Unsung Heroes: Petition Congress to Expand Caregiver Benefits to Veterans
From: Commander Dave Riley
Petitioning: Members of Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs
Like many husbands, each day begins and ends with my wife, Yvonne. As a former Coast Guard helicopter rescue swimmer and quadruple amputee, I am able to get out of bed every morning and rest comfortably at night because of her. Yvonne is my caregiver—one of America’s unsung heroes who takes care of the millions of disabled veterans living in America. She is why I am urging Congress to extend the Department of Veteran Affairs’ (VA) comprehensive caregiver assistance benefits to all disabled veterans of all eras.
Under the current VA program, some family caregivers for injured veterans are already recognized and supported for their work. But not Yvonne, or thousands of others like her. Today, only caregivers of veterans who were injured on or after September 11, 2001 are eligible - leaving tens of thousands of families caring for veterans without sufficient support or resources.
Yvonne—like so many other loving caregivers—made a lifetime of personal sacrifices to help manage my care yet she’s not eligible for all of these benefits. It is virtually impossible for me to take Yvonne for granted, but I feel like the system does. She has been, for all intents and purposes, my most important prosthetic. Her steadfast and tireless support has given me the independence I’ve needed to thrive in life.
My family is one of the many veteran families left out because of an arbitrary date in the law. In 1997, I contracted an infection that stopped the blood flow inside my body and put me in a coma for a month. That left it to Yvonne to make the difficult decision to let doctors amputate all four of my limbs and remove several internal organs in order to give me a chance at survival.
But over the last two decades, with Yvonne’s love and support, we have been able to build a meaningful life together. I was able to learn and succeed in a new career in the IT sector. I even learned to ski and golf, competed in cycling races and rose through the ranks to become the National Commander of the 1.3 million member Disabled American Veterans.
The things Yvonne does for me—helping me dress, bathe, eat, get out of bed and put on my prosthetics—are all made easier by the fact that she is right there by my side when I wake up in the morning. When a caregiver is able to stay home and provide that kind of round-the-clock care, it helps create a better quality of life and better health outcomes for disabled veterans.
It’s also been shown that supporting family caregivers is less costly to the federal government than treating veterans through institution-based options. For example, I am eligible for nursing home care which could cost nearly $400,000 per year, whereas average cost per veteran through VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers is under $40,000 annually. In addition to preventing unwanted and more costly nursing home admissions, caregivers reduce overall health care costs by minimizing medical complications and lowering the number of hospital admissions for veteran patients. And perhaps most importantly, it allows so many injured and ill veterans remain in their homes with family.
Caregivers truly are America’s Unsung Heroes. Please encourage your Member of Congress to honor and support these unsung heroes by extending ALL comprehensive caregiver benefits to ALL severely disabled veterans, not just those injured after 9/11.