NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. (WFLA) – Bushnell National Cemetery is where Sgt. Teobaldo Rodriguez-Torres finally found peace.

“And I miss him,” his widow Rebecca Rodriguez said. “I just miss him.”

She remains haunted by his flashbacks to what became known as “The Highway of Death” in Kuwait in 1991.

“There were times he’d just start crying to me,” Rodriguez said.

The tears poured from his 30-year-old memories of moving burned bodies of civilians including women and children.

“And what he would see when he had nightmares was the faces of his family and friends that he had in the Army,” Rodriquez said. “He was tortured. It tortured him. His life was tortured.”

Injections of an opioid addiction treatment drug at Tampa’s James Haley’s Mental Health Clinic helped Rodriguez-Torrez stay off heroin and other drugs, according to his widow. But after about two years of staying clean, Rodriquez-Torrez overdosed in the couple’s car in a Tampa parking lot.

“Inside his brain, I think it was torture for him to keep reliving these things and staying in the past,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriquez-Torres, who served in the 82nd Airborne for 13 years starting in 1978, had filed a claim with the VA, stating he was 100 percent disabled due to PTSD and other health issues. He was approved at 30 percent, according to his widow.

Three months after he died, the VA closed his claim and stated in one document, “service connection for cause of death is denied.”

Rodriguez has since filed an appeal that appears stalled.

“I haven’t heard from then since June,” she said.

VA Public Affairs Officer Randal Noller said a widow can file a claim for accrued benefits, but he did not offer details about Rodriguez’s case.

“We are sorry to hear about the passing of the widow’s spouse and we wish to express our condolences,” Noller said. “We are committed to assisting families with obtaining the information and resources they need during these difficult times.”

Noller said a widow could receive their spouse’s accrued benefits if approved by the VA but Rodriguez said her appeal is not about the money.

“It’s not so much about the dollars as it is about the honor,” Rodriguez said. “He served his country and what happened to him should be recognized. We worked really hard to try to get him in a better place.”

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