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Not only do we need to support veterans, but their caregivers, too

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Joe Petrini is a hero. He faithfully served his country during the Vietnam War, where he suffered shrapnel wounds throughout his body. His injuries were so severe that he was treated for eight months in military hospitals before being medically retired. Joe’s frequent medical issues and chronic pain became a normal part of life for him and his wife, Diane.

But in 2012, Joe suffered a bilateral stroke that caused memory loss, balance problems, communication difficulties, and emotional issues. Diane was immediately thrown into the stressful and uncertain world caregiving, rehabilitative therapy, and doctor’s appointments.

{mosads}Joe was unable to drive and was forgetful as he struggled to cope with the new limitations of his body. Diane took charge of his medical care, and became his fiercest advocate — doing whatever it took to get him the care he needed. But the critical support she needed then — and still needs today — to continue in that role simply isn’t available because he didn’t fight in the “right” war.


There is a program at the Department of Veterans Affairs that is custom made for people in Diane’s situation. The Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC), created in 2010. It offers financial and educational assistance to caregivers in recognition of the role they play in supporting our nation’s wounded and injured veterans.

Diane took on an incredible financial and emotional burden when Joe suffered his stroke, but she is not eligible for the PCAFC since the program is limited to veterans who sustained or aggravated a serious injury in the line of duty on or after September 11, 2001. This is an injustice to the 4.4 million pre-9/11 caregivers who care for our nation’s veterans day in and day out.

Shortly after Joe’s stroke, Diane made the difficult decision to leave a career she loved, to take care of the man she loved. It’s a choice that is all too common for America’s military and veteran caregivers — the 5.5 million spouses, family members, and friends who provide for wounded, ill, or injured service members and veterans.

Recently, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs overwhelmingly passed the, VA Mission Act of 2018, sending the bill to the House floor for consideration.

The bipartisan and bicameral legislation, introduced in the House by Committee Chairman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and fully supported by Senate Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.), reforms and strengthens veterans’ health care programs, extends the Veterans Choice program for one year; strengthens the VA’s ability to recruit, hire, and retain quality medical personnel; and reviews, realigns, and modernizes the VA’s healthcare infrastructure.

Importantly, the measure also corrects the most significant deficit in the PCAFC — that only post-9/11 veterans are eligible under the current law. We applaud the House and Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committees, which have demonstrated their intent to correct this injustice.

Caregivers like Diane need a range of options, as each circumstance is unique and subject to change. We urge members of Congress to correct the inequity in the existing program that leaves family caregivers and veterans injured during World War II and the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf Wars ineligible for critical support.

In doing so, we will help millions of America’s hidden heroes, like Diane, who manage medications, schedule doctor’s appointments and rehab sessions, and provide daily personal hygiene and physical therapy to their veterans at home. The physical and mental stress on a military caregiver from this unpredictable and demanding responsibility can be overwhelming, as many also manage their family’s finances and legal challenges while holding a job and raising children.

Our service members and veterans gave selflessly to our nation, and now is the time to make sure we give back to them and their caregivers by providing timely and unfettered access to all generations of veterans. The VA Mission Act of 2018 invests in improving the VA health care system to provide the access that veterans deserve when and where they need it, while easing the burden on caregivers.

We are pleased that the VA Mission Act has passed the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, but there is still work to be done. On behalf of the military and veteran caregivers across America that we serve, we call on all members of Congress to support this important bipartisan legislation.

Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) was appointed Secretary of Transportation by President Ronald Reagan and Secretary of Labor under President George H.W. Bush and served as president of the American Red Cross. Delphine Metcalf-Foster, DAV’s National Commander, is a disabled U.S. Army veteran and was caregiver for her late husband, also a disabled veteran. 

Tags Johnny Isakson Jon Tester military family Phil Roe VA MISSION Act veteran affairs Veterans

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