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Caring For ALL

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News August 2015

The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 was signed into law by President Barack Obama,however it's leaving out pre-9/11 caregivers.

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The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 was signed into law by President Barack Obama, providing several benefits for veterans and their families with particular focus on caregivers.

Now, those who care for catastrophically disabled veterans are offered training, counseling, a monthly stipend and coverage under the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

However, there’s one important point to note: Pre-9/11 caregivers need not apply.

The caregivers bill was the byproduct of the country’s desire to support veterans and families at a time when troops were dying and sustaining injury in the Middle East after 9/11. Those organizations that most identified with the ongoing conflict had unrivaled influence among lawmakers.

So, it was no surprise when the group describing itself as a “veterans empowerment organization” for post-9/11 veterans helped get the legislation passed to the benefit of its constituents.

While Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) is happy to see post-9/11 veterans and their caregivers benefit from this legislation, the law ignores those who are most dependent on caregivers — an aging, equally historic population with severe disabilities who served prior to Sept. 11, 2001.

No single group of veterans understands the necessity of caregiver-support programs better than PVA members. But the law excludes over 95% of PVA’s membership.

No reasonable justification can be provided as to why pre-9/11 veterans with a service-connected injury or illness should be excluded from the caregiver program, which is why PVA is working to expand eligibility for VA caregiver support services.

While on active duty, I was injured during combat training shortly after the Persian Gulf War in 1991. I met my wife 11 years later and it wasn’t long before my trials and tribulations became her trials and tribulations.

Despite speaking three languages and obtaining two college degrees, she set aside her career and is now committed to being my caregiver. Despite all the sacrifices she makes on my behalf, she gets little assistance from the VA and will be left with almost nothing when I’m gone because we don’t qualify for benefits under the Comprehensive Family Caregiver program because of my pre-9/11 injury.

As PVA president, I can almost stomach this if it was my battle alone. But it’s not. There are veterans who fought for our country in earlier times who also rely on caregivers, yet their sacrifice has been devalued by time-induced amnesia.

Imagine being a veteran who was paralyzed during the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia or the Battle of Hue in Vietnam. These permanently disabled veterans aren’t eligible for the Comprehensive Family Caregiver program.

Clearly, our elected officials don’t want to be held accountable for the costs of sending our service members into harm’s way. They fail to acknowledge that as we begin to age, the responsibilities of our caregivers grow, as well as their need for VA support services. And, with Congress excluding spinal-cord diseases and the use of 9/11 as some kind of threshold of eligibility, this short-sighted act of support for a limited class of veterans is unfair.

For most caregivers, taking care of a family member is rewarding, but not without its challenges. The emotional, physical and financial strain of caregiving can often seem insurmountable, which is why PVA is doing the right thing by taking on this honorable endeavor.

While PVA has been working with our partners in the veteran service organization community and congressional staff to introduce legislation, I ask that you take action as well.

Please contact your senators and “encourage” their support of the Caregivers Expansion and Improvement Act of 2015, (S. 657), introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

 

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