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]
Facts, figures, information
By Jim Painter
SIDNEY – A legislative measure to fully indentify military veterans exposed to the toxic defoliant, Agent Orange, has a strong local advocate.
Ed Ball, Executive Director of the Shelby County Veterans Service Commission, has gathered data for a long period of time seeking benefits for those he feels are being shut out of veteran’s benefits due their rightful share. He claims that currently more than 90,000 surviving servicemen should qualify for benefits that are being denied.
Attention to this effort continues to grow. His findings are now before federal and state officials, and will soon be distributed to state commission directors. (See accompanying story)
The social media world has endless listings regarding Agent Orange. As with any topic, the authenticity of the information found online can be questioned at times. The burden is clearly on the consumer to interpret such information.
To better explain Agent Orange and its impact, the SDN has provided the information below from the website for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at www.publichealth.va.gov.
• Agent Orange is a blend of tactical herbicides the U.S. military sprayed from 1962 to 1971 in the Vietnam War to remove trees and dense tropical foliage that provided enemy cover.
• More than 19 million gallons of various “rainbow” herbicide combinations were sprayed, but Agent Orange was the combination the U.S. military used most often. The name “Agent Orange” came from the orange identifying stripe used on the 55-gallon drums in which it was stored.
• Heavy sprayed areas included forests near the demarcation zone, forests at the junction of the borders of Cambodia, Laos, and South Vietnam, and mangroves on the southernmost peninsula of Vietnam and along shipping channels southeast of Saigon.
• The U.S. Department of Defense developed these tactical herbicides specifically to be used in “combat operations.” They were not commercial grade herbicides purchased from chemical companies and sent to Vietnam. Herbicides also were used, tested, and stored in areas outside of Vietnam, such as Thailand and Korea.
• For the scientifically detail-minded, the two active ingredients in the Agent Orange herbicide combination were equal amounts of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T), which contained traces of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD).
The dioxin TCDD was an unwanted byproduct of herbicide production. Dioxins are pollutants that are released into the environment by burning waste, diesel exhaust, chemical manufacturing, and other processes. TCDD is the most toxic of the dioxins, and is classified as a human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency.
• Agent Orange dries quickly after spraying and breaks down within hours to days when exposed to sunlight (if not bound chemically to a biological surface such as soil, leaves and grass) and is no longer harmful.
• For the purposes of VA compensation benefits, veterans who served anywhere in Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, are presumed to have been exposed to herbicides, as specified in the Agent Orange Act of 1991.
These Veterans do not need to show that they were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides in order to get disability compensation for diseases related to Agent Orange exposure.
• Service in Vietnam means service on land in Vietnam or on the inland waterways of Vietnam. These veterans are referred to as Brown Water Veterans. This includes veterans who either:
Set foot in Vietnam (This includes brief visits ashore, such as when a ship docked to the shore of Vietnam or when a ship operated in Vietnam’s close coastal waters for extended periods and crew members went ashore, or smaller vessels from the ship went ashore with supplies or personnel. The veteran further must provide a statement of personally going ashore.
Or, they served on a ship, while it operated on the inland waterways of Vietnam.
• Blue Water Veterans are not presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides unless they set foot on Vietnam soil or served aboard ships in the inland waterways of Vietnam during this time. These veterans would have been aboard naval vessels anchored off the coastal areas of Vietnam. Evidence must be confirmed through military records that must show the veteran was aboard one of the ships in the region.
• A number of veterans confirmed to be exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides during service have been diagnosed with a variety of maladies including leukemia, diabetes, Hodgkin’s disease, cancer and Ischemic Heart disease. Those defined as eligible would qualify for a variety of VA benefits, including health care, disability income, support programs for children with birth defects and survivor dependency indemnity compensation to include the Civilian Health and Medical Program of Veterans Affairs for medical and dependent education benefits.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.