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.
“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.
In December 2010, a bomb blast ended his Army deployment to Afghanistan. He lost both legs above the knee and half of his left hand. Heather, then his fiancée, joined him at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the VA suggested she apply for their new caregiver program.
The program was set up to support family members of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. They’re mostly wives and mothers who receive a VA stipend to provide home health care that would otherwise cost the VA millions of dollars.
When it started in 2011, vets signed up in huge numbers, quickly overwhelming the VA staff assigned to the program.
In recent years many VAs have drastically cut theirrolls — often with little explanation to the caregivers.
The cuts come at a time the program is supposed to be growing. Congress approved a major expansion of the program in May, though implementation could take years.
Congressional sources confirmed that the VA has missed its first deadline in October to implement new information technology for the caregiver expansion — raising serious concerns of further delay. VA says the department will not deploy the new system until it is ready and has been tested thoroughly.
But VA also recently blew through a deadline to fix the IT for a new GI bill rule, and did so without initially telling Congress about the delay.
Chris and Heather Kurtz had been getting the highest level of support — Tier 3. That meant a stipend, health care for Heather and quarterly visits from a nurse. But earlier this year, Heather Kurtz was told her standing in the program was being evaluated. And without anyone from the VA even coming to see them, the Kurtzes got dropped in July.
Not reduced to a lower tier, but simply told that Chris no longer needs any help from Heather.
Photos: Erica Brechtelsbauer for NPR