29 October 2015

Western Massachusetts lawyer Archer Battista honored for work helping Westover veterans exposed to Agent Orange

Four years ago, Archer Battista's friend from the Air Force noticed that the men he flew with at Westover Air Reserve Base were coming down with the same diseases as men who had been exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Although the Westover veterans had not all fought in Vietnam, they had, in the years after the Vietnam War, flown and maintained the planes used to spray Agent Orange, a carcinogenic chemical used to destroy vegetation in Southeast Asia.

Battista, a lawyer and Air Force veteran living in Belchertown who flew in Vietnam and at Westover, set out to convince the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide the same benefits to these peacetime veterans as to veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam.

"That's when the battle started," Battista said. "The VA was just damned if it was going to expand not simply the list of diseases but the groups who are entitled to eligibility for VA healthcare, eligibility for VA financial aid. They fought us for four-and-a-half years."

On Wednesday, Battista, 69, was given an award by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recognizing his pro bono work.

"He stands out as a leader by example, one who brings out the very best of those around him and the legal profession as a whole," said SJC Associate Justice Geraldine Hines, who presented the award.

Battista said he got involved in the Agent Orange issue after getting a call from a former Air Force colleague named Wes Carter. Carter noticed that people they had flown with were coming down with diseases that have been connected to Agent Orange exposure – things like prostate cancer and type 2 diabetes.

"These are our friends. These are our family," Battista said. "These are people we flew with for five, 10, 20, 30 years who are now coming down with the same diseases as the guys who had a tour in Vietnam."

Battista said people like him, who saw combat in Vietnam and were exposed to Agent Orange there, do not have to fight for their Veterans Affairs benefits. He wanted the same for those peacetime veterans who flew the planes that dumped Agent Orange.

"These are our friends. These are our family." Working against intrenched VA opposition "was a hell of a fight," Battista said.

It was not until this June that the Department of Veterans Affairs finally granted medical and disability benefits to the approximately 1,500 to 2,100 troops who flew these planes, if they were to develop diseases related to Agent Orange.

"This effort, which has had a national impact on thousands of veterans and their survivors would have been impossible without the dedication of Col. Battista's ongoing work," Hines said.

The award from the Supreme Judicial Court was also given to Battista in recognition of his work starting a veterans' court in Holyoke, which will serve Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties. The court is scheduled to open Nov. 4 and will accept criminal cases in which the defendant served in the military. A judge will guide veterans to get help for issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or sexual assault. The defendants will be paired with other veterans as mentors.

"Our goal is not to leave any veteran behind," Battista said.

Jeff Morneau, president of the Hampden County Bar Association, said Battista is well-respected by the bar association and the Western Massachusetts legal community.

"I really don't think there's anybody more deserving of this award than Arch Battista," Morneau said. "He has throughout his career distinguished himself not only as an advocate, but as somebody who has dedicated himself and others to the commitment of pro bono work."

SJC Associate Justice Francis Spina, of Pittsfield, said Battista is "terribly deserving" of the award. "He's a wonderful candidate, he's a great lawyer, and he's just a fabulous human being," Spina said.

Spina praised Battista's work helping veterans. "They're people who have given up their lives for us, and their health and their safety, and we just have a tremendous obligation to see that they are properly cared for," Spina said.

VA Benefits Provided 100% Disabled Veterans

Many of our C-123 veterans are becoming 100% disabled veterans, now that VA has recognized our Agent Orange exposure and resultant ailments.  It is a long list of welcome services.

But it is painful to realize that VA's opposition to our claims denied us all services and benefits the Nation wanted its servicemembers to have in substitution for the good health with which we began our flying. The logic has always been to try to provide benefits to give the injured veteran something of the life enjoyed by those who didn't serve, and at a minimum, to provide for replacement of lost earning capacity and vital medical care.

Remember that state benefits such as property tax relief can be just as important.

27 October 2015

VA Contract Against Agent Orange Veterans Revealed - $600,000

How did this happen? Who approved this no-bid sole source contract, an expense never budgeted by the VA? What was done with the resulting materials about Agent Orange? How did VA expect to use the materials to aid veterans' claims, as the contract promised? Why haven't they??

$600,000 was spent on this project. More than most communities received from VA for helping homeless veterans. Were there no contractors who wouldn't offend senators as well as the major veterans' organizations, angering them to insist the VA stop this waste? Read about the anger this contractor caused.

(from VA Contract)
• Did the $600,000 spent on this 
contract do anything to help veterans?

• Wasn't its true purpose to oppose Agent Orange claims?

