A painful wait: Thousands of Phoenix area veterans waiting for benefits amid nationwide backlog

Published by Justin Lum


PHOENIX - Hundreds of thousands of veterans who served our country are still waiting for benefits due to a massive claims backlog – some have been waiting years.


The U.S. Census Bureau says there are nearly 500,000 veterans in Arizona, and records in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) database show more than 7,000 claims pending in the Phoenix area.


There's a backlog of cases that continues to grow older.


‘We served our country’


U.S. Army veteran, Michael Cooksey, says he's been fighting for disability benefits for at least two decades. He's angry.


To put it simply, he's tired of living in pain.


"This is the claim I’m fighting right now," he said, referring to what seems like a never-ending, uphill battle for the veteran who served his country from 1986-1997.


Life is so much different now as the 54-year-old continues to add to a large stack of medical records.


"We served in the military. We served our country, and in the process, we either got injured or something happened," he said.


He's fighting to prove he needs disability benefits from the Department of Veteran Affairs. "Highlighted I had pain. They have it on the paperwork. Chronic pain, right hip," he said.


Cooksey lives with tropical pyomyositis, a disease he claims he contracted in 1993 during a tour in Korea.


The disease is characterized by dead tissue, bacteria, and dead white blood cells within the skeletal muscles. It's primarily a disease reported in tropical regions.


"At the time when this happened, I was recovering from an eye injury and I was on steroids. The steroids suppressed my immune system, which caused the staph to get into my muscles, and it caused the muscles to necrosis, deteriorate, and cause large abscesses. So it's chronic pain," Cooksey said.


'I don't know what it is they're looking for'


He gets a small portion of disability benefits for the damage to his eye. His medications are covered by the VA, but he says he's been denied disability benefits for chronic pain in his right hip caused by his disease since 1998.


His latest denial was in 2013, which he appealed in 2016. It took 5 years to be heard in front of the Board of Veterans' Appeals.


A letter from the board states his appeal has been remanded, meaning further development is needed, specifically an examination for an opinion on his hip.


"Everything's there. I don't know what it is they're looking for. They always say that I need to submit more and more proof. I don't know what else I can submit," Cooksey said....


Read full article on Fox 10 Phoenix.