PLANT CITY, Fla. (WFLA) – Baldomero Vega’s fight to prove he served in Korea and came home with a bullet wound and PTSD ended when he died Sunday.
Vega was 87.
His stepson, Greg Taylor, who helped him file his benefit claim, said he died early Sunday afternoon.
“The VA kept [manipulating] everything until they got what they wanted and that was him passing away,” Taylor said in an email. “My stepdad and I really appreciated everything [8 On Your Side tried] doing for us.”
Vega, who was married to Taylor’s mother for 23 years and raised him and his four siblings, went to war a few months after turning 18.
He recalled getting shot in the leg on a Korean battlefield moments before falling backward on his head. Vega said he was in a coma for about two months.
During a recent interview, Vega said he would serve again if he could.
“I love my country,” Vega said. “And yes, I [would] fight for her. If I was able to go back again, I sure will.”
Taylor has been helping him file and refile documents to prove he qualifies for basic medical care from the VA and potentially disability
“He feels like he loved his country, but his country didn’t love him,” Taylor said. “We started this almost 10 years ago and [the VA] said at times they would expedite it, but that was years ago.”
In a VA rating decision, the agency stated the gunshot wound is “Not Service Connected.”
Vega and Taylor claimed the evidence the VA knew he served was contained in a deniel notice that included his exact dates of service.
“I just don’t understand why they would blatantly lie and say that we provided something that we did not provide,” Taylor said. “Don’t those dates given by [the VA] mean they know something about him serving?”
Vega went to a civilian psychiatrist who wrote in an evaluation, “Mr. Vega’s PTSD was directly caused by his experiences while serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.”
It was not enough to move his claim forward.
VA Public Affairs Officer Gary Kunich did not answer a question about the plausibility that a man of Vega’s age would have remembered his precise dates of service.
“As we have relayed before, if Mr. Vega can provide a service number, we can further investigate,” Kunich said in an email.
At the time, Kunich said the case was not closed and that the VA Benefits Administration would investigate further if Vega was able to provide his service number.
Vega said he faced racism during the war and he was suspicious that years of denials were connected to that same “injustice.”
“He 100% believes that because he said he endured it while he was in there. Trying to defend the country and calling you every name you know that you could imagine,” Taylor said. “He feels like it’s why they never helped him before and why they won’t help him now.”