24 October 2015

Looking back - how VA blocked C-123 claims for so many years

How? VBA's Agent Orange desk just made up whatever VA needed to refuse C-123 claims. Here is one of their lists...every point false but sufficient to make sure all C-123 vets were denied VA medical care and other benefits. VA has refused to release their basis for these points, even under the Freedom of Information Act requirements.

Especially deceptive is the last point, as there simply no "VHA scientific data" at all...only internal policy that VHA had to "draw the line" against claims. That's exactly what VHA told the Associated Press!
Source: VBA Agent Orange Desk

19 October 2015

Gale French has passed away

Long-time 731st veteran Gale French passed away last night in his sleep, following a long illness. This is terribly sad news, coming just after we bid Chief Fusco farewell.

Gale was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross back in '78 for some really cool flying, the story told below.

17 October 2015

Yesterday, General Allison Hickey tendered her resignation to Secretary McDonald, leaving the position of Under Secretary for Benefits which she held for the last four years.

Some veterans groups have called for this, while others accept it "but with no joy in the news."

For me, I don't know of anything that would justify any loss of respect or appreciation for her 30 years in uniform and service to the veterans of America as Under Secretary for Benefits. I do know hers was a virtually thankless job, one in which no amount of success can overcome institutional barriers facing everyone in VA.

Responding to my farewell note to her, this morning she took a moment to write:


I am so very proud of all we have accomplished together for Veterans--especially my brother and sister Airmen who flew C-123s.
Keep in touch! 

14 October 2015

Chief Fusco has passed

EASTHAMPTON - Charles Carmine Fusco, CMSgt, (retired), 83, of Easthampton, entered into eternal life Sunday, Oct. 11, 2015, following a brief illness, surrounded by his loving family at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. 

He was born July 27, 1932, in Everett, and was the son of the late Mario and Carmella (Gianantonio) Fusco. He was educated in the Everett Public Schools and was a graduate of Everett High School with the class of 1950. Shortly, after graduation, he enlisted in the United States Air Force beginning a 40 year career from 1952 to 1992. A veteran of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Korean WarVietnam War and The Persian Gulf War. 

Charles was married Aug. 24, 1958, in Summerville, at Saint Clements Church to Virginia Vincenza (Russo) and they celebrated 41 years of marriage until her death Jan. 18, 1999. An amazing man with a true zest of life and living every moment to its fullest, he enjoyed traveling, cooking, and catching up on westerns and Fox news. His most favorite past-time was food of any kind and got excited at the thought of a new recipe. His memory is a true blessing to his family and friends and he will be sorely missed.

He leaves his three devoted and loving daughters, Linda Shaw and her husband William of Easthampton, Lisa Fusco and her husband Kevin Lennon of Nashville, Tennessee, and Lori Seaver and her husband Jay of Westhampton; four adored grandchildren, Nicholas, Ashley, Danica and Charles; and one special great-granddaughter, Selena. Besides his wife Virginia, he was predeceased by his five siblings, a brother Carmine and four sisters, Lena, Nelda, Grace and Gilda. His beloved Boxer, Cassius predeceased him by only 24 hours.

Funeral services with full military honors will be rendered for Chief Master Sergeant Charles C. Fusco Saturday, Oct. 17, at 9:15 a.m. from the Rocco, Salvatore & Sons Funeral Homes, 331 Main St., Everett, with a Liturgy of Christian Burial at 10 a.m. at Saint Anthony's Parish, 38 Oakes St., Everett, with burial to follow at Woodlawn Cemetery, 302 Elm St., Everett. Calling will be held Friday, Oct. 16, from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Everett funeral home. Local calling hours, will be held Thursday, Oct. 15, from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Graham Funeral Home, 18 Adams St., Easthampton.

06 October 2015

My C-123 Agent Orange Claim Approved Yesterday

1,638 days after it was first submitted, my VA claim for cancer, heart disease and several other Agent Orange presumptive ailments was finally approved. I'm service-connected for a total disability rating of 380%.

I had to work long and hard on this claim, using it to advance all C-123 veterans' claims, for nearly all of the past four and a half years for this claim. I had to spend over $22,000, plus about $11,500 contributed by other C-123 vets (most of whom are already covered by VA) to pursue the final resolution.

I detail all this only because it should have been unnecessary, but became essential when VA opted to disregard its legal and moral duties. The effort was worthwhile because it led to coverage for thousands of Active Duty and Reserve C-123 aircrew, maintainers and life support veterans, and our families.

I sincerely appreciate the unfailing support from Senators Burr and Merkley and their staffs, and the more recent efforts by VA leadership and staff to resolve my claim and those of other C-123 veterans.

But, as Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) told the Associated Press about us,
"It shouldn't have been this hard or taken this long."

The worry remains: how many other veterans are in similar situations having faced different hazards, but perhaps don't even know it or can't self-advocate?