It’s Time To Expand VA Support To All Military Caregivers

Opinion
In this March 11, 2015 photo, a patient walks down a hallway at the Fayetteville Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Fayetteville, N.C. The VA hospital is one of the most backed-up facilities in the country.
AP Photo by Patrick Semansky

To our country's credit, we now recognize the service and sacrifice of caregivers who bear the burden of helping severely wounded veterans find some semblance of quality of life. The passage of the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 allowed the Department of Veterans Affairs to extend services to caregivers of veterans who served during the post-9/11 era. Specifically, these services included a monthly stipend to ease the economic burden, access to healthcare, a support network, and respite care for the caregivers of veterans.


Caregivers who were eligible for the program no longer face the burden alone or have to sacrifice their own well-being as they tend to the needs to their loved ones. After all, the accrued, hidden cost of war is often paid behind closed doors, in the homes of those families who deal with the everyday lifelong realities of catastrophic injury, both mental and physical.

This is precisely why it is unconscionable to continue to deny this same support to millions of caregivers of pre-9/11-era veterans, of which an estimated 440,000 spend more than 40 hours a week caring for a veteran, according to a 2014 RAND study. Bullets, bombs, and the mental effects of combat respect no chronological boundaries; nor should support for those who deal with the aftereffects with little or no support.

In a growing number of cases, caregivers are reaching advanced age and cannot properly carry on the burden, yet must because relief for them, through expansion of the caregiver program, remains mired in discussions at VA Central Office and on Capitol Hill on how to fix the program’s increasingly problematic implementation and pay for its expansion.

For post-9/11 caregivers already on the program, particularly those who were removed from the program or face losing benefits because their care recipient’s medical condition has purportedly “improved,” according to VA, inconsistent practices and arbitrary standards have led to calls from post-9/11 advocates to halt talks on expansion until the problems are fixed. However, such a move disregards the needs of those caregivers who have already gone far too long without support. The VA did not stop accepting new disability claims while trying to reduce the backlog. Nor did VA stop accepting new appointments while trying to eliminate its waitlist. Similarly, making caregivers wait for support until the wrinkles are completely pulled out of the existing program— which may never happen — is not a viable option if we truly value the service and sacrifice of military caregivers.

It should not matter whether a caregiver is helping a veteran who left a piece of him or herself in the mountains of Afghanistan or jungles of Vietnam. Now that our country has set a standard for what caring for caregivers entails, it’s time to ensure that no caregiver is left to deal with the invisible costs of war alone.

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Two military bases in Florida and one in Arizona will see heat indexes over 100 degrees four months out of every year if steps aren't taken to reduce carbon emissions, a new study warns.

Read More Show Less

This Veterans Day, two post-9/11 veterans-turned congressmen introduced bipartisan legislation to have a memorial commemorating the Global War on Terrorism built on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Read More Show Less

Between 500 and 600 U.S. troops are expected to remain in Syria when all is said and done, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley said on Sunday.

Milley's comments on ABC News' "This Week" indicate the U.S. military's footprint in Syria will end up being roughly half the size it was before Turkey invaded Kurdish-held northeast Syria last month.

Read More Show Less
Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a fund-raising fish fry for U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa), Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, at Hawkeye Downs Expo Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Associated Press/Charlie Neibergall)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — On Veterans Day, Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg is proposing a "veteran-centric" Department of Veterans Affairs that will honor the service of the men and women of the military who represent "the best of who we are and what we can be."

Buttigieg, who served as a Navy intelligence officer in Afghanistan, said service members are united by a "shared commitment to support and defend the United States" and in doing so they set an example "for us and the world, about the potential of the American experiment."

Read More Show Less
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a Climate Crisis Summit with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (not pictured) at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S. November 9, 2019. (Reuters/Scott Morgan)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders promised on Monday to boost healthcare services for military veterans if he is elected, putting a priority on upgrading facilities and hiring more doctors and nurses for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

To mark Monday's Veterans Day holiday honoring those who served in the military, Sanders vowed to fill nearly 50,000 slots for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals at facilities run by Veterans Affairs during his first year in office.

Sanders also called for at least $62 billion in new funding to repair, modernize and rebuild hospitals and clinics to meet what he called the "moral obligation" of providing quality care for those who served in the military.

Read More Show Less