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VA Offers Help To Family Members Caring For Veterans At Home

The VA hospital in White River Junction is trying to reach out to family members who may be having trouble caring for injured or sick veterans in their homes.

They held an open house on November 4.

Turnout was light, and that’s not surprising. One of the biggest problems family caregivers face is that they cannot get out of the house if  the veteran they are living with requires constant attention.

But Deborah Amdur, Medical Director for the VA hospital, says a 2010 law provides a lot of free help—including day care for the veteran and respite for the caregiver. And she says those resources often go untapped.

“So everything from home care services, homemaker home health aids, bringing primary care into the home, equipment, home renovations-- just a very long list of benefits and services,” Amdur said.

That list is especially long for family caregivers of seriously injured veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“They’re actually eligible for a very special set of benefits, which is a caregiver stipend which is designed to provide some income if a spouse is having to give up work in order to provide care giving at home as well as health insurance because if they give up a job they may not have health insurance any longer,” Amdur noted.

None of the people at the open house was caring for recent veterans. But they said the job of taking care of ageing parents and spouses from earlier wars presents, for some, equally daunting, though different, challenges.

Patrick Cleary takes care of his father in St. Albans Bay. He says his dad served in World War 2 and now suffers from hearing loss and dementia, and uses a wheelchair. He says the VA has sent welcome helpers to his house, but sometimes he feels as if they are measuring his ability to care for his dad.

“You know, am I taking care of him good enough? Somebody’s going to  go back and put a report that I haven’t been, you know, and you are doing the best that you can given the circumstance,” Cleary said.

VA officials assured him that his care giving was valued, not judged. Another woman said she felt very isolated in the Upper Valley, trying to navigate her husband’s mood swings. Jacqueline Durkee’s husband served in the Korean War and his health is deteriorating--- not just physically, but psychologically.

“He had some issues, they just multiplied, as far as his attitude and anger, because he’ll get angry at the chair--the chair was in his way, he just throws the chair and kicks it.”

At the open house, she got a lot of empathy from VA social workers.

Then came a cooking demonstration—fresh vegetable soup and smoothies. And occupational therapists demonstrated special equipment available for free, like electric lift chairs, that help people with physical disabilities stay in their homes rather than being institutionalized.

Statistics show the home—not the hospital--is where most sick, injured, or ageing veterans prefer to be cared for.  But in the most rural parts of Vermont, VA officials concede, there may not be as many subsidized services for home care as there are in more populated regions.