A few months ago, Sam and I applied for the VA Caregiver Program. This is a nationwide program. This is not just a quick application, this is a massive undertaking to fill out all the paperwork and go through the interview process.
A couple of things take place with the veteran. First and foremost, the veteran’s medical records, treatment providers, and eligibility are looked at. I was told this was typically a team of social workers (and nurses, who were not present during our eligibility criteria review).
In a phone interview (after weeks of Sam having his), I was supposed to tell a complete stranger, the support coordinator, about our lives. In about 30 minutes. There was no way to cover everything, and with a few of her “guiding” questions, I tried to answer as honestly and best as possible. Nothing like being put on the spot and being asked things like “is the veteran harming himself?” “Does the veteran display outbursts of anger or refuse to participate in family activities?” “Will the veteran isolate?”
The entire time she said “veteran,” I replaced that with Sam in my mind, and in my answers. I get that this is probably scripted on her end, and something she does multiple times a day, but my husband has a name.
I feverishly wrote on post-it notes, answers, some questions or key words that I could remember to tell Sam about this phone call. She basically wanted to know how I care for Sam and “what’s exactly wrong” (which seemed awkward for me to hear/her say), but I answered. She wanted to know about his medications, his safety, panic attacks, family life, Memphis (which she didn’t know his name either), and Sam’s overall mental health.
After our phone call, we were told a committee, the eligibility committee would review our case.
A month later we got a denial letter.
Sam does not meet the criteria for a caregiver, and I do not qualify as a caregiver.
We also got a phone call. In short, “While Sam struggles with PTSD including anxiety, he functions well because he maintains full-time employment and he can manage his own health care.”
Guess she forgot that his job produces anxiety, panic attacks, high stress, and triggers.
Maybe she didn’t hear me when I said that we use a calendar, our phones, Alexa, and my constant reminders to take medication every.single.day. We also have a secondary caregiver in Caden who will remind Sam as well.
There have been no safety incidents, and he does not require daily assistance.
So, I guess that’s what a cane is for? And when he is so down in his back or so stressed, I should just let him be…
Nope. Sorry, VA. I don’t buy that bull for one hot minute.
I was told I could use a hotline if I needed support.
I have my own support. I don’t really want to rely on a hotline that someone may or may not answer when called.
I belong to a caregiver group online and get more support there and through the Elizabeth Dole Foundation than I have from the VA.
Sam still gets support from me, reminders on medication, phone calls, and text messages when work is triggering, hugs, reminders that he’s in the present, and other caregiver duties even if we are not eligible in the eyes of the VA.
For other caregivers who need assistance, who need support, I hope you can get it. Reach out. Ask the hard questions. Questions that need to be answered. For example, a recommendation for Sam was a pill planner. Guess what. We’ve got that. A pillbox where every pill is placed in for the day of the week is already in place.
Another suggestion: a mental health treatment program (which is also in place).
My hope is that there are actual care and respite for those who need it: a caregiver program that looks at all angles. Just because Sam is not violent doesn’t mean we don’t care for him. Just because Sam doesn’t self-harm, doesn’t mean I worry about him any less.
The action of declaring something untrue.
Invisible wounds are not untrue.
The refusal of something requested.
Assistance for veterans and their caregivers is real, and people need it, they request help/assistance.
Keep fighting, we know that this “denial letter” is just that, a letter. We don’t qualify. We are okay with that. We are still fighting PTSD, and still working through all of these hiccups (memory loss, anxiety, sleepless nights, nightmares, etc.) together as a team.
Work together. Keep your chin up. We are.