By Jake Hughes
In 1998, a horrible accident befell Alexis Courneen. While serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, Courneen was struck by a crane carrying a buoy that caused traumatic brain injury and other injuries, leaving her entirely reliant on her husband and caregiver, Jason Courneen.
Now, she’s fighting to ensure she can get the same benefits as a service member injured after 9/11.
“We spent a good 10 years very frustrated, very isolated, while I was learning that it was okay to speak up to the doctors,” Jason Courneen says.
Currently, the Department of Veteran Affairs has the Post-9/11 Comprehensive Caregiver Program, which offers enhanced support for caregivers of eligible veterans seriously injured in the line of duty on or after September 11, 2001.
To qualify, service members must have sustained or aggravated a serious injury — including traumatic brain injury, psychological trauma or other mental disorder — in the line of duty, on or after September 11, 2001; and be in need of personal care services to perform one or more activities of daily living and/or need supervision or protection based on symptoms or residuals of neurological impairment or injury.
However, the program leaves out service members injured before 9/11, going as far back as Vietnam Veterans. A study released by Disabled American Veterans, a non-profit charity that provides a lifetime of support for veterans of all generations and their families, highlights the disparity of care and attention given by the VA between pre- and post-9/11 veterans.
“It’s bringing to light that a lot of pre-9/11 families, caregivers and veterans like our family, are under served by the VA,” says Jason Courneen, adding that he and their daughters are the only way his wife is able to get through her day.
It’s a problem that may soon be addressed. The VA has recently begun to take notice of these disabled veterans, acknowledging that it would be much more expensive for them if these veterans relied solely on the VA instead of their caregivers. Legislation has been introduced in both houses of Congress that will extend VA caregiver benefits to pre-9/11 families of disabled veterans.
For Alexis Courneen, it can’t come soon enough.
“When we sign on that line and we raise our hand, we all signed not worried about what’s going to happen, and when we sign, we need to not have to worry about it,” she says. “We can’t have the burden placed on our loved ones.”
Regardless of the future, the Courneens will carry on through their mutual love and respect.
“He is every piece of my broken body, every piece of my emptiness, every piece of me that I am not,” Alexis Courneen says.
And while Jason Courneen realizes he is Alexis’ caregiver, he says that is not his primary role.
“Caregiver is not the first role I think of when it comes to my wife. I am a husband first, and caregiver is a role that my children and I are growing into and are happy to accept,” he says.
Listen to the Courneen’s story below: