A program including caregivers into Veterans’ medical teams is expanding across all of VA, Secretary Robert Wilkie announced Oct. 19 during a virtual 5th annual VA-Elizabeth Dole Foundation Convening event.
The Campaign for Inclusive Care Academy equips doctors, nurses, social workers and frontline medical personnel with training to support Veterans and caregivers.
The training focuses on caregivers and Veterans receiving geriatric, polytrauma and traumatic brain injury care. Providers learn about three topics: the caregiver’s journey, the value of clear and mutual communication, and Veterans Health Administration privacy policies.
“We need to quickly and fully integrate you into the fabric of VA healthcare,” Wilkie told the audience. “Keeping you at the forefront is why we included caregivers in the design of the new electronic health record system we will launch Saturday. Keeping you at the forefront is why, under the MISSION Act, we’re expanding that caregiver program now to finally include the soldiers of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.”
Veteran eligibility includes those with a single or combined service-connected disability rating of 70% or higher. That eligibility includes Veterans whose disability is a result of an injury, an illness or a disease.
“We expect this first phase of expansion will let us enroll twice as many eligible Veterans and caregivers,” the secretary said.
Previously, including caregivers into Veteran care wasn’t consistent. Under the new program, VA medical personnel will ask Veterans if they want a caregiver included in medical care.
The program started with three Veterans Integrated Service Networks, or VISNs. The three are VISN 10, headquartered in Ohio and covering parts of the Midwest; VISN 17, headquartered in Texas; and VISN 20, headquartered in Washington and covering the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.
More than 300 VA participants trained as champions of inclusive care, said Leah Christensen, national clinical program coordinator. She said they spread awareness across VA healthcare systems, encouraging colleagues to engage in the Academy. The champions also trained colleagues on the importance of including caregivers in care planning and how to support caregivers in their role.
Christensen said after completing the Academy for Inclusive Care, results showed increases on practicing inclusive care with Veterans and caregivers.
The Campaign for Inclusive Care Academy has several goals. One is helping VA identify caregivers and make them part of the team. Equipping caregivers to promote more positive clinical outcomes is another goal. The program also aims to enhance VA’s Choose Home program and improve care in the home. The last goal is to ensure that the information VA receives about caregivers is respected and remains private.
VA started meeting with the Veterans’ Family, Caregiver, and Survivor Advisory Committee in October 2017. In September 2018, the Elizabeth Dole Center of Excellence for Veteran and Caregiver Research started. The Joint Campaign for Inclusive Care launched in October 2019.
Research published in the June 2019 edition of the journal Health Affairs showed VA and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s progress on a Veteran’s health care treatment.
The report was “Including Family Caregivers in Seriously Ill Veterans’ Care: A Mixed-Methods Study.” Duke University led the research and emphasized caregiver inclusion identified in the VA – Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Campaign for Inclusive Care, which strengthens health care and is a model for improving care in the private sector. The Campaign for Inclusive Care is one of several initiatives and programs through which VA supports Veterans’ caregivers.
Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole also highlighted a caregiver effort to help Veterans, the Respite Relief program. The partnership between VA and the Dole Foundation offers no-cost, short-term aid from at-home care professionals. They can help with bathing, cooking, exercising, transportation, and companionship, among other tasks.
The program is expanding to nationwide coverage. Caregivers in every state can now apply for no-cost professional caregiver support from the fund of 75,000 hours made possible by CareLinx, Wounded Warrior Project, and AARP. Learn more at hiddenheroes.org/respite.
(Note: this blog was updated Oct. 21, 2020)