When the Veterans Administration cut off benefits to the widow of a vet who shot and killed himself this month inside the rented Castaic home they shared, it left the widow broke, alone and destitute.
Jason VanMeter shot himself in front of his wife, Elenna, on March 5.
“Next month would have been our ten year wedding anniversary,” Elenna said, sobbing uncontrollably on the phone to The Signal Thursday.
The image of her husband shooting himself in front of her in their home torments her.
“I am terrified of being here in this house at night,” she said.
Before VanMeter took his own life, the couple was receiving money through his benefits and she as his caregiver.
Deemed mentally unstable, VanMeter couldn’t be left alone twice having attempted to suicide in the past. Elenna was paid to be his caregiver as he had to be watched, she said.
That all changed when VanMeter succeeded in committing suicide earlier this month. And Elenna desperately wants to move out of the house as a result of what she witnessed, saying “I don’t want to live here.”
“I lost everything,” she said. “They cut me off. I have nowhere to go.”
A terse unsigned form letter dated March 6 from the Veterans Administration informed Elenna: “We have been notified of the death of Jason Vanmeter on March 5, 2017. Based on this notification, we have terminated the payment of VA benefits effective March 1, 2017.”
Private Jason Warren VanMeter fought for his country as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, according to his military service records documented in a discharge form, the DD214. He served with the Marines as an anti-tank Assaultman.
He began his service in January 2000, so when the 911 terrorist attacks happened, he was one of the first to be deployed to Afghanistan, Elenna said.
Twice VanMeter tried to commit suicide while in the military, she said. In the end, he received an honorable discharge in 2004.
His medals listed on his DD214 include: Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal; Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; Humanitarian Service Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Sea Service Deployment Ribbon; Navy Unit Commendation and Meritorious Mast.
In April 2007, he and Elena were married. Ten years later, VanMeter, the decorated soldier, was treated differently, his widow said.
“The way they treated us was awful,” she said, referring to the VA. “The things they put us through …”
“I’d really like to get this story told and let people know what happened so that we could save another vet’s life,” she said.
As for their income before VanMeter took his own life, the couple was collecting $3,790 a month through his benefits and an additional $2,711 she received as caregiver.
While healthy, that money was going to pay for living and medical expenses. Many doctors refused to treat him because he was belligerent, Elenna said. They had to seek private care and buy VanMeter’s medications.
The support for VanMeter ended with his suicide.
“I lost all the benefits,” she said. “I have no benefits because he committed suicide.”
The lease on the house she lives in expires in June.
In desperation, Elenna set up on online fundraising site through Gofundme.com. As of Thursday, donated funds raised through the site totaled $2,280.
This is what she wrote for the website:
“This my hero Jason. He was a USMC Disabled Veteran and had many demons along with his other issues. Yesterday the demons won and he committed Suicide. I need help to bury him and to help me since he brought home the money for us.
“I am Elenna, his wife. I was his Caregiver I did everything for him. He was loved.
“The funds will be used for his funeral, and to help me with whatever is left. I will be losing my Caregiver benefits in 30-60 days. I will lose my place of residence.
The VA is paying $2,000 for the burial itself, Elenna told The Signal, noting the funeral costs are more than $4,000.
“I need as much help as I can get. I am not usually one to do this for myself, but now I have no choice. So in helping him you will also be helping me. We took care of each other, and now I’m alone with our furry babies that he loved so much.”
One posted message was from a U.S. Marine:
“VanMeter was my junior Marine during 2000-2002. He was a dependable rocket gunner and explosives expert. VanMeter never let me down.
“He served with merit in Pakistan and Afghanistan during the invasion phase of Operation Enduring Freedom, assisting in the capture of numerous objectives that helped topple the Taliban from power in 2001.
“His devotion to duty, technical expertise and courage earned the admiration his fellow assaultmen. VanMeter’s service was in keeping with highest traditions of Marine Corps and the United States Naval services. God rest and God speed. Semper Fi”
Elenna’s GoFundMe site is https://www.gofundme.com/help-me-lay-my-hero-to-rest
On Twitter @jamesarthurholt