocate of female veterans and an outspoken critic of the VA.
Van Devanter was among 150 women nominated by veterans' and women's groups for the commission. But a five-member VA panel headed by Nora Kinzer, a special assistant to Walters, didn't choose her.
In March Van Devanter, women's director of the Vietnam Veterans of America, was the chief witness called by a House subcommittee to testify in support of creating a permanent advisory board on female veterans.
At those hearings, she accused the VA of denying basic medical care to female vets and attacked the agency for not including women in its studies of the health effects of Agent Orange, a herbicide used extensively during the Vietnam war.
However, most observers say that Van Devanter was bypassed because of her book, "Home Before Morning." The first autobiographical account of the Vietnam war by a woman who served in it, the book outraged many of the VA's top brass. Kinzer criticized the book this summer on a TV talk show and in an interview.
"Lynda Van Devanter herself has said on numerous occasions that the image of the Army nurse is either lesbian or whore," Kinzer said. "I am upset that such an image is portrayed in her book."
The book also was criticized in the news media by Jo Ann Webb, an Army nurse in Vietnam and the wife of James Webb, who is the former minority counsel to the House Veterans' Affairs Committee and the author of the best-selling Vietnam novel, "Fields of Fire." She was chosen to serve on the VA commission.
Van Devanter couldn't be reached for comment last week, but Kinzer said she wasn't chosen because the VA wanted "representatives from outside Washington" and because five other female veterans from the Vietnam era, including four who served in Vietnam, already had been chosen.
The commission, which also includes former Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeanne Holm, who was the highest-ranking woman in the military before she retired, and journalist Sarah McClendon, is scheduled to hold its first meeting Sept. 14.
"We hardly have a stacked committee here," Kinzer said, noting that McClendon and commission member June A. Willenz, director of the American Veterans' Committee, were outspoken VA critics "years before Van Devanter." ***
TECHNICAL ADVICE . . . VA Administrator Walters recently met with one of the scriptwriters for the new television series, "After M*A*S*H." Walters was touring a VA hospital in Los Angeles when he discovered that the scriptwriter, Michael Hirsh, had scheduled several meetings with hospital officials to discuss what a VA hospital was like during the 1950s. In the sequel to M*A*S*H, Col. Sherman Potter is director of a VA hospital in his home town of Hannibal, Mo. Aides said Walters encouraged Hirsh to present a favorable image of the VA. ***
WHAT VIETNAM VETS ARE REALLY LIKE . . . The Wilson Quarterly recently reported VA statistics showing that U.S. troops in Vietnam represented a much broader cross-section of America than is commonly believed. According to the figures, blacks accounted for no more than 12.5 percent of U.S. troops in Vietnam and for 12.3 percent of the Americans killed there. At that time, 13.5 percent of the male population of military age was black.
The publication also noted that 25 percent of U.S. personnel deployed in Vietnam were draftees, compared with 66 percent during World War II.
The chief inequities were economic. Three-fourths of the troops in Vietnam came from lower-middle-class or working-class families, and one-fourth came from families below the poverty level. Poor youths were twice as likely to serve in Vietnam as were their more affluent peers.
"Ivy League college graduates were conspicuously rare in Vietnam," the magazine reported.
The statistics showed that military discipline was considered normal until after 1969, when President Nixon decided to begin withdrawing troops. Recorded "fragging" incidents, assaults by troops on officers, rose from 96 in 1969 to 222 in 1971.
The magazine called the "psychopath" image of the Vietnam vet "far-fetched." The rate of psychological breakdowns among servicemen in Vietnam was below those of Korea and World War II, the report said.
Americans suffered permanently disabling wounds at a greater rate in Vietnam, however: 300 percent higher than in World War II and 70 percent higher than in the Korean War. The reasons present an ironic contrast. The Vietnam rate was higher because the enemy used booby-traps and because better medical techniques helped more wounded soldiers survive.