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Disabled Children’s Advocates Picked for Agent Orange Grant

Times Staff Writer

A Fountain Valley organization that helps children with disabilities was among eight groups nationwide that received grants from the settlement of a suit by Vietnam veterans who charged that Agent Orange had injured them or their children.

The Orange County group--Team of Advocates for Special Kids, or TASK--will use the $60,000, 1-year grant to teach local families of Vietnam veterans “how to meet their (disabled) child’s special educational needs.”

TASK executive director Joan Tellefsen said she is pleased to represent one of the eight groups that received funding from among 147 proposals submitted by organizations around the country. “We are all so excited about this,” she said.

The Fountain Valley program provides counseling, legal information, educational workshops, telephone advocacy, awareness programs and a newsletter for parents who have disabled children. Tellefsen said TASK plans to expand its services to include a program tailored to disabled children of Vietnam veterans. TASK, which began in 1977, helped more than 3,000 families in Southern California last year, Tellefsen said.

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The $53-million Agent Orange Class Assistance Program, which funded Thursday’s grants, was established as part of the settlement of a class-action suit brought 10 years ago by veterans claiming that exposure to the chemical Agent Orange caused cancer, birth defects and other illnesses. After a long court battle, seven chemical companies that manufactured Agent Orange settled out of court in 1984 for $180 million, which has grown to $240 million with accumulated interest. The $53-million assistance program is part of that $240 million. The largest portion, $170 million, provides cash payments to disabled Vietnam veterans, or the widows and children of veterans.

The U.S. government sprayed Agent Orange over much of Vietnam during the 1960s to destroy fields and deprive communist troops of valuable forest cover.

Dennis Rhoades, who is in charge of distributing the Agent Orange Class Assistance Program funds over the next 10 years, said that the proposal by the Orange County group caught his eye because “it was economical, it was well written and it was by people who were obviously very committed.”

Rhoades said that the grant program is not intended to replace government funding for veterans but instead will try to fund innovative ideas and help develop a network for existing services. The grants awarded Thursday, which totaled $580,000, were the first to be announced.

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Rhoades said the original $53 million in grant money could grow to $75 million in the next several years.


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