The Department of Veterans Affairs offers help, advice, and programs for those who act as the caregivers for wounded warriors. Those who have VA rated service-connected medical issues and veterans who have medical issues that may have been aggravated by military service often rely on the help of family members and extended family.
The same is true of military members who have disabilities that were not directly caused by military service; the same needs are there and the same demands on the caregivers.
That is why the VA offers Caregiver Support. There are a variety of options include, but not limited to the following:
- Care for caregivers
- Care and assistance for veterans
- VA “by diagnosis” help and advice
- Networking opportunities with other caregivers
VA Care for Caregivers
The VA Caregiver Support Line (1-855-260-3274) is available to help by connecting caregivers with VA services. They provide assistance with benefits and the option to “just listen.” The VA also provides mentoring and peer support for caregivers of all experience levels.
These mentoring programs can last up to six months. They are available via telephone and email. There is one-time support, rather than a program lasting up to six months, via the VA Compassionate Connections program.
The VA Wants to Help Build Better Caregivers
There is a free VA provided online workshop called Building Better Caregivers. It is designed to “reduce caregiver stress and depression, and increase caregiver overall well-being” according to the VA.
This online program is intended to help those taking care of anyone with a serious injury or illness. Those dealing with loved ones who have memory issues, dementia, PTSD, or serious brain injuries may benefit greatly from this program.
Another VA program, Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers offers approved caregivers a monthly stipend, coverage for travel expenses, health insurance, mental health services, and respite care for veterans with qualifying conditions which include the following:
- A serious injury including traumatic brain injury, psychological trauma, or other mental disorder received in the line of duty, on or after Sept. 11, 2001
- In need of personal care services to perform one or more activities of daily living and/or need supervision or protection “based on symptoms or residuals of neurological impairment or injury”
In general, the patient must require six months of care or more, need supervised help or protection, and must require daily help with basic self-care needs.
Learn more or check eligibility requirements at the VA official site.
The REACH VA Program
REACH VA offers caregivers mentoring in the ways of caregiving, help with stress, mood management, and problem-solving. REACH VA is intended for the caregivers of veterans diagnosed with ALS, Dementia, Multiple Sclerosis, PTSD, or Spinal Cord Injury/Disorder.
VA Care and Assistance for Veterans
Family caregivers have much help offered by the VA. Some of this assistance is designed to give the caretaker a break, such as VA Respite Care. While others accommodate veterans who cannot reasonably travel to healthcare services and require in-home care instead.
All the programs have the end goal of helping both veteran and caretaker to cope with day-to-day life, while providing the best daily care possible. These VA programs include:
- Adult Day Health Care Centers
- Respite Care
- Home Hospice Care
- Homemaker and Home Health Aides
- Home-Based Primary Care
- Home Telehealth
- Skilled Home Care
Some of these options may be free, while others may require a co-pay. Much depends on the duration, intensity, and complexity of the care required. Some of these options have specific limits. For example, VA Hospice Care is offered to those with terminal conditions with less than six months to live and who are no longer seeking treatment.
Other programs are more open-ended. The VA Homemaker and Home Health Aides program is designed to give relief to caregivers who are isolated, experiencing personal burdens, or other issues.
The Homemaker and Home Health Aides services are provided by trained staff who are not nurses. They are supervised by nurses and provide help with bathing, meals, medications, etc.
Some of these options, including Home-Based Primary Care and Skilled Home Care, have more stringent requirements for eligibility. Specifically, home-based primary care is intended for veterans with complicated health requirements who don’t benefit from “routine clinic-based care.”
The VA official site states, “Since Home Based Primary Care is part of the VHA Standard Medical Benefits Package, all enrolled Veterans are eligible IF they meet the clinical need for the service and it is available.” Home Based Primary Care is for Veterans who have complex health care needs for whom routine clinic-based care is not effective.
Home-Based Primary Care may require a co-pay. Services possible under this VA program include:
- Primary care visits at home by a physician, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant
- Care management
- Coordination of services by a social worker
- Therapy visits from a physical, occupational, or speech therapist
- Mental health services
- Nutrition counseling from a dietitian
- Medication management.
Learn more about this VA Home-Based Primary Care program at the VA official site.
For Skilled Home Care, the same basic rules apply-services are available depending on need and availability. A co-pay may be required. Basic services include:
- Nursing care
- Therapy visits for physical, occupational or speech therapy
- Patient education
- A home safety evaluation
- Social work support
VA Help and Advice “By Diagnosis”
Some of the more complex medical conditions veterans may suffer from require explanation of symptoms, treatment options, medications, and possible interactions with other medications, etc. The VA has a library of factsheets and research information for caregivers who need to learn more about the following medical conditions:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
This includes advice and helpful writings on caring for seriously injured veterans, understanding diagnoses, how caregivers can manage stress, and other strong emotions related to being a care provider, etc.
VA Tips and Tools
Another portion of the VA official site, Tips and Tools, has a library of important information and helpful online tools that can make a difference for caregivers. Some of the handouts, fact sheets, and digital tools offered there include:
- Caregiver Workbook Module 1: Caregiver Self-Care (PDF)
- Self-Care Activities (SITE)
- Self-Care Assessment and Daily Attention Diary (PDF)
- Medication Log (PDF)
- Eight Opioid Safety Principles for Patients and Caregivers* (PDF)
- Tips for Communicating with Your Veteran’s Health Care Team (PDF)
- Making the Most of Healthcare Visits (PDF)
- What to Do When The Veterans You Care for Is Hospitalized (PDF)
VA Networking Help With Other Caregivers and Providers
Caregivers may participate in peer support mentoring. The mentors are volunteers working with the VA Voluntary Services Department at a local VA medical center. These mentors get VA training before they are assigned to work with a caregiver. Mentoring can be in person, by telephone, email, U.S. mail, etc.
The VA also provides a Caregiver Support Line, featuring monthly “telephone education groups,” where caregivers discuss self-care and other topics relevant to family caregivers. You can hear a sample recording of one of these monthly support calls or call the support line at 1-855-260-3274. This is also the number to call for caregivers to be given referrals or support in getting VA services relevant to their needs.
To participate in the monthly support events, callers must be a caregiver or a veteran receiving VA care who is caring for a loved one.
Applying For VA Caregiver Services
Each of the VA caregiver services listed here has its own set of requirements, application procedures, etc. Signing-up for these programs can be facilitated by calling the VA Caregiver Support Line at 1-855-260-3274.
For those who have applied for any of these programs, but did not agree with the VA determination made in a particular case can appeal to the decision. Caregivers may file a local or higher level appeal for review.
The VA official site states there are two levels of appeal but all appeals must begin at the VA medical center where the veteran was evaluated for participation in a given program.
According to the VA, those not satisfied with the VA decision may request an appeal using the help of a Caregiver Support Coordinator or facility Patient Advocate if needed. Learn more about the VA Caregiver Support Program Appeals Process.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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