Capt. Rick Wester and his wife Kate Wester are no strangers to adoption. In fact, the newest addition to their family is their son Ayden, who joined them in February 2021 and is now 16 years old. They also have three other children whom they adopted from India.
Kate Wester is from a family that has done international and domestic adoptions—her cousins are from Korea and other parts of the world. "It was a comfortable thing for me,” she said, “You have to make the decision.”
Of course, having adopted internationally four times during the last several years, the pair jokingly said that, “we have used all of the benefits available through the Coast Guard.”
Most recently Coast Guard Mutual Assistance provided funding for their home study. The Westers mentioned that they also received a $2,000 tax credit via the Coast Guard Adoption Reimbursement Program for each child, and also pointed out the Federal Adoption Tax Credit that currently is $14,890.
Perhaps one of the biggest resources the couple named from the Coast Guard has been the ability to take Adoption Leave (now called Caregiver Leave). “You can use it whenever you travel for adoption and it doesn't get subtracted from my regular leave," explained Rick Wester. Having adopted four children internationally, the benefit proved tremendous especially when the adoption travel extended into 10 days with Ayden.
Kate Wester shared how her family initially fell in love with Ayden. “We hosted him through the P143 program and he stayed with us for four weeks.” Project 143 is a foreign exchange opportunity for orphaned children. And, in February 2021 Ayden permanently joined the family. “We got a chance to know Ayden and felt that he was going to fit in fine with our family. We felt pretty comfortable that Ayden could slide into the middle of the age groups and do well," said Kate Wester.
The Wester's eldest son, Luke, is their biological child who is now 18 years old and is attending college. Their other three children were adopted from India; Reed being the first child adopted at four years old and is now 12. Kate Wester describes him as “medically complicated.” When he first arrived, in addition to getting to know their child, “there was a lot of medical trauma that was taking place, too,” she said. “We knew he was going to thrive and just needed the proper medical care. But it made us ask the question, maybe we can do this again?”
And again they did. They soon welcomed Wade, who was four and is now 10 years old, into their lives. “I think we just did it. I don’t know that there was whole lot of dwelling on this might not work out this could be bad or hard, we just pulled the trigger.”
Then there was the moment, inspired by the film called Lion. “I had a hard time with that movie because those kids looked like our kids,” said Kate Wester. “I called up Rick and said I think we should just adopt one more time. He watched the movie and we had exactly 75 days to register before we were going to be too old [under Indian adoption criteria]. Luckily the social workers knew us, the agency knew us and so the stars aligned and we got registered in 70 days.”
At last, the quick-turn around process they underwent at the time allowed Zane Anil Wester to join their family when he was 18 months old. His brothers were instantly enamored by him because of an animated Indian character t-shirt he wore of Chhota Bheem on his adoption picture. Now five years old, “his brothers still call him Bheem today based on that character, and he looks just like him too,” laughed Kate Wester.
“We picked him without looking at his medical records and he initially had a lot of issues at birth including respiratory problems. But he has really outgrown those issues today,” said Kate Wester. "A doctor once asked me why we picked this child and I told him it was because he had a character shirt that my other kids love!"
Kate Wester concluded saying, "We sincerely appreciate and value the Coast Guard's and Coast Guard Mutual Assistance’s help to lessen the financial burden.” The pair wanted to remind others that “you don't have to pay everything all at once, and there are tax credits and grants available--not to mention if you adopt a child 12 or older then a Pell grant will cover their college education.” Rick Wester added that the Coast Guard Special Needs Program and the Office of Health, Safety and Work/Life helped in a variety of other ways as well.
Both Kate and Rick Wester want interested families considering adoption to know there is support our there. In fact, they are offering to speak directly with any interested members of the workforce who have questions about the international process. “I wouldn’t let money stop you because there are so many grants and interest-free loans, so many people get tripped up on the money but you don’t pay it all in one chunk. There are so many different ways including fundraisers, churches, adoption air fare benefits for international flights, adoption agencies that do loans—there are so many ways to help you with everything you need,” said Kate Wester. “Also, TRICARE changes the game, especially when you have a child who has extensive medical care needs," she added.
Rick Wester is stationed at the Coast Guard’s Fifth District in Base Portsmouth, Virginia, where he serves as the chief of response. Until October 2021 Kate Wester worked full time for the last 20 years most recently overseeing communications for a large business divisions, but left to be at home with the kids. ““It’s been fantastic to be able to really enjoy the time we have together and it’s been so much more harmonious at home," she said.
Senior Chief Jason Burgos and his wife Ashley Burgos adopted their son Kaysen last year who is now 10 months old. Although retired since September 2022, Jason Burgos served at the Coast Guard C4ISR Acquisition Program in Moorestown Detachment in New Jersey and Ashley Burgos previously worked as an elementary reading specialist for Hammonton School District.
“We were selected by a birth family in January after waiting for two years," Ashley said. "We adopted because we've always wanted to fulfill our lifelong dream of being parents.”
The couple acknowledges the challenges of adoption that proved worth it in the end. “From start to finish, we'd say the adoption process was sometimes arduous, but the results for us are simply immeasurable. The joy that fills our heart every day watching our son Kaysen grow makes all that we went through worth it.”
According to the Burgos’s, Coast Guard funding helped the couple tremendously.
“Adoption isn't cheap, and for that reason, we are so grateful for the CGMA and Coast Guard Work-Life grants. If we could tell anyone waiting to adopt anything, we'd say, believe in the process, because it does work,” said Ashley Burgos.
These resources can provide assistance with the Adoption Reimbursement process:
- Adoption Reimbursement Program: Coast Guard active duty members an reservists on active duty for at least 180 consecutive days are eligible for reimbursement of up to $2,000 per child, per year, and a maximum of $5,000 in any calendar year.
- Coast Guard Support Program or CG SUPRT: Assists Coast Guard personnel and their families with adoption resources. They can be contacted at 855-CGSUPRT or (855-247-8778).
- Coast Guard Mutual Assistance for adoption: Coast Guard Mutual Assistance offers two types of assistance directly related adopting a child: an interest-free loan up to $6,000 for qualified expenses relating to the adoption; and a grant, not to exceed $3,000, for the cost of a home study fee.
In the News:
Celebrating National Adoption Month 2020