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Veterans Health Administration

Taking Care of those Taking Care

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Deborah Amdur

Caregiver — Another Kind of Hero

If you are taking care of a Veteran, you will relate to Jennifer Conlon.

“I have to watch for booby trapped doors at night because he is paranoid. Crowds overwhelm him and open spaces have him scanning constantly for snipers.”

Jennifer’s husband served two tours in Iraq. During his second deployment, his vehicle hit IEDs multiple times.

He was eventually diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, severe post traumatic stress disorder and depression.

He also had spinal surgery to take out the discs that were ruined from the blasts and the excessive wear.

“He stays in bed for days, and when he isn’t in bed, my daughter and I find ourselves walking on eggshells because we never know what will set him off.”

Just about the time it all seemed too much to bear, Jennifer heard about VA’s Caregiver program.

“I almost didn’t apply. I cannot tell you how wrong I was.”

VA has recently rolled out enhanced services for eligible seriously injured Post 9/11 Veterans, including a monetary stipend, health insurance, expanded training and other support services.

VA has long known that having a Family Caregiver in a home environment can enhance the health and well-being of Veterans under VA care. It’s working for Jennifer.

“Being a part of this first time program is a huge blessing to me, the stipend will allow us a much better quality of life.”

The Caregiver program is designed for a whole category of people serving our nation — our Family Caregivers of Veterans who have long gone unrecognized for the sacrifices that they have made.

This new program offers Veterans the ability to remain in a comforting home environment surrounded by loved ones and supported by a dedicated Family Caregiver.

Another routine government program? Hardly. But Jennifer knows that reaction.

“When I heard about the Caregiver program I almost didn’t apply. I’ve been so used to not being taken seriously by people, friends and family included, about my husband’s condition.

“I cannot tell you how wrong I was. This was the most painless process I have ever gone through that has been associated with my husband’s military career or medical care.”

Incredibly Demanding Job

You’re there to support your Veteran. We’re here to support you. VA knows your focus as a Family Caregiver is taking care of the Veteran you love. It can be an incredibly demanding job, and we want you to know you don’t have to do it alone.

According to Deborah Amdur, VA’s Chief Consultant for Care Management and Social Work Service, “Having been in their homes and visited with these Veterans and their caregivers, you see their level of sacrifice and dedication and it’s incredibly moving.

“Anything we can do to support them, we need to be doing. They are real unsung heroes.”

You know that VA provides benefits and services for Veterans, but did you know that VA also has a number of services designed specifically to support you in your role as a Family Caregiver?

VA values your commitment as a partner in our pledge to care for those who have “borne the battle,” and we have several support and service options designed with you in mind.

The programs are available both in and out of your home to help you care for the Veteran you love and for yourself.

Almost 4,000 families have applied for the Caregiver program and over 2,300 caregivers have completed the required training to qualify for the program.

November is National Family Caregivers Month, a great time to learn more about how VA’s trained professionals can help you find the services and support that are right for you and the Veteran you care for.

Asking for help isn’t always easy — especially if you're not exactly sure what kind of support would be the best fit for your needs.

Information and Tools

The Caregiver Support website has many of the answers plus lots of support information and tools. Like the Caregiver Tool Box: As a Family Caregiver, you know better than anyone else that caring for a Veteran requires major organizational skills.

Whether you are new to family Caregiving or looking for fresh tips and resources, VA has created a Caregiver Tool Box to help you find tools that work for you. This page offers resources and information to help you stay on top of things and manage the daily stresses of family caregiving.

One more way VA is trying to make this easy. Jennifer thinks we’re getting there.

“Once the application was in, I steadied myself for a long wait. Again, I was wrong. Three days later I received a phone call from a social worker at the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center.

“The phone interview was actually enjoyable because I felt understood. She was empathetic and actually thanked me for standing by my husband — that recognition was amazing! There are some days when I don’t think I can hang on for one more second and to have someone recognize this made me feel very good.”

Amdur points out that 85 per cent of qualified applicants have received their stipend in 45 days. “We are proud of that and we continue to work to get it to 100 per cent. That’s our goal.”

Caregiver Support Line

The best place to start is VA’s Caregiver Support Line – 1-855-260-3274.

Whether you’re in need of immediate assistance or have questions about what services you may be eligible for, the support line can:

  • Tell you about the assistance available from VA.
  • Help you access services.
  • Connect you with the Caregiver Support Coordinator at a VA Medical Center near you.
  • Just listen, if that's what you need right now.

Jennifer summed up her experience this way:

“I want to say thank you so much to everyone who helped in my process and a huge special thanks to Marianne Hunter (Caregiver Support Coordinator at the Albany Stratton VA medical center) who wasn’t just a passing figure in helping me through this process, but is now a part of my life. Thank you for recognizing what I and other spouses are going through.”

You can read Jennifer’s complete story on VAntage Point.