SIDNEY – It hasn’t been a front porch rocking chair and fishing pole type retirement for Ed Ball, the former Shelby County Veterans Service Office. He has stepped up his efforts to help gain medical benefits for veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
Since retiring May 1, Ball has “taken the torch” in becoming an official board member of the Blue Water Navy Association He continues to assist in getting H.R. 299 bill through the legislative process in Washington D.C.
“We had great success in the House with a unanimous vote of 382-0,” Ball said. “During the confirmation hearing for Veterans Administration Secretary Robert Wilke we heard positive remarks and his support of HR299.”
Ball said things soon changed, however.
On Aug. 1, at the Senate Committee of Veterans Affairs, said a VA Under Secretary told members of the committee that the scientific evidence was not there, and the VA could not support HR299 moving forward, Ball said.
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 servicemembers who may have been exposed. The VA has determined that anyone who served 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 servicemembers 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 docked near the Vietnam borders, but did not set foot on land or serve on vessels that entered inland waterways.
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 in a previous SDN story.
He contends some of the water was contaminated and taken to ships for human consumption.
“Ever since then (the VA’s public opinion of no evidence) we have taken to social media, news outlets, anyone that will lend us an ear, to get the word out and to set the facts straight. Because there is evidence, and the VA knows it!” Ball stated.
Ball said Congress has been attempting for years to get the VA to identify ships that operated in Vietnamese territorial waters during the war, they declined due to budget constraints and required additional workforce. Members of Congress then tasked Department of Defense, who refused due to much the same as the VA yet provided an estimated cost of $5 million and found that to be exorbitant, he claims.
In response, Ball developed a database open to public use. To receive the spreadsheet document, contact Ball at email@example.com or through Facebook.
“We have listed not only the ships in Dixie and Yankee Stations, but another section was designed for those ships providing naval gunfire support missions along the coast, as well as a final section that identifies ships and dates where coastal patrols were done within a 12nm distance from shore.”
Ball has grown frustrated with the tactics being used to slow the House bill.
“The VA contends ships did not operate their water distillation plants in close proximity ashore of Vietnam, nor in the harbors. But water is the lifeblood of propulsion on a steam driven conventional ship, as those used in Vietnam.
“Without steam created by the boilers, which required distilled feedwater, to drive the steam turbines, which through reduction gears turned the shaft, which drove the propellers of the ships through the water, the ships would not have been able to perform their assigned missions otherwise.”
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?”
Ball said if 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.
Ball remains optimistic. With new top management people being brought on board, the tide may be turning. However, they continue to seek support.
“Today we are circulating a petition for veterans, widows, family members, and friends to sign. We hope to accumulate 100,000 signatures to show support of HR299 and hopefully get the much-needed legislation to the Senate floor for a vote before the midterm elections.”
Anyone wishing to support the cause may sign the petition online. Ball said it’s a two-step process to open the link, fill in the requested information and submit. An email with a confirmation link, will arrive. Voters may click on the link, and the process is complete.
The petition can be found at https://bit.ly/2OJJMZH.
Ball remains driven in the cause and the impact it has on veterans and their families.
“Widows, currently living in poverty cannot be provided a widow’s check, because their husbands were not found to have met their demise with a service-connected illness. Hence forced by their own government to live in poverty or become a financial burden on children and or friends. We want to right that wrong, and, make HR299 a success in support of not only the great state of Ohio but across the nation.”
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.