SIDNEY – In a long, frustrating battle to regain disability benefits for thousands of Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange, hope draws closer. Continuing the longtime research regarding his fellow military, Ed Ball, of Sidney, is providing information now under deliberation before the Veteran’s Administration (VA) in Washington, D.C.
Two Ohio senators have agreed to back federal legislation that is currently stalled in the Senate Veterans Affairs committee, according to officials. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, a member of the committee, and Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, have joined 41 other senators to co-sponsor the effort.
A Portman spokesperson wrote to Ball this week vowing the senator will work to bring the issue to a floor vote.
Ball serves as the executive director of the Shelby County Veterans Service Commission in Sidney. He said he is driven in his heartfelt research to better provide for veterans that he contends were exposed to the contaminants of Agent Orange. He said the Institute of Medicine research for the VA agrees with his findings.
(For a closer look at Agent Orange, see accompanying story)
Agent Orange was a toxic chemical combination used to destroy vegetation growth in jungle-type battle zones. Ball said since enemy fighters would hide in heavily-forested areas, and live off the land, the idea was to kill the growth providing cover, and food supply of North Vietnamese troops.
A U.S. Navy veteran, Ball, said officials at the VA federal office are re-examining the definition of military servicemen who may have been exposed. The VA has determined that anyone who served inland in-country, or ship traversed the inner waterways, while visiting port step boots on soil, between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, had presumptive exposure to Agent Orange.
Referred to as “Brown Water Navy” are servicemen with direct exposure to the herbicide through various means of contact through water, air or manual distribution. The “Blue Water Navy” refers to those who were aboard ships docks near the Vietnam borders, but did not set foot on land or serve on vessels that entered inland waterways.
Means of fresh water
Ball said it was the supply of fresh water for the ships docked within harbors of Vietnam and war zones offshore that he contends where the exposure occurred.
He explained naval ships pull salt water from the ocean during a voyage into an evaporator mounted into the hull of the ship, and piped into the water distillation system. The water is purified using a high intensity heating system making it safe for human consumption (referred to as potable water). This water is then used for cooking, drinking, cleaning, personal hygiene, laundry and consumption.
When docked, the ships have several options of receiving fresh potable water. One of which, is by barge from an inland port. Ball noted a place near Da Nang called Monkey Mountain, known to have a natural spring, a fresh water source.
“The Seabees were assigned to create a lagoon/reservoir by building a dam to hold the water. They installed water pipelines and pumps to take the water from the dam directly to the water barges. It went from an initial 4-inch pipeline system to a larger dam and an 8-inch pipeline with a reservoir that held 1.9 million gallons of water,” Ball said.
He contends some of the water was contaminated and taken to ships for human consumption.
After countless hours of research, Ball said much information is out there, but not all records are complete. Tracking down minute details can be painstaking and said sadly, “The problem is, it’s all up to the veteran to come up with the proof they were exposed.”
Ball said, “Veterans are hurting, they are gravely ill, with numerous Navy veterans that have reached their demise. Why should veterans and their families shoulder the burden of medical expenditures, Ischemic Heart Disease, Parkinson’s, Leukemia’s, cancers, diabetes mellitus Type II, and more, as well as burial when they should be eligible for presumptive exposure just like those that served in the country of Vietnam?
He continued, “It is said, of the 713 ships that supported the war effort in Vietnam, 90,000 surviving sailors may be eligible for medical and service connect compensation if they meet the eligibility requirements, and for service to their country during a time of war.
“Water distillation plants operating along the coast of Vietnam, if there was dioxin in the water, the shipboard system enriched it, per Institute of Medicine and their counterpart in Australia, who pays compensation to their Vietnam veterans, and made levels of exposure greater than those that served on shore.
“Water in an open water reservoir is open to atmospheric conditions of all sorts and contaminants could easily enter into the eco system. I have plotted the Ranch Hand missions flown in the Da Nang area, most were 1,700 to 2,000 gallons (of Agent Orange) per mission. That fine mist would easily have been carried in the wind. We’re talking the most carcinogenic chemical known to mankind that has been outlawed since 1978 by the EPA. I’m just trying to make it right for our veterans.”
Another issue, according to Ball, is the cost of the cleanup effort in Vietnam that is still going on.
The United States Agency for International Development is the government agency, which is primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid. The clearing of the dioxin in Da Nang Vietnam will cost more than $300 million to complete in the next few years, according to Ball.
“They can pay for this, but will not provide services for a sick veteran, or care for a widow whose husband died as a result of a disease that dioxin is known to have caused (health problems) while they were on active duty. Why must our government turn their backs on our nation’s heroes?”
Ball claims there are 90,000 veterans that would be eligible for VA benefits, if H.R. Bill 969 and Senate Bill 681 pass. He has yet to hear word from VA Secretary Bob McDonald or his Director of the Veterans Benefits Administration, Thomas Murphy, on his report.
Recently, Ball was called for his findings for a television report on WFLA in Tampa. His findings have also been reviewed by officials in 47 states. As the news of his findings grows, the long-time advocate has instructed all Ohio veterans service commissioner leaders last month in what lies ahead.
On June 10-11, Ball will present his report to the Ohio Buckeye Vietnam Veterans of America chapter in Sugar Creek. On June 16, he will address his peers at the Ohio Association of County Veteran Service Officers meeting in Independence.
To contact Ball, he can be reached by calling 937-498-7284; or by e-mail at [email protected].