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Vet gets disability, 50 years late

Associated Press
Published September 29, 2005

WESTON - A highly decorated fighter pilot who lost sight in one eye in a plane crash during World War II has finally received the disability payments he has sought for 50 years.

Frank Fong, 86, will receive back payments totaling $67,000 next month for injuries suffered in the 1944 crash over Germany, a spokeswoman for the Department of Veterans Affairs said Tuesday.

Last week, the Veteran Appeals Board granted the disability payments for blindness in Fong's left eye for the period from July 1950 to August 1997.

The VA denied a claim Fong filed in 1950 because a VA doctor did not diagnose the scar on his retina, and the flight surgeon's records of the accident weren't in his military file.

In 1998, the VA acknowledged that the crash caused the scarring and blindness and granted him monthly payments, but only authorized payments retroactive one year to 1997.

Veterans Law Judge J.E. Day wrote in his ruling last week that, according to Fong's testimony and an eye expert's opinion, it "would have been impossible for the retina in his left eye to be traumatized, heal, and then deteriorate again, as the records seem to indicate."

Fong is upset that he's not being paid interest.

"Keeping us waiting this long, they should pay us in today's dollars," Fong said.

Fong said doctors during the war were willing to overlook his blindness in one eye so he could keep flying after his P-47 Thunderbolt crashed in the spring of 1944. Fong had been flying low to strafe locomotives when his plane skimmed a small hill and crashed. Shards of his sunglasses lodged in his left eye.

The Army initially rejected Fong for flight school because of his Chinese ancestry, but he became a pilot and went on to earn two Distinguished Flying Crosses, eight Air Medals, a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

[Last modified September 29, 2005, 01:18:09]

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