March 2, 2005 2:00 AM

World War II pilot battles 5 decades for plane-crash compensation

During World War II, commanders gave fighter pilot Frank Fong some of the Army Air Corps highest honors for heroism and skill: two Distinguished Flying Crosses and eight Air Medals. But it took 48 years for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to concede that a plane crash scarred his left eye and eventually took his sight. It took two more years for the VA to agree that Fong is seriously disabled by nightmares and flashbacks of violent air combat missions. And nearly three years to fully compensate him for his blind eye and for a back injury from the plane crash, VA records show. Fongs battle with the VA isnt over. Hes still seeking back pay for the years 1950-1997, when the VA refused to acknowledge his blindness. The highly decorated veterans 54-year ordeal illustrates how technicalities in the VAs disability compensation system shortchange those who lack well-trained advocates and the persistence to keep fighting for years.

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