PASCO COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – For nearly two decades, Christine Cooley took care of her wounded veteran son, but now she’s at risk of losing their specially built home following his passing.
Josh Cooley first served as a Pasco County Sheriff’s Deputy, earning his way onto the department SWAT team as a sniper.
His brother, Chris Cooley, said Josh wanted to be a cop since he was a kid.
“Josh … he just wanted to protect and serve, and that’s just who he was,” Cooley said.
Then, 9/11 happened, and Josh joined the U.S. Marine Corps.
“He was a strapping man, and he just had a command presence about him,” Cooley recalled of his brother.
But on July 5, 2005, tragedy struck. As Josh was on patrol in Iraq, an explosion happened next to his vehicle. His body was severely burned, and a piece of shrapnel tore through his brain.
“The doctors told my mother that, that was it. He wasn’t going to make it,” Cooley said.
His mother flew to a U.S. Military hospital in Germany to be by her son’s side. The doctors told her if Josh did live, he would likely never walk or talk again. The shrapnel had removed the frontal lobes of his brain.
At his side in the hospital, somehow, Josh reached up and grabbed his mother’s arm to let her know he was aware she was there.
She asked him to hold up one finger for yes – two fingers for no. He indicated he knew who she was and why she was there.
The recovery was not easy. Josh’s mother had to fight for her son’s health care. She refused to put him in an assisted living facility.
A special home was built for Josh. His mother worked with him every day, and he somehow managed to learn to walk again and talk again.
“There’s a lot of Veterans out there who know how bureaucratic the VA system is, and my mother would not accept the word ‘no’ when it came to Josh’s care,” Cooley said.
At Josh’s home are photos of him serving as a Marine. There are also photos on the wall of him after the injury, standing next to country music star Toby Keith.
The music legend invited Josh on stage for a concert not long after his injury. Josh could only get on the stage in a wheelchair.
As he fought through his recovery, Toby Keith kept inviting Josh back for concerts when he was in town. Eventually, Josh didn’t need the wheelchair, and he walked up to Keith. Josh’s family says they saw Keith shed a tear at the sight.
This week, after a long battle, Josh passed away. Tuesday, an escort of law enforcement officers led his casket to a funeral home in Clearwater.
Now, there is a new problem. Josh’s family and friends are worried his mother will not be able to stay in the home where she helped Josh every day for the past 18 years.
“She’s in big trouble because the house was built for him at no cost. He doesn’t pay taxes as a critically wounded veteran,” said Beverly Young, the wife of former Congressman Bill Young. Together they fought for Josh and his mother to get their benefits.
Young said now that Josh has died, his mother will no longer receive his benefits.
“They lived off of his benefits, and now that he has passed, his benefits have ceased, and she’s living in the house that she took care of her son in, and she has absolutely no income whatsoever,” said Young.
Without an income, it’s unlikely she will be able to pay the taxes on the home, or its water, electricity and homeowners insurance.
“She doesn’t get any military benefits because she’s a mother and he was medically retired, and so there are no benefits available to her, other than some burial benefits,” said Young.
Right now, there is no plan in place to help her.