SIDNEY — Former Shelby County Veterans Services Officer Ed Ball is refusing to sit still in 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 continued to work for veterans as an official board member of the Blue Water Navy Association. Despite recent setbacks regarding House Resolution (HR) 299, he remains focused on winning through the legislative process in Washington, D.C.
In an Aug. 17, 2018, Sidney Daily News article, Ball stated, “We had great success in the House with a unanimous vote of 382-0. During the confirmation hearing for Veterans Administration Secretary Robert Wilke we heard positive remarks and his support of HR 299.”
Since then, things have changed, however.
On Aug. 1, at the Senate Committee of Veterans Affairs meeting, Ball said a VA under secretary told members of the committee that the scientific evidence was not there, and the VA could not support HR 299 moving forward.
Ball recently reported, “HR 299 has been defeated in the lame duck session. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has sent Sen. (Mike) Enzi (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the latest revision of cost based on revised estimates provided by the secretary of Veterans Affairs. We have from an indisputable source inside of the Senate, that Sen. (Mitch) McConnell will not bring HR 299 to the Senate floor for a vote.”
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 to North Vietnamese troops.
A U.S. Navy veteran, Ball said officials at the VA federal office are re-examining the definition of military service members who may have been exposed. The VA has determined that anyone who served in-country or on a ship that traversed the inner waterways and, while visiting port, stepped onto soil between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, had presumptive exposure to Agent Orange.
Ball continued, “Historically, this is the farthest we’ve ever been in Congress in restoring VA benefits for our Blue Water Navy veterans that operated off the coast of South Vietnam. We can all be proud of our accomplishments, and now it is time to turn our attention to issues to be addressed in 2019.
“We will continue meeting with CBO in January on the revision of numbers for a bill to be presented, if need be, once the U.S. Federal Circuit Courts render their decision on the Procopio vs Wilkie briefing that was held Dec. 7. We are very optimistic that this will be decided in our favor by a majority of the 10 judges that were on the panel for the briefing.”
Following the Dec. 7 briefing, Ball and others marched to the Department of Veterans Affairs, demonstrating outside the building to bring attention to the situation.
“Brown Water Navy” exposure
Referred to as “Brown Water Navy” are service members 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 where the exposure occurred.
He explained that naval ships pull salt water from the ocean into an evaporator mounted into the hull of the ship, and pipe 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 for 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, was a fresh water source.
In a previous Sidney Daily News article, Ball stated, “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.”
He contends some of the water was contaminated and taken to ships for human consumption.
“Ever since (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 because it required additional workforce. Members of Congress then tasked the Department of Defense, who refused due to much the same reasons as the VA, yet provided an estimated cost of $5 million, which it found to be exorbitant, Ball claims.
“Veterans are hurting”
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, 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 of the 713 ships that supported the war effort in Vietnam, 90,000 surviving sailors may be eligible for medical and service-connected compensation if they meet the eligibility requirements.
“By focusing our VA claims development on direct exposure claims, vice presumptive exposure Blue Water Navy claims, we are having some success at the Board of Veterans Appeals for Veterans Affairs in Washington,” Ball said.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.