- - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

“Lets Include All Era Veterans in VA Programs”

Did you hear about Henry Stalak? A 97-year-old disabled World War II veteran, he was recently kicked out of North Dakota Veteran’s Home. If one of his family members had access to the VA Caregiver Program, they would be eligible for a small stipend, health insurance, respite care, counseling and the support of a caregiver coordinator. Instead, Mr. Stalak’s family was left with having a local news team investigating for the answers as to why he was kicked out just three years shy of his 100th birthday.

How can you help our veterans who served before September 11, 2001? By calling and/or emailing Congress, asking that House and Senate members  support the bipartisan federal legislation titled “The Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act” – S.1085 of the 114th Congress. I am constantly asked “how can I help?” well, by letting Congress know that you support veteran, military caregivers and the passage of this bill, you’re helping.

In my opinion, the most important part of this act is opening up the VA Caregiver program to all service-era veteran’s caregivers. There are also many other parts of support written into this bill, including giving veterans the opportunity to transfer the GI Bill to a dependent – to help a spouse of an injured veteran succeed in becoming the primary income source for the family, child care assistance and financial and legal counseling. This bill also includes a provision to make all caregivers who work for the federal government eligible for flexible work schedules.

Many politicians are hesitant to expand yet another entitlement program within our nation’s budget. So, let me ask these questions: Is it more expensive to house a veteran in a long-term care facility or is it cheaper to assist the veteran’s primary caregiver to help the veteran remain at home? Will the veteran have a better chance at improving his or her health and long-term success on their own, or with the support and encouragement of a military caregiver? It can be fair to assume that in many cases, the better success rate would involve the veteran being at home, with a trained and properly supported military caregiver.

I often wonder if the prior service-era caregivers were offered the support of the VA when their veteran came home and that tie to a high rate of veterans’ homelessness? The families who welcomed home their veteran in years past, were ill prepared for the challenges they faced helping the veteran successfully reintegrate into civilian society. Many of those veterans ended up homeless as a result. So, do we continue to show our thanks as a nation by allowing a man who was drafted at the age of 18 into Vietnam to sleep in trash bags under the highway overpass?

I hope not. We must expand the VA Caregiver Program to include all veterans of all eras and continue to ensure that all of our veterans’ caregivers receive support.



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