In the last three months, we have been serving caregivers in increasing numbers from our nation's long ago conflicts. There seems to be so little that we can do, and it is so definitively wrong that the stories don't seem true. We know that the VA testimony is happening on the Hill today, but wonder if leadership is aware of what goes on in the middle and supervisory ranks? There are so many layers at the VA that the bureaucracy cannot get out of its own way so often -- but these are Veterans. They deserve the medical care they have earned, and they are running out of time. Literally.
Example 1: A Vietnam veteran who served in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, was exposed to Agent Orange, and has one of the cancers and another of the conditions deemed Presumptive and service-connected by the VA cannot receive help. VA claims no record of service; his wife sent his dog-tags to prove it. He is in hospice. They have worked with the VA, their county service officers for the last five years, and more recently we connected them to several private foundations that have service officers to help. What does this caregiver spouse do when the typical lengthy wait times for responses mean she may lose her husband before anyone can help?
Example 2: A World War II veteran who fought in the South Pacific has fallen into a terrible situation where the also aging spouse did not know of the VA's responsibility to her husband. So, when their state demanded that she sign away their home, their car, and his life insurance to pay for additional bills after he dies, she saw no other alternative. She also has to pay nearly $1400 per month for a nursing home that should be closed for neglect. She lives on less than $800 per month.
Those of us who work in this space understand the lack of urgency. We even understand the bureaucracy. But how is that those who are paid everyday to help our veterans and alleviate their concerns are not held accountable? Why are there bonuses paid when someone does (or doesn't) do their jobs? Where are the people who care?
We are amazed at the influx of past conflict veterans who enter the VA system only in their later years, mostly because of their distrust upon returning home. The two families above received VA care in the past, albeit minimal (hearing aid batteries, for example), and deserve and have earned VA care at the end of their lives. We have no idea what will transpire out of today's hearings and subsequent investigations, but we do know that if people are uncaring, aren't held accountable, and the system isn't changed from the inside out, these stories will continue to be told, and the shameful treatment of our veterans will continue.
Please say prayers today for our oldest veterans among us going through these immense challenges, and that those whose job it is to help them actually do it. Quickly. Efficiently. And, with care.
The VeteranCaregiver Team