If you’re a caregiver of a veteran wounded before 9/11 you receive no stipend from the Veteran Affairs administration (VA), no health care and no mental health help. And if you receive the Defense Department’s monthly caregiver stipend for active duty service members, you are subject to taxes.
But a new bill offered this month by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wa.) would change that and so much more.
The Military and Veterans Caregiver Services Improvement Act (or “Hidden Heroes Act”) of 2014 offers a series of life changing improvements to assist the caregivers of wounded warriors of all eras. It fixes inequities and gives us boosts where we need it most.
As of right now, for example, full time caregivers are given a stipend by the VA that is not taxed. But a similar one known as Special Compensation for Assistance with Activities of Daily Living (SCAADL) given to the caregiver, often the spouse, of those still on active duty is taxable. This should be tax-free and should include mental health services, which it currently does not. But the bill would change that.
Another big change in the bill would influence how wounded warriors can use their GI Bills. Right now active duty service members must meet certain years-in-service requirements and incur an additional service obligation if they transfer their GI Bill benefit to a spouse or children. But the Murray bill would allow those who injured in action to transfer their bills without those requirements or obligations.
Another fix would give caregivers a childcare stipend so they could afford respite time without their children.
But, in my eyes, the biggest fix is to the VA Caregiver Program. Right now that program applies only to post-9/11 caregivers. It gives them a monthly stipend, mental health services and ChampVA insurance coverage. The Murray bill opens it up to all caregivers from every military era, men and women who have been living this life for decades without any support.
Caregivers are at major risk for burn out and depression thanks to the constant nature of their “jobs” with their service member. But this bill would make life for these men and women just a little easier. That’s something we owe them.
Cheryl Gansner is the wife of a wounded veteran that was injured on July 28th, 2006 in Kirkuk, Iraq. Bryan and Cheryl have been married for eight years and have one daughter. Cheryl has her bachelor’s degree in Social Work and is the Program Coordinator for Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor Program. Hearts of Valor serves caregivers of wounded, ill or injured service members post 9/11. For more information on Cheryl check out her blog at www.wifeofawoundedsoldier.com.