Families Want Compensation to Care for Injured Veterans
By Gerri Elder
Many family members of injured and disabled veterans take on a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week job when their loved ones come home. For all of the work that they do, they are oftentimes paid nothing.
Although the government pays for certified caretakers to help injured veterans within the home, a large number of families feel that the care given is inadequate or doesn't allow the veterans to resume normal lives. Often, spouses of disabled veterans find it necessary to quit their jobs in order to provide the needed care.
The New York Times reported there's a growing group of family members who provide round-the-clock care for injured veterans who wish to be compensated as caregivers. The care that these family members provide allows disabled veterans to live at home with dignity. This dignity often comes at the expense of the family caregiver's lost income and benefits.
Families and veterans groups have taken the issue to lawmakers and pushed for legislation that would allow families of soldiers with traumatic brain injuries to be paid for their caretaking duties after completing training and certification by the Veterans Affairs Department.
The bill was introduced during the last session of Congress, but did not come up for a vote. The veterans' families feel that it may be just as well, because the chances of it passing in the next Congressional session may be even better.
President-elect Barack Obama has endorsed other supportive legislation for veterans. Additionally, future first lady Michelle Obama has pledged her support in helping veterans' families.
The legislation for injured veterans' families is opposed by the Veterans Affairs Department. The department claims that allowing family members to be paid for the care they provide would create an unbearable liability: If a veteran were to be injured by a family member who had been trained by the department, the department would be liable for the injury.
However, Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said families of veterans suspect that the government is taking advantage of them and not providing compensation for them because they know the family members will provide the care anyway.
According to the Dole-Shalala Commission, in 2007 there were 3,000 American soldiers who sustained such serious injuries that they required full-time clinical care management services.
Veterans groups say that although families have long struggled with the issue of providing care for injured and disabled veterans, compensation for family members who provide care has become a more pressing issue in recent years. Improvements in medical technology has allowed more seriously injured soldiers to survive than ever before, thus there are more family members providing care for them as they return home.
James B. Peake, the secretary of veterans' affairs says that today's families are less likely than previous generations to simply sit back and accept the situation. Families are still quick to come to the aid of their loved ones, but they now demand more help from the government.
In response to these demands, government programs have already begun to evolve. In the 1990s, the Veterans Affairs Department started allowing family members of injured veterans to train with the companies that are contracted to provide home health aides. Some veterans are allowed to hire family members through these companies, but only for four hours of care per day.
Veterans' families say that the changes in the government programs are not enough and they object to paying a third party for care. They also feel that the limited payment for only four hours of care per day is a slap in the face to those who have given up their careers to provide 24/7 care.