THONOTOSASSA, Fla. (WFLA) – The V.A. told a Thonotosassa veteran that he wasn’t entitled to Agent Orange medical and disability benefits, so he assumed he wasn’t.
Then, 77-year-old Bill Smith’s family caught a Target 8 report and they knew he might be working with some bad information.
Bill Smith was a 29-year-old Staff Sgt. when the Air Force, in 1967, shipped him to U-Tapao Air Force base in Thailand.
“I was off loading five hundred pounders and seven hundred fifty pound bombs and all their components,” said Smith.
He assembled bombs that rained down on Vietnam.
“There are seven parts to a bomb,” he recalled.
His job kept him on or near the perimeter of the base, 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week.
In February, doctors diagnosed Smith with cancer of the larynx.
“Right now, I’m in the process of radiation treatments,” he explained. “I have seven more to go.”
Until recently, Smith didn’t know cancer of the larynx is a disease presumably caused by exposure to the toxic defoliant Agent Orange.
The military sprayed it along the perimeters of Thai bases.
According to Smith, a few years ago, he asked the V.A. about possible Agent Orange exposure.
“They just said, ‘you didn’t qualify, because you weren’t in Vietnam,'” he said.
But in February, that changed. He heard something different.
“On Channel 8 News. 8 On Your Side. My son heard it and he told me about it and that’s when I contacted you,” he explained.
In February, we told you about another veteran and his struggle with the V.A.
Like Smith, Richard Mattmann worked on or near the perimeter of U-Tapao during the war. He loaded bombs onto B-52’s.
Like Smith, Richard Mattmann of Spring Hill suffers from cancer.
According to the V.A.’s web page, veterans who served on or near the perimeters of military bases in Thailand during the Vietnam era are eligible for Agent Orange coverage.
Denied those benefits, Mattmann provided the V.A. meticulous documentation of where he worked on the base and its proximity to the perimeter. His appeal was lost in a V.A. system that is broken.
“Delay, deny until they die,” Mattmann said.
Following our report, the V.A. approved Mattmann’s appeal.
Smith, who spent 20 years nine months and three days in the Air Force, recently filed a claim with the V.A. based on his illness. He received assistance from Hillsborough County Veterans Services. They helped him with his claim.
“I just take it one day at a time,” Smith added.
He hopes he’s assembled a case from which the V.A. will provide him the benefits he has earned.
Target 8 forwarded Smith’s new claim to the V.A. via email.
“I’ll send this information over to our processors for review and addition to Mr. Smith’s electronic record, if needed,” responded Bruce Clisby, Management Analyst at the St. Petersburg VA Regional Office.
If you have something that you think should be investigated contact our Target 8 Helpline at 1 800 338-0808 or email Steve Andrews at email@example.com.
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