Families Of Disabled Veterans Seek Compensation For Caregiver Roles

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The New York Times on Tuesday examined the increasing number of families of disabled veterans who are seeking compensation for their roles as caregivers. According to the Times, compensation for family members of disabled veterans has become a "pressing issue" because better medical technology has allowed more soldiers to survive with serious injuries.

In 2007, there were 3,000 disabled veterans who required full-time clinical- and care-management services, according to the Dole-Shalala Commission. In addition, families today are more proactive in their care of disabled veterans, according to James Peake, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Peake said, "When Bob Dole came home from World War II wounded, his mother in Kansas quit everything she was doing and came to take care of him at the hospital, no questions asked," adding, "That's not the case anymore." According to the Times, families "still race to veterans' sides, but they are demanding more from the government."

In the last session of Congress, families and veterans groups persuaded lawmakers to introduce legislation that would allow, among other things, families of soldiers with traumatic brain injuries who undergo training and certification with VA to be paid for their caregiving services. VA officials opposed the legislation because they said the agency could be held liable if a veteran was injured by a family member trained by the department. The bill did not come up for a vote.


Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said veterans' families suspected the government was not compensating them because families would provide care regardless of payment. "They are kind of being taken advantage of," Rieckhoff said.

According to the Times, the families of disabled veterans that pushed for legislation last session believe that the bill has a greater chance for passage in the next congressional session because President-elect Barack Obama has endorsed other proposals that were supportive of veterans' issues. In addition, future first lady Michelle Obama has said that assisting veterans' families will be a priority for her.

The Times reports that some programs "are already evolving." Under a program implemented in the 1990s, family members can train with companies with which the government contracts to provide home health aides. Certain disabled veterans are permitted to hire those family members to provide care. However, the program allows veterans to hire family members only for four hours per day, which participants say is not enough because they often spend significantly more time caring for the veteran. In addition, the families object to a third party receiving a portion of their pay. VA does not compile data on how many families use the program, the Times reports.

The Times profiled two families with disabled veterans, one who is a quadriplegic and another with an amputated arm and brain damage (Kaufman, New York Times, 11/12).

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