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Plagued by diseases, aging fliers find VA unwilling to help

They didn’t drop Agent Orange, but they flew those contaminated planes on hundreds of domestic missions.

WASHINGTON — For more than a decade, Richard Matte has suffered through a series of grave illnesses. The 70-year-old from Chicopee has a transplanted heart. He’s been treated for bladder cancer, lung cancer, and nerve disorders.

But it wasn’t until 2011 that the retired master sergeant learned he and fellow veterans of the Air Force Reserve’s 731st Tactical Airlift Squadron in Westover might have been exposed to traces of Agent Orange. Matte quickly looked up ailments designated by the Department of Veterans Affairs as linked to contact with the deadly herbicide.

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