COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - One year after a program which offered in-home care to disabled veterans was discontinued, veterans in the Midlands say they want the health care that was promised to them during a protest outside the State House Thursday morning.
Veterans say even though they kept their promise to defend our country, they feel lawmakers have broken promises by cutting back on in-home health services that these veterans say are vital to their well-being.
After four years of active duty, Kristi Driggers says she had been living her best life.
“I have pain that radiates throughout my body, muscle spasms, tremors. It can cause me to choke on food. It can cause me to quit breathing. I have dementia," Driggers said. “I was an active person. I had a great job and now I’m basically bedridden.”
Driggers has been diagnosed with ALS, a disease she says is affecting many veterans.
“ALS is known to be military-related," Driggers said. "We are twice as likely to get ALS.”
Joseph Arevalos was a part of Thursday’s protest, too.
“I’ve got PTSD and I very seldom go in public but it’s time that we need to speak out about what’s happening to us," Arevalos said.
Fighting back tears, Arevalos says after time in Iraq and Afghanistan, he never thought he’d have to protest for his medical needs.
“We’re very proud to serve the greatest country in the world, and we’re not asking for no handouts or nothing free we just want the benefits that were promised to us," Arevalos said.
In 2017, the Directed Care Program offered through the Dorn VA was eliminated due to funding.
Driggers says the change has been drastic. She went from getting, “40 hours of care coming to the house to help me with caregiving. Since that time, it got dropped," she said. "Three hours is not enough time for a caregiver to clean me up, to feed me, to brush my teeth, wash my hair.”
“It takes a long time to get the medical assistance that we need, and our family pays the consequences,” Arevalos said.
Driggers says the loss of services places an unfair burden on family members.
“We can’t do it alone. I have one spouse and one 21-year-old child, who is an adult now and wants to live her life," Driggers said. "She shouldn’t have to worry about taking care of me.”
The small group protested outside of the Statehouse with a big message, hoping lawmakers hear their pleas for help.
“We took an oath that we would serve our country," Arevalos said. “They took an oath to us that they would fix us or try to anyways and now they’re just cutting more programs all the time and it’s really devastating to us as veterans because I believe we earned that.”
The Dorn VA says there are other in-home services available to veterans like the Home Maker/Home Health Aide Program and the Home Based Primary Care Program, but the veterans at Thursday’s protest say those programs don’t offer the same quality of care.