A Growing Army of Caregivers


By Debbie Gregory.

Family caregivers provide crucial support in caring for veterans. The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act was signed into law in May, 2010. The law acknowledges the critical role of caregivers for seriously injured post- 9/11 veterans, and establishes a national program that addresses the wellness and training of family caregivers.

Due to advances in combat medicine and technology, more troops are surviving injuries that would have been fatal in past conflicts. But when they return home, they face life with devastating physical and psychological injuries.

The post-9/11 era produced 1.1 million caregivers, with about 20 percent of them caring for veterans.

The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act offers caregivers a monthly stipend, as well as healthcare coverage, training, respite care and mental health counseling.

Eligibility for the stipend is evaluated annually and ranges from $650 to $2,300 a month, based on the severity of the injuries and the geographic location of the caregiver and veteran. It is currently only available to those who care for Post 9/11 veterans. About 20 percent of these veterans have traumatic brain injury, and 64 percent struggle with mental health or substance abuse.

The VA has since partnered with Easter Seals to provide caregiver training in several formats: classroom, workbook and online. Overall, about 30,000 caregivers have received training.

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation commissioned the first evidence-based study focused on the needs of military caregivers. Hidden Heroes, conducted by the RAND Corporation, found that almost half of the post-9/11 caregivers are between 18 and 30 years old, without a lot of financial stability and with no previous training in caregiving. And the commitment is taking a toll: More than one-third meet the criteria for probable depression.

“Our nation has a clear responsibility to better support America’s military and veteran caregivers,” said former Sen. Elizabeth Dole. “This is not a short-term problem in need of a quick solution. . . . Our nation cannot let these caregivers take on this role alone.”

If you think you fit the criteria for these services, please follow the link to answer some preliminary questions and download an application at http://www.va.gov/healthbenefits/resources/Caregiver_Eligibility_Check.asp

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