After a four-year battle, federal health officials have ruled flight
crews at Westover Air Reserve Base were exposed to Agent Orange during
the decade they flew recycled planes from Vietnam, but the decision that
could grant them full medical benefits is too late for some.
The study released recently by the Institute of Medicine was the
veterans' last hope to win their long, research-filled battle to receive
the same medical care and disability payments as those who served
during the Vietnam War when Agent Orange was used as a defoliant.
"The whole population has waited for four years. There has been
predictable suffering, financial loss and death. That is unacceptable,"
said retired Air Force Major Wesley T. Carter, who served as an air
medical technician and flight instructor with the 74th Aeromedical
Evacuation Squadron at Westover in Chicopee for 20 years.
In the four years that he and others fought the battle for benefits
at least a half-dozen people have grown sicker and sicker and several
have died. One, Retired Lt. Col. Paul Bailey, received benefits after a
long appeal process only to die a month later of cancer. He was 67.
Carter argued the benefits, which include access to free medications,
dental care, optometry and hospice, are invaluable and vital to ill
veterans. Financial disability payments come tax free and can be passed
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