New benefits for veterans of the Iraq-Afghanistan war are designed to help those in desperate need of medical treatment by helping their caregivers with training, insurance and other support.
As for what defines “severely wounded,” the requirement is that veterans cannot be able to perform at least one daily function. “It could have to do with something as simple as going onto the computer, or answering the phone, or getting the mail,” said District Representative Joseph Donat. “Anything that we, unfortunately, would take for granted that we do without thinking about.”
To kick off Memorial Day weekend, Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland) appeared at the White Plains Veterans Affairs Medical Group on South Broadway to introduce the resources.
Passed in 2010, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Act provides additional help to veterans in desperate need of medical treatment. The act, which costs the government an estimated $3.7 billion over a five-year period, affords families caring for severely wounded soldiers with: proper training, a monthly stipend for the caregiver, compensation for the actual disability of the veteran, as well as having all health care costs and benefits are covered.
“These new landmark benefits will provide training for caregivers… while providing them stipends, health insurance, mental health assistance and other support necessary to keep their loved ones in their own home,” said Lowey. “This training developed in close coordination between (Veterans Affairs) and Easter Seals ensures that family caregivers, not only receive the financial assistance they deserve, but have a choice in their method of training, proving flexibility for those who are already doing so much.”
The first training courses will begin in June. The VA anticipates that nearly 3,500 veterans and service members are expected to qualify for this program in the first year.
The act also covers mental, as well as physical, disabilities. Some of the mental barriers could deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and other symptoms that may come as a result of that. There is no need for applying veterans to provide stressors or anything along those lines. So long as it’s documented that the applicant served in the Middle East, and can prove symptoms are as a result of the service, he or she will qualify. “There’s no actual tedious application process for that,” said Donat.
For the immediate future, only veterans who were injured in post-9/11 in Iraq or Afghanistan are eligible to receive the benefits. Ultimately, the goal is to extend the act for veterans requiring aid from all eras, however it remains up to the VA whether the bill is ultimately modified.
Also in attendance was Lani Ridenhour, a local resident and volunteer at the Red Cross on North Broadway, who dedicates her time working with supports groups dealing with separation of loved ones serving overseas. Ridenhour’s husband, Al Ridenhour, is a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Ridenhour is currently in his 23rd year of service.
“I spend 100 percent of my time supporting military troops,” said Ridenhour. “We team up with the Four Winds hospital for support groups. In that support group we give the men and women all the tools necessary for separation, for grief, depression, you name it… Often we think the troops only need help, but it’s also indeed the spouses that are left behind to hold down the fort. So these things are very important to me."
The family caregiver program application can be downloaded at www.caregiver.va.gov. The application enabled the veteran to designate a primary family caregiver, and secondary caregivers. Caregiver support coordinators are available to assist in the application at local VA medical centers or by phone (1-877-222-8387).
“From our work supporting veterans and military members, we know there’s a tremendous need to take care of those who have been injured from their service,” said Ken Kraeger, member of the Sons of the American Legion and host of their weekly radio show on WVOX. “Today we have a very small percentage of the US public serving in our military, carrying a tremendous load and providing a tremendous service that keeps us free, and in many cases, are suffering injuries due to their service. There are many, many military members that need assistance in many ways… This is one step forward."