ORLANDO – With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now having been fought for a full decade, a growing number of soldiers returning home as veterans are still very young – in their 20s and 30s, in most cases.
For the soldiers that have been injured, sometimes quite badly, in those Middle East conflicts, the loved ones happy to get them back home now have the challenge of becoming full-time caregivers for them. It’s a challenge, particularly for young wives who have no idea how to provide the full-time care that an injured or disabled solider will need for years to come.
“It’s a strain, often, on a young relationship,” said Mearlene Filkins, the Orlando VA Medical Center’s caregiver support coordinator. “Many of these veterans are married, but often times haven’t been married that long. So now the wife or the spouse of the veteran may have young children, and have an injured person to care for on top of that.”
In an effort to help the families of injured or traumatized soldiers, the staff at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs just released an interim final rule for implementing the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act 2010, which was approved by Congress last year in an effort to provide additional support to eligible post-9/11 veterans who have decided to receive long-term care in a home setting from a primary family caregiver.
“Family caregivers play an integral role in improving the health of our veterans, and I encourage caregivers to apply for these services,” said Timothy W. Liezert, director of the Orlando VA Medical Center. “The new program builds on the foundation of caregiver support now provided at VA and reflects what families and clinicians have long known — that family caregivers in a home environment can enhance the health and well-being of veterans under VA care.”
The additional services that Congress allocated funding for includes a stipend, mental health services, and access to health care insurance. Two other key components of the program are comprehensive caregiver training and medical support, if needed.
Applications became available on Monday, May 9, and can be downloaded by logging onto www.caregiver.va.gov. Filkins said she’s available to assist families with the application process and direct them to more than two dozen other programs that VA offers family caregivers.
“I think it will be a great program for the families, for the caregivers of the soldiers who have been injured,” Filkins said. “We can help make sure they’re eligible for health care benefits, and eligible for counseling and mental health services. And they’ll get additional training.’
Filkins noted that “Typically, if somebody has been severely injured, then often times the family members get trained before the veteran is discharged. We want to make sure they specifically have the skills they need to learn. This is going to be more geared to how the caregiver can care for them at home, and also how to manage the stress of caring for them — and how to take care of themselves.”
The law was passed by Congress last May, and the VA Medical Center has been working out the details, which were finalized this week.
“It certainly seems to be timely in terms of helping the families,” Filkins said. “Part of our role is identifying some of the veterans who are already receiving services here, and helping them navigate the application process, to see that they need to do to meet the criteria for the program.”
In addition to providing the training, “There will be quarterly home visits for the caregivers to check in and see how they’re doing – and how the veteran is doing,” Filkins said. “It will be a supportive relationship.”
To get more information and learn about additional resources available to family caregivers, call the VA’s National Caregiver Support Line at 1-877-222-VETS (8387). Veterans and caregivers with questions about the new program can call Filkins at 407-646-4055.
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