As VA benefits waver, Charlotte organization steps up for veterans and their families

Life looks different for Heidi Selbee and her family.

“Our life looks much like the life of married couples in their 80s, with our life struggles, appointments and decisions we have to make,” Heidi said.

When she married her husband, Daniel, about nine years ago, Heidi left a job in photography and became his caregiver. Daniel, an army veteran, was diagnosed with seizures and severe PTSD.

“There are times where he can leave the home and there are times where he can’t, he won’t leave, at months at a time,” Heidi said. “So that’s a real struggle for him, us, our daughter. It’s really challenging.”

The Selbees are enrolled in Veterans Affairs’ Caregiver Assistance Program. It provides a stipend, health benefits, as well as resources and training for caregivers.

In 2020, Veterans Affairs revised the program and in late 2021, thousands of families, including the Selbees, were told they no longer qualified.

In all, only 14% of those initially enrolled were allowed to keep their benefits.

On Wednesday, Sarah Verardo, the CEO for the Independence Fund, a Charlotte-based veterans organization, testified in front of a U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.

In the last five months, Verardo said their group has been overwhelmed with pleas from veterans and caregivers fearful of being disenrolled at the start of October.

“You heard the same message. The program is broken. It has been broken for a while,” said Selbee.

Veterans Affairs heard those concerns. They’ve paused both the disenrollment and benefits reduction and are promising to fix the program.

The Selbees are relieved they will still get help, but Heidi hopes for a more permanent change for her family and the thousands of others across the country.

“I think in some ways, I think the VA has thought, ‘Well, we’ll just give them stipend and that’s it,’ but I’ve always believed the program should be more,” Heidi said.

When the VA re-writes this program, Selbee hopes to see changes to the program’s screening process.

Selbee said the questions and process during the screening was demoralizing for her family. She believes there are other ways that the VA can collect information about a veteran, including a thorough look at medical records.

The Independence Fund has a program to help caregivers navigate through all of this. If your family is going through this and has questions, you can reach out to them here.

>>> At the top of the page, Channel 9′s Gina Esposito reports on the gaps the Independence Fund helps to fill for Charlotte veterans in need.

(WATCH BELOW: ‘Thank you’: Veteran’s family moves from motel into home thanks to nonprofits)