VA to expand support for caregivers of veterans beginning next summer
By DICK MASON | The Observer | Published: November 25, 2019
LA GRANDE, Ore. (Tribune News Service) — Caregivers of veterans soon will receive additional support from the Department of Veteran Affairs.
The VA’s Caregiver Support Program, which now assists caregivers of veterans who served after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, will grow each of the next two years. Starting in June of 2020, caregivers of veterans who served anytime after 1974 will be able to apply for full services, and sometime in 2021 caregivers of veterans who served during or after World War II can apply.
Once the expansion is fully phased in, caregivers of all veterans who served from World War II on will be eligible for full benefits from the Caregiver Support Program, which today is available only to caregivers of post-9/11 veterans. To be eligible for full benefits, caregivers must be caring for veterans with medical conditions linked to their time serving in the military.
“This is exciting. It is a big deal. People have a lot of questions about it,” said Peggi Spears, interim director of the Walla Walla VA’s Caregiver Support Program and a social worker for the Walla Walla VA, who visited La Grande Wednesday.
The Caregiver Support Program is being expanded by the VA MISSION Act Congress passed in 2018, which calls for expansion of the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers.
“Caregivers play a critical role in the health and well-being of some of our most vulnerable veterans,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a VA news release. “Under the MISSION Act, we are strengthening and expanding our program to positively impact the lives of veterans and deliver the best customer experience to them and their caregivers.”
The benefits caregivers of post-9/11 veterans receive, which will soon be available to almost all caregivers of veterans, include a stipend and health insurance.
Spears said one reason benefits like these are important for caregivers is that many gave up jobs to help loved ones and lost out on more than financial benefits in the process.
“Many give up gratifying careers to serve as caregivers,” she said.
The expansion of services means older veterans will be getting benefits in addition to the ones they already receive. One of the important ones they already receive is respite service, which is help given to caregivers to give them time off. Spears knows first hand how important this is. She was the caregiver for her husband, a veteran who needed extensive caregiving before dying about two years ago. She told The Observer in 2018 that if not for this VA service, she would have become ill from the stress and exhaustion of caring for her husband.
Spears said the medical issues veterans face with the help of caregivers generally varies depending on when they served. She said many who served in Vietnam suffer from health problems related to the effects of Agent Orange, a defoliant. World War II veterans who served in jungles of the Pacific are more likely to have chronic fungus-related health issues. A common malady veterans of all wars suffer from is post-traumatic stress disorder.
Spears said for the VA to continue to expand its support of caregivers is a wonderful gesture of support for caregivers and the veterans they assist.
“We need to honor what (the veterans did) with acts of kindness,” she said.