I was born into the military, the daughter of a decorated, accomplished jet fighter and Air Force Officer. My father, a decorated Air Force Ret Lt Col, was awarded many medals and honors of valor and service. He flew 900 sorties (from the French word meaning exit) in Vietnam and served a career in military service from 1958 - 1980.
A military brat born in wartime means that I was raised with a high level of uncertainty - we moved 6 times by the time I was 11 years old, my father was in active combat not really expected to return, and my mother was ‘flying solo’ supporting three young daughters. When caregiving for military veterans this is the music of your life that plays in the background.
My father’s exposure to Agent Orange was in active combat duty in Vietnam. His exposure led to Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma cancer which is what he was suffering from when I became his caregiver. There was a lot that I did not know that I needed to manage while in the emotional storm of caregiving for my Dad. As part of Caregiven’s mission to support caregivers, I want to share some of the military resources that I wish that I had known about before he started to get sick.
Caregiving for Veterans is Unique
November in the U.S. is when we honor both Veterans Day and National Family Caregivers Month. Caregiven’s mission is to share tools and resources to support caregivers and reduce the overwhelm in this selfless act of love. We want to make it easier for caregivers of military service members to find the support they need ideally before they need it.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs also sees this November as a way to honor veterans and support their caregivers. Dr. Colleen Richardson, the Executive Director of the VA Caregiver Support Program (CSP), explains her organization’s focus in this video.
The CSP gives caregivers of veterans “a menu of services to family members and friends who care for veterans” that span from education and support both online and in person. The following are ten such programs (to learn more, read up here).
Annie Caregiver Text Support through text messaging
Building Better Caregivers online workshop
Caregiver Self-Care Courses in-person class trainings
Caregiver Support Line (CSL) for over the phone assistance
CSL Caregiver Education Calls each month
General Telephone Support through evidence-based intervention
Peer Support Mentoring program among caregivers
Resources for Enhancing All Caregivers Health (REACH) VA Intervention from VA clinical staff
Spanish-Speaking Telephone Support Group Caregiver Calls
VA Video Connect (VVC) pairing up veterans and caregivers with VA healthcare providers in virtual medical rooms
Financial Support for Military Family Caregivers
Financial support, pensions, education programs, disability pay, and caregiver support for veterans is raised through income tax to aid the nearly 22 million veterans and their families in the US. Our government also funds the operations of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The President’s budget for the 2022 fiscal year is requesting nearly $270 billion for the VA, which will be “a 10 percent increase above fiscal 2021 enacted levels.” Of this overall budget, $1.4 billion will go to support veterans caregivers-- that’s $350 million more than the previous year--and much of that will end up with the Program of Comprehensive Assistance to Family Caregivers (PCAFC). According to the VA, the PCAFC program will support “individuals who act as caregivers for Veterans,” and a “phased expansion of the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to include all eligible Veterans, no matter when they served.”
Eligibility criteria differs for each of the following programs:
Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers
This program offers cash benefits to family caregivers for vets injured “in the line of duty prior to May 7, 19756 or on or after September 11, 2001.” Veterans who qualify are those needing assistance with at least one daily activity. Family caregivers can also receive training, education and counseling. More here.
Housebound Pension Benefit
Veterans and surviving spouses with permanent disabilities that render them unable to leave home can receive a monetary benefit with monthly benefits.
Unmarried veterans without depending children: $1,419
Married veterans or vets with a dependent child: $1,778
Surviving spouses with no dependents: $1,191
Aid & Attendance Pension Benefit
Similar to the Housebound Pension Benefit, this cash benefit for vets and surviving spouses assists those requiring long-term in-home, assisted living, or nursing home care. To learn more about the application process and eligibility for both programs, go here.
Under the current plan, a single veteran can get up to $1,936 per month, a married vet with a dependent up to $2,295 per month, and surviving spouses with no dependents up to $1,244 each month.
Veteran Directed Home & Community Based Care
This program works for veterans of any age who are registered with the VA’s medical benefits package. The flexibly monthly budget covers daily activities that include meal prep and managing medications. Participants have control over the benefit money and decide where to spend it; caregivers are paid at an hourly rate set by the VA and adjusted locally. Click here to learn more.
I sincerely hope that helping other military brats and spouses find support and connect with resources decreases your stress, reduces the time you spend on the scavenger hunt, and gives you more quality time with your loved one. At the time when you want to share stories, learn about their service, and hold each other it is relieving to know that there is a community of caregiver support out there for you.
Caregiving is a service that we give freely and bravely to our family. There is honor in this service. I love you Dad. I will do my best.
Call VA’s Caregiver Support Line (CSL) at 1-855-260-3274 to learn more about the support that is available to you, and for assistance connecting with the Caregiver Support Team/Coordinator, at your local VA Medical Center.
VA CSL Expanded hours:
-Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET
-Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET
Your local Caregiver Support Coordinator is a licensed professional who can support you by matching you with services for which you are eligible, and providing you with valuable information about resources that can help you stay smart, strong, and organized as you care for the Veteran you love.
Taking care of families is a solemn promise we make to each Airman and family member," said Secretary Donley during his remarks to the Air Force Sergeants Association. All Airmen should have the confidence that they can rely on their fellow wingmen and the Air Force to help care for their families.