Caregivers have been overlooked by VA over the years, but those days are over, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said Oct. 29.
Speaking at the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Sixth Annual National Convening, McDonough said one of VA’s most important jobs is to support caregivers.
“Our job at VA and EDF is to help those caregivers to find ways to make their lives easier – both because that’s the right thing to do, and because supporting caregivers improves outcomes for Veterans,” he said.
VA will continue to focus on four pillars: advocacy, access, outcomes and excellence. Focusing on those four is critical, as the stress of managing a household and Veteran’s medical conditions during a pandemic is hard.
“This is the type of stress that leads caregivers to suffer from anxiety, depression and health issues more often than most Americans,” McDonough said. “And it means that our shared mission to care for those caregivers has never been more important than it is right now.”
During the pandemic, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation partnered with VA to provide more than $500,000-worth of free, professional respite services to caregivers who needed it. On top of that, VA has vaccinated more than 85,000 caregivers and given personal protective equipment, all while delivering more care and benefits than ever before.
McDonough said VA will continue the close collaboration with the Veterans’ Family, Caregiver, and Survivor Advisory committee – which is chaired by Senator Elizabeth Dole. VA’s dedication to caregivers shows, with its first ever senior advisor for caregivers: Meg Kabat advises the secretary on families, caregivers and survivors.
“We’ll move heaven and earth to get caregivers timely access to their VA resources,” he said.
Ensuring that caregivers who help Veterans with assisted daily living get those resources, McDonough noted that the Program of Comprehensive Assistance will soon expand to cover all generations of caregivers. PCAFC was previously expanded in October 2020 to eligible Veterans who incurred or aggravated a serious injury in the line of duty in the active military, naval or air service on or before May 7, 1975. Soon, access to PCAFC will include eligible Veterans from all eras who have a serious injury – incurred or aggravated in the line of duty in the active military, naval or air service.
VA announced in September that its Caregiver Support Program is extending eligibility through Sept. 30, 2022, for Veterans who are legacy participants; it additionally extends to legacy applicants and their family caregivers who participate in the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers.
This extension applies to Veterans who were participating in PCAFC before Oct. 1, 2020, and to individuals who applied for PCAFC before Oct. 1, 2020. It also applies to those who were accepted into the program after Oct. 1, 2020.
The secretary highlighted other programs, too, including the Program of General Caregiver Support Services. Dedicated staff at every VA medical center meet with caregivers, help identify their Veterans’ needs, and come up with a plan to address them. VA’s “vitally important” Peer Support Program for caregivers strengthens relationships between caregivers, providing an opportunity for networking and empowering caregivers to help one another.
“Because as you know, the health and happiness of caregivers is inextricably tied to the health and happiness of the Veterans they serve,” McDonough said. “In other words, by improving caregiver outcomes, we improve Veteran outcomes – and we at VA are going to stop at nothing to do both.”
The secretary then cited a story of a Veteran who is a quadruple amputee and whose wife is his primary caregiver. He said the Veteran needs daily help, ranging from brushing his teeth to putting on his prosthetics in the morning. The Veteran appreciates when people come up to him and thank him for his service, but noted that nobody comes up to his wife to thank her for the service she’s given to the country by being a caregiver. The secretary said that’s wrong and he’s out to fix it.
“I know that at times, throughout VA’s history, caregivers have been overlooked,” he said. “Or not included. Or not appreciated for the back-breaking work they do, and the incredible service that they provide. But I’m here today to say, to any caregiver watching, that those days are over. Let me repeat: those days are over.”
Respite relief – https://hiddenheroes.org/respite/.
VA Caregiver Support Program – https://www.caregiver.va.gov/.
Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers – https://www.caregiver.va.gov/support/support_benefits.asp.
Program of General Caregiver Support Services – https://www.caregiver.va.gov/care_caregivers.asp.
Peer Support Program for caregivers – https://www.caregiver.va.gov/support/Peer_Support_Mentoring_Program.asp.