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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RAYMOND & PAT DEMPSEY
Take a quick look at Air Force veteran Raymond “Ray” Dempsey and you may not be able to tell he suffered a spinal cord injury while serving on a nuclear, biological and chemical team during Vietnam. But his injuries resulted in the loss of feeling in his extremities, leaving him in need of a caregiver for the rest of his life.
“I can’t feel with my hands, they’re usually in a fist,” said Ray. “I can’t feel my feet. So my wife is pretty much my hands and feet.”
Pat Dempsey—Ray’s wife—has been his caregiver for decades in order for him to live a high-quality life at their home. All without any support from the government.
“I’m so afraid I’m going to have a problem myself,” Pat said. “Once the caregiver is injured, we’re in big trouble.”
One of the many effects of caregiving can be the feeling of isolation. Often, caregivers are on the job 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Add that up over a few decades and the caregiver often misses out on common social relationships or feelings of individuality. Statistics reveal that between 40 and 70 percent of veteran caregivers experience clinical symptoms of depression, which can be associated with the caregiving experience.
“There are so many things my wife would like to do,” said Ray. “Activities with the neighbors or in the community, but she has to cancel some of those things. She doesn’t go because she has to take care of me.”
Under the current law, caregivers to post 9/11 veterans are eligible to receive no less than 30 days of respite care a year. Respite care can mean the caregiver can take care of their own well-being while being confident that their veteran is still being well taken care of. They are also entitled to receive mental health services and counseling to meet the unique needs of the caregiver. However, veterans injured before Sept. 11, 2001 are not eligible to receive these life-changing resources.
“I think it should be awarded to all veterans from all generations,” said Pat. “Whether you have a spinal cord injury from Vietnam or a spinal cord injury from the Gulf War, you still have that injury. You still need quality care.”
“As we get older, we will need caregivers more and more,” Ray said. “I can’t live day to day without my caregiver. I’m so proud that the government is supporting [the caregiver program] for today’s veterans. But I do believe veterans from all conflicts and wars should have a caregiver. And their caregiver should be eligible for the same benefits and resources”