Gore Vows Support for Vietnam, Gulf War Veterans, Families
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
KANSAS CITY, Mo., Aug. 13, 1997 "Vietnam is our generation's war. It's a bond between veterans which cannot be broken," Vice President Al Gore told more than 1,000 Vietnam veterans and guests here Aug. 7 at the Vietnam Veterans of America's 8th National Convention.
Vietnam Veterans of America is the only national congressionally chartered organization exclusively dedicated to Vietnam-era veterans and their families. It boasts more than 50,000 members in 43 state councils and more than 525 local chapters across the nation.
Gore outlined the Clinton administration's efforts to help veterans, including research into Gulf War and Agent Orange-related illnesses, homeless veterans, women veterans' concerns and MIA issues. Greeted with robust applause, the vice president drew a standing ovation when he told the audience the nation would never forget those who never returned from Southeast Asia.
"We want and will demand a full accounting for every last one of our MIAs," said Gore, who served with an Army engineering brigade in Vietnam. "It is our solemn pledge. We won't rest until we know the answer."
He then praised the Vietnam Veterans of America's efforts to resolve the missing in action issue through the organization's Veterans Initiative Program. Under the program, veterans have made several trips to Vietnam to help the Vietnamese account for their more than 300,000 missing soldiers.
"I want to congratulate this organization on thinking about this in a new way and making some progress nobody thought was possible," Gore said. "Your veterans' initiative is a humanitarian outreach that has really made a huge difference in opening doors and avenues for investigation and accountability that were closed before because there are a lot of (Vietnamese) MIAs there, too.
"Some of the doors we were knocking on were never opened until this veterans' outreach program began," Gore noted. "Then, all of a sudden, some of those doors swung open. I don't care how controversial it was, if it gets results and it helps us reach our goal; that is really an example of the value of thinking in new ways."
On health and benefits issues, Gore said it's the nation's responsibility to ensure veterans and their families receive the care and benefits they've earned. He emphasized that the government is committed to providing health care and benefits to Gulf War veterans who became ill shortly after returning from the Persian Gulf.
"There are a lot of guys who are Vietnam veterans who thought that whole story had a very familiar ring to it," Gore said. "Because of the experience we went through with Agent Orange, we were a little bit better prepared to not have the long delay in recognizing the veterans' testimony and veterans' experiences are not to be dismissed.
"We've established a Persian Gulf registry health examination program and are providing priority health care to more than 200,000 Gulf War veterans," the vice president said. "In addition, we've provided more than 29,000 Gulf War veterans with disability compensation."
More than 90 projects are under way seeking a better understanding of health problems experienced by Gulf War veterans and the factors that have contributed to the problems, he noted.
The White House and Department of Veterans Affairs are working together to resolve the Agent Orange issue, he said.
Gore said when he was elected to Congress in 1976, he was one of two Vietnam veterans in Congress during the first congressional hearing on Agent Orange.
"I couldn't believe some of the things people were saying," he said. "A top medical officer testified that according to science, birth defects produced as a result of chemical exposure can only be caused if the mother is exposed to the offending chemical."
Gore said he was sitting on the dais trying to be dignified, but said: "Doctor, thousands of years ago, some primitive peoples believed it was only the mother that had anything to do with conception, but subsequent scientific experimentation proved them wrong. I believe you're destined to experience that same fate.
"We know thousands of veterans were exposed to Agent Orange and, for many of them, the war continues," Gore said. "Four-and-a-half years ago, only three illnesses had been determined to have an association with exposure. One is spina bifida in children of Vietnam veterans. We will soon be able to provide benefits for these children, including health care and rehabilitation, vocational training and a monthly monetary allowance."
The White House has signed an agreement with the Shriners hospitals, a leading provider of treatment for spina bifida, to provide medical treatment for children, he noted.
Veterans and children of veterans who suffer Agent Orange-related illnesses are receiving treatment much faster than before, Gore noted.
On the homeless veterans' and women veterans' issues, Gore said, "We've fought for increased funding for veterans and we're making progress. We're increasing services across the board for our homeless veterans. We've also stepped up our efforts for women veterans and all of our courageous and patriotic service people to whom our nation owes so much."
He pointed out women's contributions to the defense of the nation are often unrecognized, from the Revolutionary War until today.
"They have been there, both behind the lines and on the front lines," Gore said. "In the past four years, Veterans Affairs has implemented very effective women's programs. There are now coordinators for women's programs at every Veterans Affairs medical center, and VA has undertaken a major outreach program to make sure women veterans are aware of these new efforts.
"The White House and Veterans Affairs have established offices to focus on issues of special importance to women," he noted. "And I look forward to this fall [Oct. 18] when there is going to be a new memorial dedicated at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery in recognition of the women who have served in our military."
On the plight of homeless veterans, Gore said, "I think it's sad to see people in cities, towns, streets and alleys sleeping under bridges and realize that on any given night, as many as 250,000 veterans are homeless on the streets of America. That's intolerable, unacceptable, wrong -- no one in this nation should live this way and especially no one who has served this nation in uniform."
He said the government has created a veterans' outreach program to provide housing for homeless veterans, and Vietnam Veterans of America is working with the Department of Labor seeking to integrate homeless veterans into the labor force.
"We want to be your partners," Gore told the delegates. "During the past three years, the VA has awarded more than $17 million in grants to community groups in 32 states to provide homeless veterans with places of refuge and to recover their health. Another $3.3 million in grants will be awarded this year."
The grants fund things like transitional housing, mobile medical clinics and drop-in service centers that are more accessible and less intimidating to the homeless, the vice president noted.
"More than $2 million in grants have been provided Vietnam veterans organizations for this purpose because we want our homeless veterans to regain their dignity and independence," Gore noted.
Gore drew another standing ovation when he told the Vietnam veterans the nation is committed to serving veterans, their families and loved ones with the same zeal and dedication veterans showed in their service to America.
"I'm to be among you, proud of your service to your fellow veterans, and proud to be a Vietnam veteran," Gore said.