Monday, September 27, 2010

Some ex-CIA pilots left without a pension parachute

In the bars and dives of Southeast Asia one can still come across former flyers for Air America, the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine air arm, who never quite made it home after the end of the regional wars in the 1970s.

Many did, of course, and as they approach retirement age some are finding it hard or impossible to get civil service pensions.

Journalist John McBeth published a fascinating story last week about the plight of the former Air America combat pilots.

The pilots were recruited to fly attack missions against the Communist Pathet Lao rebels and the North Vietnamese Army forces in northeastern Laos in the mid 1960s.

To protect the Laotian and U.S. governments, both of which had guaranteed Laos’ neutrality, the pilots were asked to formally resign from Air America.

For four years they flew T-28 bombers out of Thailand with Laotian Air Force markings.

But when one of the pilots, John Wiren, applied for additional civil service retirement benefits based on flying those combat missions for the CIA, he was refused.

Wiren pursued the case to court, but lost because he was deemed to be a soldier of fortune working for the Laotian government.

McBeth writes that many of the dwindling band of Air America veterans and their widows are facing similar denial of pension benefits. This will only add to the CIA’s long record of abandoning its friends.

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