Air America veterans continue to battle government

Cached:  http://www.abcactionnews.com/dpp/news/local_news/investigations/Air-America-veterans-continue-to-battle-government

 

TAMPA – More than 30 years after the end of the Vietnam War, a group of veterans are still fighting. But this battle is against their own government.

In some ways, Jack Knotts is like many seniors struggling to make ends meet while living on a fixed income in an awful economy. “I’m on the ragged edge of taking care of things financially,” says Knotts.

But Knotts and his friends, Charlie Weitz and Jim Hyder, are not your ordinary senior citizens. They were unsung and deliberately unrecognized heroes of the Vietnam War. “They gave us a nice welcome, and they said if you got shot down, killed, or captured, we don’t know you,” says Weitz.

When President Obama recently bestowed the Medal of Honor on an Air Force Master Sgt. killed in 1968 while rescuing fellow airmen from a secret mountain top base in Laos, he said “Even though it’s been 42-years, it’s never too late to do the right thing.”

He failed to mention pilots like Sarasota’s Charlie Weitz that flew the airmen to safety.

Weitz told us he rescued nearly a dozen servicemen “11 shot down over Laos,” he says.”At the time, technically we weren’t in Laos. Technically we weren’t.”

Wetiz and his comrades worked for Air America, an airline owned by the CIA with a thinly veiled cover story as an operation delivering rice and humanitarian aid. In reality, Air America’s aircraft delivered ammunition and supported the U.S.’s covert operations.

Many of Air America’s pilots and mechanics like Charlie Weitz left military careers to join the airline. But unlike their friends who stayed in the service, or their colleagues who worked for the CIA, Air America’s veterans don’t get a dime when it comes to a pension.

Weitz says agency workers got a pension, but the employees of the airline — owned by the CIA — did not.

And now these Air American vets are getting up there in years.

Jack Knotts spent 15-years in the military before joining Air America where he flew helicopters in Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand.

“Our understanding is, it would couple with military time and that would put me over 22 years,” Knotts says.

But he doesn’t get any money. Today, Knotts lives with his wife in a Tampa apartment.  He is disabled after breaking his back while flying for the State Department.

Like many seniors, health-related costs are expensive. “It’s getting to the point in the last six months — talking about the cost of medicines — I am faced with having to make two or three decisions about not renewing a prescription,” he says.

“He’s got zero and that’s a shame,” says Knotts Air America comrade Jim Hyder.

Hyder is leading the push to get retirement benefits, just a couple hundred dollars a month, for his comrades around the country, perhaps 1,000 vets. But Hyder says every time he and others have approached Congress, the response has been the same.

“People forget. It was a long time ago. Give it a break. They don’t seem interested,” says Hyder.

Congress has asked the Director of National Intelligence to “study” the request from Air America Vets and report back in 180 days. That was a year ago.

And Congressmen like Gus Bilirakis are getting impatient.

“I understand there’s a study going on but you know how these studies can go and some of these people are elderly and some of them really need the money so we have to push that study along,” Bilirakis says.

We contacted The Office of the Director of National Intelligence which told us, “This process involves the review of thousands of documents going back several decades. We are making steady progress.”

But Vets like John Knotts are running out of time and money. Like others, he didn’t join Air America for the pension plan. He says he joined because it was a worthy cause.

“I think we were all patriots. We were doing Uncle Sam’s business and we were happy to do it,” Knotts says.

Knotts just wishes 30 years later his government would see him as a worthy cause too.

Just today, representatives from the Air America Association met with the Director of National Intelligence to make their case for retirement benefits.

ABC Action News will continue to follow those efforts.

Copyright 2010 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

TAMPA – More than 30 years after the end of the Vietnam War, a group of veterans are still fighting. But this battle is against their own government.

In some ways, Jack Knotts is like many seniors struggling to make ends meet while living on a fixed income in an awful economy. “I’m on the ragged edge of taking care of things financially,” says Knotts.

But Knotts and his friends, Charlie Weitz and Jim Hyder, are not your ordinary senior citizens. They were unsung and deliberately unrecognized heroes of the Vietnam War. “They gave us a nice welcome, and they said if you got shot down, killed, or captured, we don’t know you,” says Weitz.

When President Obama recently bestowed the Medal of Honor on an Air Force Master Sgt. killed in 1968 while rescuing fellow airmen from a secret mountain top base in Laos, he said “Even though it’s been 42-years, it’s never too late to do the right thing.”

He failed to mention pilots like Sarasota’s Charlie Weitz that flew the airmen to safety.

Weitz told us he rescued nearly a dozen servicemen “11 shot down over Laos,” he says.”At the time, technically we weren’t in Laos. Technically we weren’t.”

Wetiz and his comrades worked for Air America, an airline owned by the CIA with a thinly veiled cover story as an operation delivering rice and humanitarian aid. In reality, Air America’s aircraft delivered ammunition and supported the U.S.’s covert operations.

Many of Air America’s pilots and mechanics like Charlie Weitz left military careers to join the airline. But unlike their friends who stayed in the service, or their colleagues who worked for the CIA, Air America’s veterans don’t get a dime when it comes to a pension.

Weitz says agency workers got a pension, but the employees of the airline — owned by the CIA — did not.

And now these Air American vets are getting up there in years.

Jack Knotts spent 15-years in the military before joining Air America where he flew helicopters in Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand.

“Our understanding is, it would couple with military time and that would put me over 22 years,” Knotts says.

But he doesn’t get any money. Today, Knotts lives with his wife in a Tampa apartment.  He is disabled after breaking his back while flying for the State Department.

Like many seniors, health-related costs are expensive. “It’s getting to the point in the last six months — talking about the cost of medicines — I am faced with having to make two or three decisions about not renewing a prescription,” he says.

“He’s got zero and that’s a shame,” says Knotts Air America comrade Jim Hyder.

Hyder is leading the push to get retirement benefits, just a couple hundred dollars a month, for his comrades around the country, perhaps 1,000 vets. But Hyder says every time he and others have approached Congress, the response has been the same.

“People forget. It was a long time ago. Give it a break. They don’t seem interested,” says Hyder.

Congress has asked the Director of National Intelligence to “study” the request from Air America Vets and report back in 180 days. That was a year ago.

And Congressmen like Gus Bilirakis are getting impatient.

“I understand there’s a study going on but you know how these studies can go and some of these people are elderly and some of them really need the money so we have to push that study along,” Bilirakis says.

We contacted The Office of the Director of National Intelligence which told us, “This process involves the review of thousands of documents going back several decades. We are making steady progress.”

But Vets like John Knotts are running out of time and money. Like others, he didn’t join Air America for the pension plan. He says he joined because it was a worthy cause.

“I think we were all patriots. We were doing Uncle Sam’s business and we were happy to do it,” Knotts says.

Knotts just wishes 30 years later his government would see him as a worthy cause too.

Just today, representatives from the Air America Association met with the Director of National Intelligence to make their case for retirement benefits.

ABC Action News will continue to follow those efforts.

Copyright 2010 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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