The Veterans Administration has been plagued with controversy in recent years for long wait times and inadequate healthcare.
In order to speed up wait times and increase accessibility to medical professionals, the VA launched the “CHOICE” program, but that too has had its fair share of issues recently.
Now, News 5 Investigates takes you inside a new initiative called the Veteran in Charge program, or “VIC”.
It doesn’t replace current VA benefits, but rather supplements them. The program allows veterans to get caregiver support, meal deliveries and even medical accessibility equipment for free.
“Our goal is to really keep veterans in their homes and in their community,” Marsha Unruh with The Independence Center said.
Pictured above: Marsha Unruh, The Independence Center
Unruh oversees the VIC program which helps disabled veterans live as independently as possible.
“Veterans want to live in their home and community, they want to be independent and they want to stay in their home until they die,” Unruh said.
Unfortunately, many veterans who can’t get the care they need end up in nursing homes. Unruh says that’s not the best option. She points to the fact that it costs a lot more to put a veteran in a nursing home than providing at-home assistance.
“If you look at it from a budgetary standpoint, we can serve 3 veterans in the VIC program compared to 1 in a nursing home,” Unruh said.
Bart Longrie and Marilyn Mathis believe the VA is trying to improve healthcare, but say it’s a slow process.
Pictured above: Bart Longrie
“The VA tries to help as much as they possibly can but their schedule and workload has impaired me,” Longrie said. “I can’t call them everyday and say I got to come down and see you.”
Mathis agrees. Although she says the VA does call to check in, that’s not enough.
Both have since turned to The Independence Center in Colorado Springs for help and enrolled in the VIC program.
One of the benefits—equipment to help with mobility.
Longrie was able to get a special lift chair to help him live independently at home. The program also funded a stair glider chair for Mathis.
Stair glider photo courtesy: Cain’s Mobility
“Veterans do not have to pay anything for this,’ Unruh said. “The VA determines eligibility.”
If you’re a veteran in the Pikes Peak region and already receive VA benefits, all you have to do is apply for the VIC initiative.
In addition to providing equipment, the program also allows veterans to choose their own caregivers.
“Caregivers can be their spouses,” Unruh said. “They can be children, neighbors or relatives and typically they are already taking care of that veteran and are not being paid. Here, the veteran can decide if they want to hire their wife, son or daughter to help out with this and get a paycheck.”
Mathis has already taken advantage of this opportunity.
Pictured above: Marilyn Mathis
“The first person that came to my mind was my daughter,” she said. “She was in Florida and what better way for her to be out here with me and to help me at the same time.”
Mathis says prior to enrolling in the VIC program, she had random healthcare workers attend to her needs. However, she still didn’t have a lot of freedom.
“I couldn’t go for a ride in the car with them,” Mathis said. “They couldn’t take me shopping. They had to go do it for me so I was cooped up at home. With my daughter here, she takes me grocery shopping and to my doctors appointments. It has given me some confidence in myself to where I can go out and do things that I probably wouldn’t do on my own or without any help from anybody.”
Mathis says the VIC program has given her a new lease on life at a time when she felt depressed and hopeless.
“I wouldn’t be here (if it weren’t for this program),” Mathis said. “I would’ve just sat in my chair and went ‘poof’ because my self esteem started falling and I didn’t care. Life didn’t matter to me but they (The Independence Center) stepped in and they knocked some sense into me. They did—they knocked some sense into me.”
Caregiver support and accessibility equipment are just two perks the program highlights. The VIC initiative also provides financial support and assistance with transportation, adult day care and better access to medical professionals.
“I can get on the phone and tell them I’m not feeling well,” Longrie said. “They give me a contact (information). The VA does try their best but they are not always there to help when you need someone.
So far, only about 100 veterans have taken advantage of the program through The Independence Center.
Mathis and Longrie want other veterans to know that there is help available if they need it.
“All I can say is I’m blessed and I plan on passing it on and blessing someone else,” Mathis said.
To learn more about the VIC program, click here or call 719-471-8181.
“Not every county in Colorado has this service,” Unruh explained. “Not every state offers this service yet.”
The Independence Center is the only agency administering the VIC program for El Paso, Park, Teller and Elbert Counties.
About The Independence Center
The Independence Center (The IC) is a local nonprofit organization that provides traditional and self-directed home health care, independent living, Veterans’, and advocacy services for people with disabilities. These services range from providing peer support, skills classes, and employment assistance to individual and systems advocacy. In addition, The IC runs a Certified Nurse Aide training program to equip the area with qualified CNAs. The IC’s mission is to work with people with disabilities, their families, and the community to create independence so all may thrive.