“Apparently my legs grew back, I dunno,” he says with a laugh, and sinks into his couch in Clarksville, Tenn. And then he mentions that he probably can’t get out of the couch without help from his wife. – Chris Kurtz is trying to keep his sense of humor. Even after the VA told him last summer that he no longer needs a caregiver.
The Kurtzes are not alone. Just across the border near Bowling Green, Ky., Ashlee and J.D. Williams also got bad news, around Thanksgiving.
J.D., a former Army sniper, lost three limbs in a bomb attack in Kandahar. He’s fiercely independent, and he still finds ways to bow-hunt and target shoot. But he can’t do basic things like put on his prosthetic legs without help from Ashlee.
The Williams were demoted to Tier 1 of the program — but once their story got negative media attention, they were quickly restored to a higher tier. Still, Ashlee Williams says the way the decision was so easily changed makes her nervous.
A VA inspector general report in August found that about half the time, the VA wasn’t adequately monitoring the veteran’s health when it dropped them.
“So many caregivers are having issues,” says Williams, “and there’s no one to look at their case.”
Sherman Gillums — is a paralyzed former Marine who uses the VA in Washington, D.C. His wife is his caregiver.
“I was also told that in order to stay on the program, that I needed to have gotten treatment in the VA within the last year,” he says, “or else I’ll be removed from the program.”
Gillums says he had been to the VA for treatment. He thinks either the administrator who contacted him didn’t seem to have complete access to his health records, or it was something worse.
“You could take that as just informing me of the policy or it seems like a veiled threat — that’s just how I took it,” he says.
“I characterize it this way — beginning a purge,” Gillums says.
Families like Paula and Chris Minger in Temecula, Calif. Chris suffered an abdominal wound in 1973, and complications led the VA to rate him 100 percent disabled. Paula has been taking care of him — without any VA stipend — for over 30 years. He’s in and out of the hospital, and now he’s often bedridden at home.
She’d love some help, so the caregiver expansion was great news.
“I’m thrilled by it — I can’t wait,” Minger says.
She’ll have to wait, though. The timeline isn’t clear for when the expansion will start.
“I’m speechless,” she said upon hearing the one to three year estimate. “Think how many will die before then.”