Page Loader Logo

Published: December 14, 2021
Q&A: Veteran in Charge

Young black soldier in a wheelchair shaking hands with a woman in a white coat.

[vc_row][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text]This country and its citizens owe so much to our veterans. No matter the branch, no matter how long they served or where, our veterans made a vow to defend and protect our way of life. It’s only right that we do what we can to return the favor.

The Independence Center’s veteran-directed Veteran in Charge (VIC) program aims to ensure that disabled veterans can continue to lead the lives they want to live.

VIC was launched at The IC in 2016 by program manager, Marsha Unruh and veteran coach, Ashley Billington. Since that time, it has served 291 veterans and has grown its staff of veteran coaches to support them.

Recently, we sat down with Kim Howell, veteran coach coordinator, to talk about the VIC program and how it empowers veterans with disabilities.

In a nutshell, what is the Veteran in Charge (VIC) program?

Kim Howell: VIC is a partnership between the Department of Veterans Affairs (Veterans Health Administration) and The IC that allows veterans to stay in their homes and communities.

How does a veteran qualify for the program?

Because the program is designed to keep veterans in their home instead of a nursing home, there are certain criteria they have to meet. There are 12 tiers of funding from the VA and the amount of funding a veteran receives varies depending on what dependencies they have and how much assistance they need with activities of daily living. Veterans who need more support are placed in a higher tier and receive more funding.

Do veterans have to be a certain age or is there minimum time of service to qualify?

No. As long as they meet the criteria, they’re eligible for the program. The youngest veteran in the program is in their 20s and the oldest is 101 this month. We have a wide range of service time, ages, and both males and females.

What is The IC’s role in this partnership?

Basically, The IC is the middleman, if you will, between the veterans and the VA. We get the referral from the VA and then we go out to their home, do an assessment to help determine which tier they will fall into, and enroll them in the program. Once they’re part of VIC, one of our Veteran Coaches does an in-home visit to determine how the veteran would like to use their funds. A financial management company takes care of paying for everything, including taxes, so the veteran doesn’t have to worry about that piece. We then do monthly check ins, whether it’s in person or by phone.

What can the veteran use their funds for?

The nice thing about the VIC program is that it really is veteran-directed. So, for example, if a veteran can no longer do lawn maintenance due to a disability, they can put money towards that. If they’re using the funds to hire a caregiver, they can even choose to pay a family member to do that. We see a lot of veterans who have kids who quit their job to take care of their parent and because of VIC, they don’t have to make that hard decision whether to move their mom or dad into a nursing home.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I really enjoy the families I work with. I’m a veteran coach coordinator now, but this is a fairly new role for me. I started as a veteran coach in 2017, so I have families on my caseload that have been with me since the beginning. You know, you become like a grandkid or another daughter to them and you learn about their family, so it’s not just business. It’s nice to see over the years your accomplishments and how you’ve been able to contribute to their family. Meeting their kids and they thank you for allowing mom or dad to stay in the house, it’s just nice to see that you actually are making a difference.

The VIC program currently serves veterans who reside in the counties of Alamosa, Arapahoe, Chaffee, Cheyenne, Conejos, Costilla, Custer, Douglas, Elbert, El Paso, Fremont, Huerfano, Kit Carson, Lincoln, Park, Pueblo, Saguache, and Teller.

For more information about the program, call The Independence Center’s VIC line at 719-476-3178.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”14495″ img_size=”full”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Explore our
Community services