April 5, 2017
Heard on Morning Edition
Fayetteville cut more than half of its caregivers, dropping 314 families from the rolls between May 2014 and February 2017. And while data from the VA in Washington showed seven staff at Fayetteville were coordinating caregivers (a ratio of 37/1), the Fayetteville VA shows only two staff are doing that job, meaning that each coordinator is actually overseeing more than 125 veterans.
Alishia Graham had been part of a Veterans Affairs program as a caregiver for her husband, Jim. The couple lives in Jacksonville, N.C. Jim's tattoo commemorates his best friend, who was killed in 2006 by the mortar blast that also left Jim with a brain injury. Quil Lawrence /NPRBy the time they cut her from the program, Alishia Graham was angry, but not surprised. Her postman delivered the news in February.
"The letter was sitting at the top — and my stomach dropped because I knew what it was," she says.
The letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs informed Graham that her husband Jim, who sustained a brain injury on his third deployment to Iraq, no longer qualified for a caregiver to help with his daily life.
"It's not even like ... 'We think he doesn't need as much help.' No — 'We think he's totally fine and he doesn't need any help,' " says Graham. "I'm insulted for him. Because I know what he struggles with."
"The program is not cutting back in any way," says Meg Kabat, director of the VA Caregiver Support Program. "We've been able to expand the number of caregiver support coordinators and really continue to monitor that. We also train our staff on a regular basis."
But the VA is infamous for lacking consistency from station to station. And while the program has added 6,300 caregivers since 2014, according to VA data, NPR discovered that 32 out of 140 VA medical centers were cutting their programs during the same period — some drastically.
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