Sajta’s slender 125-pound frame allowed him to fit into tight spaces where most others couldn’t. While assigned to Clark Air Base in the Philippines in April 1967, it was Sajta’s duty to crawl into Air Force bombers to repair fuel bladders that carried Agent Orange, an herbicide used by the military that was later found to contain dioxin, a toxic chemical contaminant known to cause cancer, damage the immune system and disrupt hormones. Sajta worked days in the steamy “ribs” of C-130s, replacing the holders without protective gear in more than 100-degree heat.
“The tanks I worked on ruptured so all the metal frame parts got wet with Agent Orange,” Sajta said. “We had to pull the old bladder out, clean every speck of metal with paper towels. Our uniforms would soak up Agent Orange and you’d be laying in it for hours. The sweat would be unbelievable.”
In October, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims informed Sajta in a letter that his appeal for additional benefits had expired. Emotionally drained, he phoned Paul DuBois, the founder of the Mountains to Miracles Veteran’s Foundation, a non-profit organization in Tribes Hall dedicated to assisting wounded veterans.
DuBois helps veterans navigate the VA benefits system, but also coordinates volunteers and private companies to help veterans find food, housing, even therapy dogs. DuBois said the VA wrongly terminated Sajta’s appeal for disability benefits, and he helped reinstate it. He’s helping Sajta fight for a higher disability rating so he can adapt his home to accommodate his declining physical condition. Sajta stopped working in 1995 after he was hit in the head by a falling piece of ice.
Near the end of a second interview, Sajta broke down in tears when speaking about his service to the country and inability to care for his wife, daughter and granddaughter, all of whom have health problems of their own. He works hard not to get too excited when speaking about his nine-year struggle with the VA because he says it’s bad for his heart.