Gina Montoya believes she is owed benefits by the federal government because of debilitating deformities that might be a direct result of her father’s service in Vietnam. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., thinks so, too.
“I can’t live like this anymore,” she told the Journal this week, crying. “It’s not my fault I was born this way.”
What’s known now is a terrible side effect of Agent Orange — some children conceived by servicemen after their exposure to the chemical are born with spina bifida, a condition in which the bones of the spine do not correctly form around the spinal column. The government has set up a program to provide benefits for vets’ children who have the condition.
“I have legs,” Gina said. “I call them frog legs. They’re like nothing.”
The VA says a neurologist who reviewed Montoya’s case file found that, while she has a severe congenital problems, she doesn’t have spina bifida — a finding in conflict with that of Montoya’s current New Mexico doctors. And the VA says rules prohibit giving her benefits, because she wasn’t diagnosed with spina bifida at birth.
No birth diagnosis A big problem for Montoya in her fight for Agent Orange benefits is that she was not diagnosed with spina bifida at birth. The VA cites a regulation that “specifically states that the benefits are not available unless there is a diagnosis of spina bifida at birth.”
“This is such a tragic story,” said Marissa Padilla, Udall’s spokeswoman.
“None of us had any idea how tragic until Roberto met with her.” Padilla said helping in cases like Gina’s is one of Udall’s “primary functions as a representative.” And the senator’s stance on the matter is clear:
“Her father’s exposure to Agent Orange when he was loading it into tanks in Vietnam … led to her deformities,” Padilla said. The denial of benefits to Gina, Padilla said, “is, to put it mildly, just wrong.”
Vasquez is working to find veterans associations willing to donate time to make Montoya’s house more wheelchair accessible, Padilla said.