Back in 2015 I had a successful career as a business analyst and was enjoying a stable, financially secure life. Then early one morning I got a horrifying call from my daughter-in-law. My 33-year-old son Keegan, an Air Force combat veteran who served in the Iraq War, had been in a motorcycle accident.

Keegan’s wreck left him brain damaged, unable to walk and in need of 24-hour care. I was shocked to find out that, because of limited program options and a severe workforce shortage, it’s very challenging for veterans to access consistent, quality home care services. So I’m speaking out for all military families who are in desperate need of more home care support for our disabled or aging loved ones.

My son’s whole life was all about serving others. He had a big heart and loved people, which led him to be an active volunteer in his church and a chaplain during his time in the Air Force. He also had big dreams. He earned an MBA while serving in Iraq, and when he returned he ran for elected office. He was intelligent, extroverted and had a great sense of humor.

His life and the lives of everyone in our family were drastically upended by his accident.

Not long after Keegan’s hospital stay, the Department of Veterans Affairs wanted to refer him to a nursing home. I said, “No way, not my son, that’s not gonna happen.” I tried to arrange for my son to be taken care of in his home, but the VA only offered four to eight hours of service a day, and Keegan required round-the-clock support. So, like thousands of military moms throughout the country, I started on the long, arduous and complex journey of trying to navigate in-home care for my son.

At first, I tried to find programs that would bring in outside workers to provide care. But because home care agencies were paying less than $15 an hour, it was extremely difficult to find qualified personal care aides.

Finally, our family made the decision that we would care for Keegan ourselves. I gave up my career, and my husband and I sold our home. We took out a large mortgage and bought a house in a more rural area that was big enough to fit the whole family. We all moved in: me, my husband, our daughter, our son, his wife and their three children.

Together, our family carries out all the duties that allow Keegan to live at home with well-being, including bathing, feeding, changing his catheter, giving him his medications and taking him to doctor’s appointments.

I’m the kind of person who lives for my family, and I have no regrets about this decision. I would do it all over again for Keegan. But I was making six figures in my former career, and our new life has taken a heavy financial toll.

I’m 67 now, and my biggest worry is about who will care for Keegan when I’m no longer able to. Is one of my grandchildren — ages 8, 12 and 13 — going to have to sacrifice their future to become their father’s caregiver? 

More and more military families are facing the same struggles as the veteran population rapidly ages. There are more than 18 million veterans in the U.S. Almost half are over the age of 65 and around a third have disabilities.

Demand for home care services is spiraling, but there are not enough programs to meet the full range of veterans’ needs. In particular, it can be difficult for many veterans to choose their own family and friends as their paid caregivers.

Another dire problem is the embarrassingly low wages for caregivers, which fail to attract and keep people in the field. We need to make home care into a beautiful, viable career with good, middle class wages and benefits.

I’m grateful that my family had the resources to reshuffle our lives and become our son’s caregiving team. But there are many military families who are in far worse situations, and are plunged into poverty once they make the decision to care for a loved one full time. As the need for home care continues to grow, there must be expanded and improved programs to support the veterans who have defended our country.

Kerry Adelmann is a home caregiver for her son, who is a disabled Iraq War veteran, and a SEIU Home Care Minnesota member. They live in Lakeville, Minn.

(New York State Division of Veterans Services)

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