November 10, 2017 – Andrea Sears, Public News Service (PA)
More than 80 percent of those caring for injured veterans are ineligible for Veterans Administration caregiver benefits. (Desiree Palacios/USAF)
HARRISBURG, Pa. – This year, Veterans Day is being marked by the launch of a petition drive aimed at getting those who care for veterans with disabilities from all wars access to the same levels of caregiver benefits.
More than five-and-a-half-million caregivers are helping seriously injured or ill veterans and service members.
But, Adrian Atizado, the deputy national legislative director for the group, Disabled American Veterans, says that under federal law, Veterans Administration caregiver benefits are only available to those severely injured after September 11, 2001.
“This means that in the states of Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut, only 17 percent of wartime veterans in those three states would be eligible for this program,” he says. “And DAV is working to change this.”
The petitions will be delivered to Congress urging passage of the Military and Veterans Caregiver Services Improvement Act, which Atizado says would extend caregiver benefits to all veterans.
He points out that the caregiver benefits, available only to some veterans now, provide real support to those who help them through their daily lives.
“Things like respite care to the caregiver, a modest stipend to mitigate financial impacts of caregiving,” he adds. “They have access to mental health care if they don’t have any, and they also get some caregiver education and training.”
He also adds that Vietnam veterans, many still suffering the effects of exposure to Agent Orange, are still the majority of those seeking care from the Veterans Administration.
Atizado says the complex health issues these veterans face mean that their caregivers often experience greater challenges than other family caregivers.
“These caregivers need all the support they can get because they stay in this role for the lifetime of the veteran,” explains Atizado.