VA cuts benefits to Castaic vet’s widow

By Jim Holt

Last update: Friday, March 24th, 2017

 

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

jholt@signalscv.com

661-287-5527

On Twitter @jamesarthurholt

Click here to post a comment

VA cuts benefits to Castaic vet’s widow

Elenna and Jason VanMeter in happier times. photo courtesy of Elenna VanMeter.

 

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

jholt@signalscv.com

661-287-5527

On Twitter @jamesarthurholt

About the author

Jim Holt

Jim Holt

  • Justus Benavidez

    we better help those who serve for us…

    • katherine cassell harvey

      It sounded like she let her husbands problems go

      • Elenna

        No I didn’t I FOUGHT THE VA ON A DAILY BASIS TRYING TO GET HIM CARE HE NEEDED. UNTIL YOU WALK IN MY SHOES DON’T EVEN DARE JUDGE ME!!! I wonder how long you or any other woman would have stayed to help someone?? I stayed 13 years and would have stayed my whole life to help him. He got worse all the time and I tried and tried. When days were good they were GREAT when they were bad they were really bad.

      • Jason VanMeter

        No I didn’t let my husbands issues go. The last year and a half he didn’t try anything and then he succeeded in front of me on March 5th. I did everything could to try to get hm the help he needed. He needed some medications I was trying to get for him at the VA and the Caregiver Nurse was asking for them to get filled as well. But sadly we never got them. Please don’t try to say this is my fault when you have no idea what I did and went thru for Jason.

  • Gigi James

    He served for 4 years, they both received benefits for the past 13 years, about $6400 a month according to the wife. Yet she doesn’t have $2,000 to bury him and will lose the place she is renting? Am I just really out of touch in not feeling like I should contribute here? $6,400 is a hellava lot more than I make a month.

    • Ava C. Ruth

      Did you serve?

    • daniel Sanchez

      I agree what where they doing with there money I am a veteran and I served post Vietnam and I can’t get anymore than 10% for my hearing lost in which I wear hearing aides that the VA gave me cant make it on what I get from SSI so you can’t tell me these people are broke

      • Dillon Rhoads

        What did you do in Vietnam Daniel? Were in the in the field?

      • Elenna

        And you can’t tell me I am not when I was paying for funerals already, plus loans and rentals car insurance outside doctor you think THAT don’t add up?

        • Elenna

          Plus we lost everything 4 years ago and moved here to try to get a new start. And if your only getting 10% then you didn’t fight and appeal and appeal and appeal like we did.

      • Jason VanMeter

        Well we were paying back people we owed from previously, paying for 2 funerals from 3 years ago, paying rent, car insurance, car payments, utilities. I was cathing up from losing everything we owned in 2013.

    • katherine cassell harvey

      You are right i have to ask with all that money coming in why did she not get him help and why would she gave a gun around him to many unanswered questions. I live off of 800.00 month here she had 6400.00

      • Elenna

        BOTH my parents died 3 years ago within 6 months of each other and we were paying off loans that we had. Plus we paid for rent, a car insurance and other things. I was just finally catching up with bills when this happened. Until you walk my shoes you have no right to make a Judgement against me PERIOD.

      • Jason VanMeter

        Well we were paying back people we owed from previously, paying for 2
        funerals from 3 years ago, paying rent, car insurance, car payments,
        utilities. I was catching up from losing everything we owned in 2013. And plus we lost everything we owned in 2013.

    • Ray Davis jr

      The wife is to be commended for her caretaking of her disabled veteran, and perhaps if she qualifies she can apply for and get a widows pension or DIC. But her monthly payment was for caretaking and that job is over. Guns should never be around people with mental instability. Hindsight is always 20/20 but her singular job was to keep the veteran from committing suicide, get rid of guns and other means of suicide, have the person commited to a mental facility, whatever is needed to keep the veteran safe. And in the end he may just take a bath with a toaster, but you will have done all you can. You don’t allow guns around a 2 year old or a person with mental problems.

