(WFLA) – A Florida Congressman has introduced legislation on Capitol Hill to extend V.A. benefits to tens of thousands of veterans exposed to dangerous herbicides who are routinely denied following a Target 8 Investigation.
Congressman Dennis Ross filed a bill to extend benefits to Vietnam-era veterans exhibiting symptoms of Agent Orange to those who served in certain areas of Thailand, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa and to Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans.
This legislation, known as the Fighting for Orange-Stricken Territories in Eastern Regions (FOSTER) Act, would mean eligible veterans get faster consideration for V.A. benefits if they suffer from diseases linked to Agent Orange.
It would assist veterans like 69-year-old Richard Mattmann of Spring Hill.
Mattmann was 20 years old when the Air Force shipped him to Andersen Air Force base in Guam in 1967. He loaded bombs on B-52’s.
“Twelve hours a day, seven days a week,” Mattmann remembers. His work kept him on or near the perimeter of the base where herbicides were sprayed.
Mattmann now suffers from Ischemic heart disease and multiple myeloma, a painful bone marrow cancer. Both disease are tied to Agent Orange exposure.
He applied for V.A. Agent Orange benefits in 2013. The V.A. rejected his claim in 2014, stating that his job did not require him to be on or near the perimeter of his base. The military also denies using Agent Orange on Guam.
In 2015, he field a Notice of Disagreement, appealing the V.A.’s decision.
Included in his appeal is a letter from a V.A. oncologist. The letter from Dr. Maxim Norkin says, “Considering there is no family history of multiple myeloma, it is at least as likely as not that the veteran’s multiple myeloma was caused by his constant exposure to herbicides during his work duties as a munition loading team member.”
In 2016, then Congressman Richard Nugent informed Mattmann that there were 9,864 appeals ahead of his.
Nearly two years after filing his appeal, Mattmann claims he has not heard a word from the V.A. The appeal is list in a system that is absolutely broken.
“Delay, deny until they die,” he said. “I want to handle this while I am physically able, I don’t want my wife to have to fight this.”
The military contends it did not spray Agent Orange on Guam.
The Foster Act is named after Lakeland veteran Leroy Foster. In January, Target 8 revealed Foster’s claims that he sprayed tens of thousands of gallons of Agent Orange in and around Andersen Air Force base on Guam during a 10 year period.
Target 8 quizzed Congressman Ross about Foster’s story and why the V.A. continues denying benefits to so many veterans suffering from diseases linked to Agent Orange.
“We just need to stay on them, and your efforts, Steve, I mean exposing what has been wrong for so long, needs to be done nationwide,” Ross said. “The American people want to see this resolved. It’s a wrong that should never have happened.”
Richard Mattman turns 70 in two weeks.
“I really didn’t think I would make it,” he said.
He has high praise for the medical treatment he received at the V.A.
“They took care of my heart problem right away and they were very caring about it. And my cancer treatments, those people were just wonderful,” he stated.
But, the benefits side of the V.A. is a far different story.
“I did my duty. I served my country. I volunteered to do it. I did the best I could,” Mattmann explained. “No matter where I turn, I can’t get anybody, except for you, you’ve been wonderful, just listening to us, but nobody even, it’s like they don’t even care.”
Target 8 sent an email to the V.A. on Mattmann’s behalf asking about his appeal. The V.A. responded that it will get someone on it.
If you have a problem that you think should be investigated, call our Target 8 Helpline at 1-800-338-0808.