VA Outlines Plan To Help Caregivers Of Wounded

WASHINGTON (AP) - A long-awaited plan to give caregivers of severely wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans some extra help was unveiled Wednesday by the Veterans Affairs Department with few specifics about when it would be fully implemented and how many families would benefit.

A law signed May 5 by President Barack Obama instructed the VA to provide more support to family members who give up their job so they can provide care such as feeding and bathing their loved one who was wounded at war. A monthly stipend, health insurance and mental health help were among the benefits. The law change was significant because it also instructed the VA for the first time to provide help directly to a veteran's family member.

The VA rolled out the plan under pressure from Sen. Patty Murray, chairwoman of the Veterans Affairs' Committee, and some veterans' service organizations frustrated by the VA's pace. The law was supposed to be implemented by the end of January.

Katie Roberts, a VA spokeswoman, said the VA will be working with them and others in the veterans' community to make it happen, but she didn't offer a timeline.

"While some services will be available right away the others will take thoughtful, deliberate work to make sure the caregivers of our most vulnerable veterans have access to all additional services," Roberts said.

Jeremy Chwat, a spokesman for the Wounded Warrior Project that lobbied for the law, said the lack of information about when the services will be available is unacceptable.

"By VA's own admission the regulatory process is going to be long and the caregivers who have already waited so long are now being told by this administration to wait even longer," Chwat said.

Roberts said caregivers for about 10 percent of the critically wounded from the recent conflicts would be eligible, but she did not have an exact number.

While the enhanced benefits are for the caregivers of the severely disabled veterans from the recent conflicts, the VA said it is improving other existing programs for caregivers of veterans from all eras. It named a caregiver coordinator at each of its medical centers and last week rolled out a caregiver support hotline, which has already received more than 700 calls.

Veterans service organizations had pushed for more support for all caregivers of veterans, but Congress was not able to come up with enough money to do so. Under the law, the VA must report to Congress within two years about the possibility of providing the enhanced benefits to all caregivers.

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