      • Elenna

        Thank you Ray. And I agree with the guns. I didn’t know about them. But with Jason if he wanted something badly he got it and obviously things I didn’t know about as well.

      • Jason VanMeter

        I agree with the guns Ray. But not being aware of them is something that I have a problem with. But people do need to know how the VA is treating our Veterans and how much they have to fight for care. Jason was 6’5 and talked loudly and there are a lot of students at the VA working and don’t know how to handle Veterans. That is a big issue. And plus, Jason tried with pills, a knife and other methods. Then he didn’t try for the last year and a half. I was hopeful it would stop. But without the medications he needed to stabilize him, which I was fighting to get, I guess I lost my battle as well. But suicide leaves many Veteran wives fighting to get the death benefits they are due after Serving Our Country by being good wives to Our Combat husbands when they returned home. I have filed for the Death Benefits today, because this article has made its way around the system and I hope it helps save lives and other wives if they lose the battle trying to save their husband.

  • Danangme

    Might be able to reinstate his benefits if he was diagnosed with PTSD because it’s well known that causes a lot of suicides.
    Can’t do anything but appeal and contact your congressman and senator. Don’t know who represents you with the VA but the only one worth a damn is the DAV.

    • Elenna

      I am fighting and will continue to fight the system until I get Justice.

    • Elenna

      I am trying hard. It will be a battle for me. It was a battle to fight just to get the Benefits for Jason. He also had many other issues and it was hard but I loved him and did what I could to make him happy

      • Elenna

        Plus I FINALLY have someone who is willing to try to help me get the Benefits for his death. Many don’t know how much of a battle it is to get them after suicide. I had a hard time finding someone willing to help me file and FINALLY have found him. I was told by others that I have a zero chance of getting them since it was suicide, but I am not giving up. I am trying to seek help for myself now and do you think the VA has called me back!! People have no idea just how screwed the system is.

  • katherine cassell harvey

    Why would she even have a gun around him. It makes no sense. She should have sought help for him

    • Elenna

      What do you think I tried to do for 13 years? I fought The VA System daily and tried and tried. And I didn’t know about the guns and where there is a will there is a way to get one.

    • Jason VanMeter

      I didn’t know about it. It’s on record as well. Plus I did everything I possibly could to get Jason the help he needs. People really need to start looking at the VA for what they do to our Veterans, and not blame the spouse. He tried killing himself with pills, a knife and many other ways. I was his life, he was mine and please don’t make my suffering worse with such unnecessary comments.

  • daniel Sanchez

    She sure did a rotten his in taking care of him he was probably on drugs and with a gun in house then they go on gofundme and expect people to give them money the VA WILL BURY HIM IN THE VA CEMETERY FOR FREE WITH A HEAD STONE WHAT MORE DOES SHE WANT CAN’T BELIEVE SHE WAS A HONORABLE DISCHARGED AFTER TRYING TO KILL HIMSELF WHILE HE WAS IN THE SERVICE,

    • Elenna

      Rotten job. YOU were not here. I did EVERYTHING I could to try to make him safe and loved. His whole life he felt unloved and I did EVERYTHING I could to make him feel he was wanted. Do you think many others would have stayed with his issues?

  • Kevin Phelps

    Some of you people make me sick. Do you even know what PTSD is, I do. Most will not go for help they suffer and their family suffers. WOW you cold hearted people I have been where they were and by the Grace of God I am still here. I just wonder how many of you that are tearing this woman down have, Meet ever put the Uniform on and defended your friends and family and Country. HOOAH my Brother meet ya at the Gates.

    • Elenna

      Thank you! He also had TBI Chronic Depression and other issues. No other person would have stuck with someone as long as I have to take care of them. When it was a good day for Jason it was great. When it was bad you had to be careful what you said to him.

