PASCO COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The mother of a critically wounded Tampa Bay area Marine worries her son’s care will end up on the Department of Veterans Affairs chopping block.
The Services for Family Caregivers of Post 9/11 Veterans program actually pays her, as well as other caregivers, to care for their disabled members of the military.
Our investigation found this program is in chaos.
Christine Cooley provides care and therapy for her son 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She has since 2005.
That’s when a roadside bomb in Iraq blasted the assault vehicle Josh was on, sending shrapnel through his head.
“They called me, said they were going to fly me to Landschtul, because I had to escort his body home, he wasn’t going to make it,” recalled Christine Cooley.
The front of Josh’s brain and a portion of his skull were gone. He suffered severe burns from his waist up.
“I was talking to him the whole time. I was there and lifting the towel. I saw how bad it was and everything was gone here,” she said, pointing to the side of her head. “I leaned over to kiss him on the cheek and he grabbed my arm.”
That gave Christine hope. The Marines flew them them back to the states, where doctors braced her.
“He was bad. He was going to die within days. It was bad, the front of the brain was gone. If he did survive, which they doubted, he would never know who I was, walk, talk, he would be vegetative,” explained Ms. Cooley.
She refused to give up hope.
Josh refused to die.
Hospitalized for three months, the 6′ 6″ former sniper with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office endured at least eight surgeries.
His mother by his side, Josh spent two and a half years in rehabilitation.
He underwent a variety of therapies. Incredibly, Josh re-learned to walk and talk.
Three years after suffering these horrendous wounds, Josh finally came home to Brooksville.
Then in 2011, the V.A. rolled out a program providing services and pay to caregivers like Christine.
“It’s a necessity,” she said.
The V.A. recognizes a home environment can be more beneficial for veterans.
It pays caregivers, 92 percent of whom are women, mostly spouses and mothers, up to 40 hours a week.
But, every year the V.A. warns there is no guarantee the program will continue.
“What do you mean there’s no guarantee, he needs a caregiver,” stated Christine.
Lauren Price is one of the 26,100 veterans since 2014 who lost a caregiver.
“It looks like a culling of the herd so to speak,” said Ms.Price, a former member of the Navy, who was embedded with an Army unit.
“In many cases, caregivers are not even given a reason, other than the veteran no longer requires the care,” Lauren added.
Lauren formed an organization called Veteran Warriors, Inc. It is working for V.A. reforms. It surveyed the caregiver community and revealed to Congress that many of the caregiver terminations were arbitrary and unlawful.
“People are very afraid,” she said.
In fact, the survey reflects caregivers feel harassed and intimidated by the V.A.
“They tell them they don’t need it anymore,” said Christine Cooley. “I’m hoping they don’t have the audacity to ever say that. Josh is missing the whole front of his brain.”
The caregiver program is in chaos.
According to Ms. Price, each V.A. region runs the program the way it wants.
For instance in Florida, the V.A. wrote up its own caregiver agreement that actually contradicts how the program is supposed to work. Then it demanded caregivers sign it or face revocation.
“There’s actually nothing in it, other than someone’s name, that complies with the law,” offered Ms. Price.
The caregiver program’s national director even found “the [Florida] document is out of compliance with regulations.”
At a recent round table discussion on Capitol Hill about the caregiver program, Ms. Price said it was revealed that six years into this program and hundreds of millions of dollars later, the V.A. still has no policy manual put together on how to run the caregiver program.
The program is a God send for Christine Cooley. She can get by on the small amount it pays her and provide round the clock care that Josh requires.
But, she’s tired of the V.A. placing dollar signs on her son’s future.
“I have a real hard time with the V.A.,” said Christine Cooley. “With the amount of money they have, and the fact that they have things like interior decorators with six figure salaries and expensive pictures on the wall and beautiful buildings, yeah it’s nice to walk around and see all this stuff, but you don’t have the money to pay a caregiver so my son can live in his home?”
The program that can save taxpayer dollars by keeping disabled veterans in their homes, surrounded by family and friends to nurture healing, is in chaos.
If you have something that you think should be investigated, call our Target 8 Helpline at 1 800 338-0808, or contact Steve Andrews at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below are some resources we gathered to help veterans
- The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten
- The Disabled American Veterans- Bay Pines VAMC (727) 398-9404, DAV Office, Bldg. 22, Rm. 107, P.O. Box 50005, Bay Pines, FL 33744
- James A. Haley VAMC- (813) 972-2000, 13000 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Rm. A240 EXT 6596/97, Tampa, FL 33612
- Orlando Health Care Center- (407) 629-1599, 5201 Raymond St., Bldg. 3126 EXT 1187, Orlando, FL 32803
- American Legion
- Veterans of Foreign Wars– VA Regional Office Room 217 (Mail: P.O. Box 1437) St. Petersburg, FL 33731, 727 319-7483; 1000 Legion Place, Suite 1550 Orlando, FL 32801, (407) 835-5630
- The V.A.- Contact Health Care 877-222-8387, Family Member Program 866-372-1144, Benefits 800-827-1000, TDD (Hearing Impaired) 800-829-4833
- See more at- http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/camp-lejeune/#sthash.yatlLXmt.dpuf
- Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs– 11351 Ulmerton Road, Suite 311-K Largo, FL 33778-1630, (727) 518-3202