News and Observer
November 23, 2016
THE APPELLANT RECOUNTED EXCHANGING GUNFIRE WITH THE ENEMY AND THE WOUNDING AND KILLING OF MEMBERS OF HIS UNIT . . . THE APPELLANT ALSO STATED THAT DURING THE AMBUSH HE ‘PRAYED FOR HIS LIFE.’The Gulfport, Mississippi, resident couldn’t escape them. Shards of what happened in South Vietnam in 1966 burst inside the 78-year-old Army veteran, shredding his peace of mind, he says.
U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims Judge Mary J. Schoelen
For years, though, Department of Veterans Affairs examiners repeatedly denied Sosa’s claim of suffering from service-connected post-traumatic stress disorder. Inadequate evidence, one examiner said. Too vague, said another. Unsupported by “objective test results,” ruled a third.
Now, a specialized federal court for veterans has given Sosa another fighting chance to obtain the diagnosis he’s been seeking. If he succeeds this time, his VA benefits will increase, as will, perhaps, this terminally ill man’s belief in the system that so far has frustrated him.
“I am sorely disappointed in the VA,” Sosa said in a telephone interview. “They didn’t do nothing for me.”
Time, for Sosa, is getting short.
The retired commercial artist has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He says doctors have given him just several months to live.
At one point, thinking about a potential increase in VA benefits, he imagined taking a vacation with his wife, Sheryl. Now, having given up morphine because of the hallucinations, he ranks his pain at 8 on a 10-scale, and future planning is stripped to the bone.
“My main concern: not to leave my wife in (bad) financial circumstances,” Sosa said.
Sosa started seeking post-traumatic-stress disability compensation benefits more than a dozen years ago, launching a prolonged process that has since carried him through myriad medical exams, administrative hearings and court proceedings.
“The court notes that (Sosa’s) claim has been pending since 2004 and has been remanded by the board three times for additional development,” Schoelen wrote, adding pointedly that she “regrets that this claim must be remanded to the board but expects that the secretary (of veterans affairs) will handle this claim in an expeditious manner.”
Judge Schoelen, in her 12-page ruling, called that assessment inadequate, in part because it failed to properly consider Sosa’s own account of what he’d experienced. Her decision bounces Sosa’s application back to the Board of Veterans Appeals, where a new review will have to race against Sosa’s decline.
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