  • Vicki Foley

    The wife said the money went to paying living expenses and non-VA healthcare and prescriptions, if I read this correctly. He did not receive free care from the VA because the doctors refused to treat him due to his being belligerent. If a person repeatedly insists on killing him/herself even with treatment, there is no way anyone is going to stop that from eventually happening short of committment to a mental hospital. If not by gun, there are other ways. Sounds like he was suffering greatly and she had her hands full keeping things together. I doubt she could have stopped him, I mean, she had to sleep sometime. Regardless, this is very sad on several levels.

    • Elenna

      Jason was loud and if people that work at The VA can’t handle someone who talks loud they shouldn’t be there. I tried for 13 years to do everything for him.

    • Jason VanMeter

      Vicki the sad part about Our VA System is that they have more students working then actual doctors. There are many Veterans always complaining about this. The living expenses were high. I was paying both my parents funerals from 3 years ago and we owed people money which we were paying back plus we lost everything we owned in 2013. We were hoping California would be a fresh start for us. We had a great primary care doctor before she retired. Since then we were sent from one person to another and neither of us had a primary care doctor for over a year and a half. The VA has something called the Choice program in which I was trying to get for him. We were blocked every step of the way.

      • Vicki Foley

        When you can, I urge you to speak with a veterans service officer at the DAV, VFW, or similar organization, or someone familiar with VA indigent spouse’s pension. It’s means tested and could give you an income if times are financially challenging. He also passed due to a service connected condition I would argue, so file a claim with the VA for Dependant Indemnity Compensation. There’s a Form for it and a time limit of one year from the date of passing. Don’t let anyone talk you out of filing it due to PTSD.

  • Cindee Sil

    It is NOT possible for VA to take away her benefits and deny her of any widow benefits within 22 days of her husband’s death. I am a Bilingual and have help multiple widows file for their benefits. It takes up to 30 days to get the Veterans’ life insurance and since he joined in the year 2000. He would be eligible for $250,000 life insurance that actually covered SUICIDE. Also, he is mental health’s service connected with 100% paid, his suicide would likely giving her a special pay call DIC ($1,257.95/ month), and she may be eligible for another $276.12/ month extra. Top it off she likely to be entitled to Social Security special pay. The article stated that (with in 22 days) she lost her benefits and not entitled to VA benefits, due to his death by suicide is absurd. It is NOT possible for VA to do that within 22 days. DIC alone took up to 8 months (which she will received a back paid, dated back to the month of his death). Life insurance process around 30 days. It’s only been 22 days.

    • Elenna

      Really. Jim has the letter to prove they cut me off just like that. And Caregiver benefits are gone as well. They won’t pay me for him not being here. And on Life Insurance, we were NEVER told about it just like many others were not.

      • Cindee Sil

        Husband died on March 5. You get a letter from VA on March 6 that your benefits will be cut off? Even my kid won’t buy this story. VA don’t work like that. I am a veteran, my husband is a veteran, my whole family are veterans. I worked and volunteer helping other veterans and their widows for years. Your story is unreal. If you need help, call DAV and find our what your benefits are. Do not make up stories that you have lost your benefits and that VA has deny you of widow benefits base on his suicide. That is NOT TRUE. I know the process, it is NOT possible to get a letter in 1 day after death, and it’s not possible to get a deny of benefits in less than 22 days.

        • Elenna

          Again Jim has the letter an dated was dated the 6th I believe Yes They sent out the letter the same day I notified them . He has the proof. And I have been trying to find someone to file for me because I can’t make sense of the paperwork. I have someone FINALLY willing to help me this Friday. You have NO IDEA how much paperwork I need to get to file for benefits.

          • Cindee Sil

            Elenna, I know every details of the paper and the process, both life insurance claim and the DIC/ survivor benefits. Not only I volunteered to do them for the widows, I used to work for the VA. You can’t get a letter on the 6th if your husband pass on the 5th. That’s the fact.

