Vet fights for benefits after being diagnosed with throat cancer


James Laudermilk has been a magician much longer than a veteran.

"When I was younger, 13, I was mowing lawns and stuff and I said, 'man there's got to be an easier way to make money.' And I saw a magician and said, 'Ok I'm going to start doing that.'"

But he knows magic can’t fix his issues with the VA.

"My commander, he noticed a lump in my throat," Laudermilk said,

Laudermilk served 19 years in the Army and Army Reserves.

"In 2006 I went over to Iraq and we did a lot of humanitarian missions."

In 2015 he was diagnosed with throat cancer. Documents show that doctors believe the cancer is from exposure to chemical pits in Iraq. But the VA won't give him benefits.

"They just started denying me every time. I don't know. I lost count how many times," he said.

After his active duty, Laudermilk went to Afghanistan and then again to Iraq as a contractor for a private company. The VA says that’s when he developed cancer.

But Laudermilk has documents that prove doctors, nurses and even his military commander noticed a lump in his throat before his private trips back to the Middle East. Now, his medical bills are piling up.

"After about 10 to 15 minutes I can hardly talk and then my neck starts to hurt. It constantly hurts me all day. The only time I get relief is if I'm laying down," Laudermilk said.

Still, Laudermilk works full time. He even does some contracting work for the VA, which gets him no special treatment.

"They wonder why there are 20 suicides a day," he said. "I can understand why. When it gets that hard, you give up hope, you really do."

But the tech junkie keeps his spirits up by creating a virtual reality game that he plans to enter into a competition. It's based on magic.

A spokesperson for the VA told CBS46 that they didn't receive those documents about a lump in Laudermilk's throat before his private trips back to the Middle East until June of this year. They say the VA's Board of Appeals will consider those documents before making a final decision.

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