Caregiver, wife of veteran has years-long struggles getting help from Veteran Affairs

Shirley and Wes Wesselhoeft have been denied from the Caregiver Support Program through the Department of Veteran Affairs. Wes is a veteran of 22 years.
Published: Nov. 11, 2022 at 1:54 PM CST
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MONROE, La. (KNOE) - Shirley Wesselhoeft has been a caregiver for her husband, Wes, for over two years.

Wes served for 22 years in the United States Air Force and was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam. Since then, he is falling often, is legally blind, and has been diagnosed with bladder cancer and dementia.

Shirley and Wes applied for the Caregiver Support program through the department of Veteran Affairs (VA) in Oct. of 2020. The program offers family caregivers a monthly stipend for dedicating their time to taking care of a veteran.

They provided four letters from doctors stating that Wes couldn’t live on his own, but even after two appeals, the VA rejected them. It stated that their ‘caregiver support team’ could not find evidence that Wes was unable to participate in activities of daily living such as showering and dressing.

“Well, it is terribly heartbreaking,” Shirley says. “I mean you know, my husband cant fight for himself. He can’t fight for himself but I’m gonna fight for him.”

Shirley says she didn’t understand how the VA came to its decision, especially since they provided evidence of Wes’ condition. She says she feels like the VA is failing her husband and veterans by denying them the help.

Wes’ condition had not improved since the VA denied their application and appeals for the final time in early 2021, so the couple decided to restart the entire application because they had new, updated doctor’s letters that proved his health condition had worsened.

On top of taking care of her husband at all hours of the day, Shirley says the lengthy process of applying leaves her exhausted.

“I don’t mind it, you know, he’s my husband. I love him. I’m gonna take care of him. I’m gonna do everything I can to keep him out of a nursing home. I want him here, I want him here where I’m taking care of him,” Shirley said.

After the second application, they were approved to receive 62.5% of the monthly stipend, not the 100% that Shirley and Wes needed.

The VA’s reason for rejection implied that Wes was able to live alone, which Shirley says she knows is still untrue. She says this entire process has made her lose faith in the system.

“I have been one of the most patriotic people you ever knew, and that’s kind of tearing at that..you know, my whole patriotism because this country, I feel like, is failing him,” Shirley says.

Shirley says she knows other veterans and caregivers have faced similar issues, and she hopes the VA will take action for those suffering from their rejection as well.

“And he fought in a war, more than once in Vietnam, and he’s earned this and other people have earned it too. This is not just for my husband. I’m doing this for other veterans too,” Shirley says.

As Wes’ health has declined, she says one of the hardest parts to come to terms with is missing the life they once shared, and knowing more can be done.

“I really do love our veterans, they’re heroes. They are really, really heroes,” Shirley says.

The VA has since reevaluated their case and on Nov. 10 2022, Shirley and Wes learned that they would be eligible for 100% of the monthly stipend.

Shirley says she will continue to fight for the stipends to be retroactive to the date they first applied, because she knows he was unable to live alone at that time.