Navy veteran files suit against VA

Jackson calls honorable discharge without disability benefits ‘unjust’

<p class="p1">A lawsuit filed in federal court Thursday claims that the director of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs regional office in New Orleans denied a local veteran disability benefits upon retirement despite two Navy medical boards stating the severity of his condition.</p><p class="p1">For more than a decade, George Jackson, 76, has been unable to walk and has limited mobility in his hands. He severed two vertebrae in his spine on Veterans Day in 2004 while trying to hang an American flag outside his Gieffers Street home. Follow-up surgery didn’t improve his condition. </p><p class="p1">“I guess my back just gave out,” he said.</p><p class="p1">The lawsuit is seeking $50,000 in monetary damages and $100,000 in punitive damages against Mark Bologna, director of the VA regional office in New Orleans.</p><p class="p1">Jackson served in the Navy for 30 years, including two tours in Vietnam, which caused major damage to his spinal cord. Despite two Navy medical boards finding major degenerative problems with his back and spinal cord in 1992 and 1993, the VA honorably discharged him in 1993 without any disability benefits. Jackson called the move “unjust.”</p><p class="p1">“I served 30 years willingly and was willing to put my life on the line at any given time,” he said. “I’ve paid my dues.”</p><p class="p1">After leaving the Navy in 1993, Jackson worked more than 12 years as a deputy for the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office.</p><p class="p1">Jackson’s wife, Helene, has been his primary caretaker since the 2004 injury. She said the VA awarded Jackson 10 percent service-connected disability benefits, which comes out to $136 per month. The first check was received earlier this month. </p><p class="p1">“He can’t walk or sit up,” his wife said. “It’s not about the money; it’s the principle. If we’re going through this, what do you think other vets are going through?”</p><p class="p1">Helene said a local veteran told her to meet with Paul Labbe, a registered agent for the Louisiana Veterans Advocacy Group. Labbe — who has filed lawsuits on behalf of other disabled veterans — said Jackson’s case was unique.</p><p class="p1">“I have never seen a medical board where a veteran was not immediately given his physical disability once the board decided that,” he said.</p><p class="p1">The lawsuit, Labbe said, is “not a claim for veterans benefits.” He said Bologna violated Jackson’s “statutory and constitutional rights” as far as the percentage of compensation he should receive for his disability.</p><p class="p1">Labbe said Bologna was notified by mail in February of the situation. He said the VA has a habit of not notifying veterans of their ability to collect medical benefits.</p><p class="p1">Helene said she had to pay the cost of adding another room to their house to care for her husband, along with a $56,000 wheelchair van. She said she was forced to retire early from her job as a custodian because it was too hard to care for him and work at the same time.</p><p class="p1">The VA is paying for 14 hours of weekly home care for Jackson, Helene said. She said they also paid for medical equipment and the wheelchair lift in the van.</p><p class="p1">Despite his physical condition, Jackson said he “doesn’t regret being in the Navy.” He said it was his childhood dream.</p><p class="p1">“That’s the only thing I really wanted to do; I always wanted to be a sailor,” he said.</p><p class="p1">Their daughter, Jocelyn, enlisted in the Army in 2006 and left the service last year.</p><p class="p1">The goal of the lawsuit, Jackson said, is to hold the VA accountable and possibly help other disabled veterans who are being denied disability benefits.</p><p class="p1">“I’m sure I’m not the only one they’re doing this to,” he said. “They need some accountability; right now they don’t have any.”</p>

<p class="p1"><strong>‘I served 30 years willingly and was willing to put my life on the line at any given time. I’ve paid my dues.’</strong>

<p class="p3"><strong>George Jackson</strong>

<p class="p4">Navy veteran

<p class="p1"><strong>‘He can’t walk or sit up. It’s not about the money; it’s the principle. If we’re going through this, what do you think other vets are going through?’</strong>

<p class="p3"><strong>Helene Jackson</strong>

<p class="p4">Wife of 76-year-old Navy veteran, George Jackson

””<p class="p1">George Jackson, who served in the Navy for 30 years, has been unable to walk for more than a decade and has limited mobility in his hands after he severed two vertebrae in his spine in 2004. He has filed a lawsuit claiming the director of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs regional office in New Orleans has denied him disability benefits upon retirement.</p>John GuidrozCalcasieu Parish Government and Cameron Parish Reporter
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