PLANT CITY, Fla. (WFLA) – Gregory Taylor tried to cut through government red tape for more than a decade but the issue outlived the veteran he was fighting to help.
His stepfather Baldomero Vega, 87, died a matter of weeks after he discussed his long quest to prove his service in the Army in Korea made him eligible for benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Vega gave in to cancer.
“He’d been fighting for all of us, and he finally came to terms,” Taylor said. “He said, ‘I’m tired. I’m ready to go.’ We said it’s okay. We’ll be okay.”
Vega recalled that he was shot in the calf and then suffered a traumatic brain injury when he fell on his head.
After he was denied service-related injury benefits for issues that included Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, he asked for an opinion from a civilian doctor who wrote in a report, “Vega’s PTSD was directly caused by his experience while serving in the U.S. Army.”
But in his last conversation with 8 on Your Side, Vega admitted he had just about given up.
“They are never going to help me. They will never take me into account,” Vega said through a translator. “And if they don’t take me into account? Well, I know I served my homeland.”
8 on Your Side reached out to the VA several times over the past two months.
Public Affairs Officer Gary Kunich said Vega could not provide a “service number,” prompting the denials.
But Vega and Taylor suspected VA paperwork indicated the agency knew he served.
One denial letter stated, “The records reflect you are a veteran of the Korean conflict era.”
“You’re contradicting yourself,” Taylor said, referring to the VA. “They have records.”
But without that service number the denials kept coming.
“Over the last 11, 12 years of trying to do this, you see there are a lot of other people that are going through the same thing,” Taylor said. “These people have earned and deserve their benefits, and they’re being denied.”
Taylor said even with his stepfather’s passing, he will continue to push the VA for answers.