Veteran caregivers completely fulfill President Abraham Lincoln’s charge to care for those who have borne the battle, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said Feb. 24 at an online forum.
Speaking at an Elizabeth Dole Foundation event, McDonough said he will fight for both Veterans and families.
“A key priority of the president’s guidance is to keep faith with families and caregivers,” he said.
Caregivers have seen increasing support through VA. However, more needs to be done.
“We now have a caregiver support program that offers a full menu of services for those caring for Veterans,” he said. He then cited items such as home care and telehealth, with those appointments increasing more than 1,000% during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He emphasized that family caregivers who are enrolled in VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, or PCAFC, are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccination when the Veteran they care for becomes eligible. VA will tell the family caregiver if they can get a vaccine when VA invites the Veteran to get one.
“One of the most important things we can do for caregivers is to help them take care of themselves as they so selflessly take care of others,” he added. “Now, there’s more to do.”
McDonough cited the example of Jack and Jean King. Jack, a Vietnam Veteran, recently received a non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Stage 4 diagnosis. Jean left her medical career to support and care for her husband as his caregiver. She had to learn quickly about VA’s programs. Receiving help from Tiffany Pundai, a VA Caregiver Support Program social worker, Jean praised VA for the assistance.
“We are just so grateful for VA,” she said. “Without them, I don’t know what we would have done.”
After citing the example for the audience, McDonough acknowledged that caregivers need VA just as much as VA needs caregivers. “What would we do without you?” he asked, before noting that that level of support for caregivers should be the standard.
“That’s the kind of expert, compassionate support we owe caregivers and Veterans,” he said. “It’s the kind of positive experiences we owe Veterans and caregivers across the country. The president has demanded that we hear, improve and expand VA support to better meet all caregivers’ needs.”
McDonough pledged to continue implementing programs to support caregivers. These include the Campaign for Inclusive Care, which seeks to include caregivers into Veterans’ medical teams, and fully expanding Mission Act eligibility to all generations.
Next up, McDonough supports better understanding the impact of care on Veterans’ children and how to better serve them. He said the Veterans’ Family, Caregiver, and Survivor Advisory Committee advises VA on programs to better help provide benefits.
VA will work on changing policies and finding areas of opportunity to improve caregiver support, said Meg Kabat, senior advisor to the secretary for families, caregivers, and survivors.
“We can actually do quite a bit to support families,” Kabat said. “We could be doing more.”
She also said VA will work on expanding Veterans’ experience to include Veterans, families and caregivers.
“Veterans experience means the experience of all those who support the Veteran as well,” Kabat said.
Kabat echoed that VA will continue to collaborate with partners, highlighting past successes as expanding telehealth through free cellular data, providing technology for Veterans, and Project Atlas, which gives Veterans access to telehealth.
Spouses, dependents and survivors can receive a variety of benefits through VA. These can range from education and training through the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistance Program to life insurance to compensation for surviving spouse and dependents.
For more information on VA benefits for spouses, dependents, survivors and family caregivers, visit https://www.va.gov/family-member-benefits/.
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation empowers, supports and honors the nation’s 5.5 million military caregivers; the spouses, parents, family members and friends who care for America’s wounded, ill, or injured veterans.
The Hidden Heroes Caregiver Community (HHCC) is an online support group that offers a positive place for military caregivers of all eras to connect with one another. Moderated by caregivers, military caregivers can share their stories, seek advice and find commonality in the challenges they face. Military caregivers can register and join the HHCC at www.HiddenHeroes.org.
TAPS provides comfort, care and resources to all those grieving the death of a military loved one. Since 1994, TAPS has provided comfort and hope 24/7 through a national peer support network and connection to grief resources. These services are no cost to surviving families and loved ones.