While the Department of Veterans Affairs has expanded coverage of
troops exposed to Agent Orange, a group of Macon veterans says the VA
has not gone far enough.
The group was led by Jack Ellis, former
mayor of Macon and an Army airborne infantryman who fought in the
Vietnam War. In a news conference at the Macon-Bibb County Government
Center, Ellis also called for Congress to make benefits retroactive for
children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange if the child suffers from
The VA website states that spina bifida, a
debilitating condition, is presumed to be caused by the exposure of the
father to Agent Orange. Ellis’ son has spina bifida.
“My son has
never been able to walk in his life,” Ellis said in an interview prior
to the news conference. “That is a direct result of my exposure to Agent
Ellis said the VA in 1994 made those children eligible
for compensation but did not make it retroactive to their birth. He
estimated about 2,200 children were affected.
Ellis also called for allowing all Vietnam vets to get a free physical every year at the VA’s expense.
Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., was in the midstate Thursday conducting a
news conference in Warner Robins with U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.,
and others after they toured Robins Air Force Base.
the issues Ellis was raising, Bishop said he is a co-sponsor of
legislation currently under consideration by the House of
Representatives that would make the spina bifida compensation
retroactive to birth.
Isakson, chairman of the Committee on
Veterans Affairs, said the VA currently is considering whether 19
ailments could be attributed to Agent Orange exposure.
“We are studying to make sure the scientific tie of Agent Orange to the disease is specifically there,” he said.
A Vietnam veteran supporting Ellis’ position was Leroy Thomas Sr., who served in the Navy in Vietnam.
said he served on a ship off the shores of Vietnam and thinks he was
exposed to Agent Orange as a result of the wind blowing it out to sea.
Thomas said he suffers from diabetes and blames it on Agent Orange. The VA does not recognize him as having been exposed.
“We don’t want Vietnam veterans to be forgotten,” Thomas said.
Agent Orange was a defoliant widely used in Vietnam to destroy the cover and food supply of enemy troops.