Ken served in the Air Force for 20 years. After retirement, he had a stroke. Ken’s wife Maria joined us to talk about their struggles to stay together in their home despite Ken’s need for around-the-clock care, and about the VA program that made this possible.
Maria, at the time of the stroke, was Ken signed up for VA health care?
We were in the VA system but he wasn’t seeing them on a regular basis. We thought he had the flu but he wasn’t recovering quite well, so we went to VA. And they said do you know you had a stroke?
Tell us about the period of time when you felt alone, dealing with all this
We thought we had all of our ducks in a row – what we were going to do when we were going to retire. And within a day of him having the stroke, everything changed. Our life turned upside down. Ken went from walking to fully in a wheelchair.
What was a typical day like for you?
I was working full time, and when I was at work, I’d worry. Is he okay? Was he able to eat? Did he fall? And sometimes he wasn’t okay. Sometimes he had a fall, and he was waiting for me to come home. He didn’t want to call. When people told us, you know, you need to start thinking about putting him in a nursing home, we just weren’t ready for that. We were ready to lose our house just for me to be able to stay at home and to stay together.
And then Mara, his VA primary care nurse, said, “Hey, there’s this program.” They were the ones who told us about the Veteran’s Directed Home and Community Based Care program. We were just like, are you kidding us? There’s really a program like this? And they said, we’re just starting it up. We’d like to sign you up. We think you’re a good fit. We think it would make a change. And it did.
What is Veterans Directed Home and Community Based Care?
The Veterans Directed Home and Community Based program aims at making the Veteran more independent with his choices. And this gives us funds, where he can pay me as his employee.
How did that change your situation?
It made a great change. It was like someone switching a switch. And we went from just surviving. We were on fumes, I mean burning the candle at both ends for so many years, trying to stay together. And when we got in the program and they made it so very easy for us.
I was able to stay at home. And he was able to have his wife back. And I was able to have my husband back. We’re able to dream again. We have plans. Ken is writing his own book about his experience with Parkinson’s Disease and he is painting.
We never thought that this was possible again. We thought that part of our life was over, that it was going to be just a trip to the end. It’s like there was a ship that sunk. And we were thrown a lifesaver. And we would like other Veterans to be able to get their lifesaver, too.
Apply for VA Health Care
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Bronwyn Emmet is a public affairs specialist for the National Veterans Outreach Office.