UPDATE June 8, 2018
Earlier this week the President signed into law the “VA MISSION Act,” a bill that will extend eligibility for VA’s comprehensive caregiver assistance program to veterans severely injured before September 11, 2001. The approval of this legislation marks an historical expansion of the VA caregiver program and is a huge leap forward towards providing fairness to all veteran caregivers. It took years of debate, collaboration and finally compromise, but soon thousands more catastrophically injured veterans of all eras—and their caregivers—will become eligible for critical programs and services that they were once denied. While we will continue this fight in the years ahead to ensure that no veteran or unsung hero is left behind, this was a major victory and we couldn’t have done it without advocates like you.
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MARY ANN KECKLER
Robert Keckler was a young man stationed in Germany in 1987 when he became paralyzed from the neck down after a swimming accident. His mother, Mary Ann, became his full-time caregiver once he was well enough to leave the hospital overseas.
Mary Ann—a veteran herself—left her career to care for Robert. All the things a mother does for her child, Mary Ann found herself doing for her adult son full-time. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week—her life became solely focused on caring for her son who served his country.
Mary Ann received no assistance such as respite or stipend from the government for all that she sacrificed for her son. She cared for him and helped him to find joy in life, like his love of computers. She made her life revolve around the love and the care she had for her severely injured son until his passing in 2015.
“When you’re taking care of someone who is critically wounded, you do not have time for yourself,” said Keckler. “It’s all about them, not about you.”
Family members who provide care to individuals with chronic or disabling conditions are themselves at risk. Emotional, mental, and physical health problems arise from complex caregiving situations and the strains of caring for their loved ones.
“The American people do not realize what it takes to be a caregiver,” Keckler said. “You have to be there constantly, up day and night. As a caregiver, you don’t have a life. Your life is completely taken away from you to help somebody who has served this country.”
High rates of depressive symptoms and mental health problems among caregivers, compounded with the physical strain of caring for someone who cannot perform activities such as bathing, grooming and other personal care activities, put many caregivers at serious risk for poor physical health outcomes. The impact of providing care can lead to increased health care needs for the caregiver.
About two-thirds of the population of caregivers are women, and according to the American Journal of Public Health, report higher levels of depressive and anxiety symptoms and lower levels of subjective well-being, life satisfaction, and physical health than male caregivers.
Keckler believes any sort of assistance that could provide caregivers some sort of respite from their day-to-day responsibilities could make all the difference in the life of a caregiver.
“Respite to the caregiver is everything,” said Keckler. “It gives [caregivers] a break to be able to do something for themselves. Even if they don’t even leave the house or if they just go to a movie, if they can relax and take time for themselves, and think about their own needs, that’s what respite would mean for them.”