Removed Rugs for Purple Heart Vet With Lung Cancer Due to Burn Pits

Matthew Whetnall was born in Ohio and lost his father at only 4 years old. Due to difficult circumstances, he was placed in the Ohio foster care system. Matthew’s Aunt and Uncle tried for years to adopt him and once it was safe enough, he was able to live with direct family. At 18 years old Matthew decided to live on his own. He met his now wife at 23 and joined the Army after a few years in 2006. He served active duty for 8 years. 


“I was fortunate to be a part of a unite popularized by the move “Band of Brothers” serving as a Forward Observer for Easy Company, 2nd Platoon 2-506th Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division. I served two Deployments to Afghanistan…it was during my second deployment while on patrol from my outpost, COP Zerok in East Paktika province, that I was struck by a remote detonated IED... “ 


Matthew suffered a traumatic brain injury, a concussion and of course was banged up. This is where Matthew earned his Purple Heart. Also during this deployment, his wife gave birth to their first son, Trevor. Although Matthew missed his birth, he was able to make it home a week later to meet him. 4 months later he finally arrived home from that deployment. 


After this, he received orders to be stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. He finished his active duty their until he decided to transition into the Reserves. That is when he moved with his family to Nevada in order to be both near his wife’s parents and serve a few more years while also transitioning into civilian life and career. During this time they were also blessed with a second son, Liam and spent time with their child and the boys grandparents. 


Everything seemed to be going well… until Matthew started to take note of the after effects of his time overseas. He started to notice his headaches were progressing since his deployments.

“..the anxiety which I sought...counseling for, [my] PTSD and the other symptoms such as hearing loss and joint and back pains [were worsening].” 


In March of 2021, one day after Matt’s 41st birthday, his headaches were so bad he could no longer tolerate the pain or function properly. He went to a local hospital and received a CT and MRI Scans. They found a 4cm mass on his right cerebellum, causing pressure and pain, resulting in the need for an emergency craniotomy and additional scanning which found the source of what was determined as stage 4 metastatic lung cancer with a similar size mass on his left lunch. 


During recovery the hospital staff explained the additional masses still in his brain were considered inoperable. They also confirmed the uniqueness of the lung cancer diagnoses, considering Matthew has never smoked and lived in clean environments with the exception of the time he was in the Middle East. 



Matthew said, “the most likely cause as suggested by my doctors and others is exposure to ‘burn pits’ - a process my unit completed throughout my deployments. Myself and my fellow soldiers disposed of the many wastes, equipment and other refuge items in order to prevent insurgent forces from gaining access to items that could potentially be used against friendly forces. Most causes of lung cancer, patriculary of the variety I am diagnosed with, are not common in individuals under the age of 70 years old and in the health and shape I was in otherwise..” 


Matthew’s story is heartbreaking and significant for many reasons. This diagnosis has now hindered his ability to work, bringing him and his wife from 2 incomes down to one. This summer - Matthew knew he desperately needed the rugs in his home removed from his house. His asthma could not handle having so much carpet in the house, but they had so many other medical expenses and two children, they could not afford this project.  


Even after contacting Veterans Affairs, veterans advocates, members of congress and many others, Matthew was not able to have the rugs in his home removed to alleviate the irritation that was causing him to have trouble breathing and aggregate his asthma. 


This is where Homes for Veterans stepped in. We were able to remove the rugs for Matthew and his family so that he could breathe a little easier. This was a small change to make Matthew more comfortable in his own home while he figures out the next steps for him and his family. 


If you believe the men and women who were exposed to burn pits deserve our help and want to be involved in more projects like this - please visit our donation page.