- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Veterans Affairs Department said Wednesday that help is on its way as early as this summer for family members who have been waiting for a long-delayed program to help care for severely wounded veterans.

President Barack Obama on May 5 signed a law instructing the VA to provide a monthly stipend, health insurance, mental health help and other aid directly to caregivers to help keep the veterans out of nursing homes. But the VA missed a Jan. 31 deadline for implementation. And The Associated Press reported last month that when the VA did announce its plans to help these caregivers soon after, it helped fewer families than had been intended by Congress.

Even Sarah Wade, who along with her veteran husband, Ted, joined Obama when he signed the law was among those unlikely to be included in the benefit. Ted Wade, 33, lost his right arm and sustained a traumatic brain injury in a roadside bombing in Iraq in 2004 while serving with the 82nd Airborne Division. Sarah Wade now takes care of him. It’s unclear whether his injuries are severe enough to qualify for the caregiver aid.

Veterans’ groups and members of Congress said the effort helped too few families and lacked a timeline for implementation.

The VA submitted paperwork this week saying it is putting into place a temporary plan to help the caregivers while it continues with the government’s rule-making process. During that process, it will take feedback on the scope of the program.

“We believe that with this accelerated procedure, these unprecedented new direct-to-caregiver benefits can be fully in place as early as this summer,” VA officials say in a factsheet.

A VA spokeswoman has said caregivers for about 10 percent of the critically wounded from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would be eligible, an estimated 850 veterans. But Sen. Patty Murray, chairwoman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in a statement that the way Congress had written the law, about 3,500 veterans should have a family member who is eligible. Murray will likely question VA Secretary Eric Shinseki when he appears before her committee Wednesday.

While the enhanced benefits are for the caregivers of the severely disabled veterans from the recent conflicts, the VA has said it is improving other existing programs for caregivers of veterans from all eras.

Veterans’ service organizations had pushed for more support for all caregivers of veterans, but Congress was not able to come up with enough money to do so. Under the law, the VA must report to Congress within two years about the possibility of providing the enhanced benefits to all caregivers. Use

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