          • Cindee Sil

            Whatever issue you may be facing, I hope it will work out for you, but please don’t leave a bad name for the widows of American Veterans.

          • Jason VanMeter

            No your giving false information here. The letter was dated March the 6th never said I got it then. And Jim has a copy of the letter. Plus I have all emails sent to the VA begging for help and a doctor for Jason. Your giving the wives of Veterans a bad name with your mean cold comments when you have no idea what I’ve done for him. How many women would even stay with a man with so many issues. And plus it is an uphill battle for me to get the DIC Benefits. Suicide needs to be addressed. And right now your giving American Wives a bad name by putting me down.

          • Cindee Sil

            I don’t know who you all are but other VA social media site, has already label this article as fake. VA can’t process the letter on the 6th without the death certificate. The death certificate takes a couple of days to process. And from then on it would take times to review and process out the letter to the widow. So no, you won’t get a letter on the 6th or dated the 6th, If the veteran died on Sunday the 5th. I have done this many times for the widows and how do you know that it’s an uphill battle to get DIC when you haven’t even SUBMITTED the paper work! And it would take 30+ days for the VA to response to the DIC which would be something like this “We have received your application for DIC, if we need any other information from you, you will be contacted”. The veteran passed away 22 days ago. Not enough time for DIC to response. And you claimed that VA won’t give you any benefits because he died by suicide, yet, you haven’t even submitted the claim.

          • Jason VanMeter

            You know what Jim has a copy of the letter so I don’t have to prove anything to you. He has it all. And my claim has been submitted.

          • Jason VanMeter

            Sorry but AGAIN your incorrect. And I have the Death Certificate already and when I called the VA on the 6th to inform them of Jason’s death the letter was initiated immediately and again Jim has a copy of it. You want to continue to say it’s false its your decision, I honestly have been thru enough. And I don’t need to be put thru anymore of your cold comments. I have Sheriff reports, Coroner reports I have emails I have it all. To say its Fake is your choice and decision and no mater what I say or do won’t change your mind. But Jim Holt once again has a copy of the letter that was sent to me by the VA dated the 6th the same day they were contacted about Jason’s death and I have the letter from ChampVA telling me I was cut off from getting paid as a Caregiver as well. So you can continue to say I’m whatever, I’m just a wife who is trying to get help with the death of her husband and what’s funny to me, is instead of even trying to say hey she has a point, you won’t even try to see what’s actually happening. But I won’t answer you anymore, I can’t take the stress of anything. Again you can continue being Cold and Uncaring, but I have the truth and Proof of what has been happening to me and also many others.

          • Jason VanMeter

            No insurance and I never said I got the letter on the 6th of March. It was dated on that day the same day I notified them. And I was told by many that to get the death benefits would be a battle since it was suicide. I have proof of all I say.

    • Jason VanMeter

      No Insurance and we were not told about any insurance after he left the Marine Corps. And yes I have filed for Death Benefits as this article has been heard of from the VA and I just got off the phone with them helping me file. So I pray it won’t be a battle for me. Like Joe from the VA has told me, he can’t guarantee I won’t be denied or granted. Suicide makes it harder to receive the death benefits then a natural cause. So unless you lived it walked in my shoes please don’t put me down. We had a lot of bills. I was already paying for Both my parents deaths in 2014 and now Jason’s. Plus we were paying back people we owed from before. We lost everything we owned in PA in 2013 and were just barely getting caught up on everything. Plus, we had rent, utilities, car insurance, car payments it all adds up. I wish we had known about the Insurance and Veterans and their spouses need to be aware of it as well.

  • Jason VanMeter

    Thank you Dillon. I did everything I could to prevent this. He always told everyone that he would do this one day and I prevented it for 13 years and made sure he had some happiness in his life. If it were not for me he would have done this sooner. I do live with guilt daily thinking what else could I have done. So I am living in this nightmare world and then the cold comments from people who have no idea what I have been thru.

Jim Holt

Jim Holt