VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD photo courtesy of VA
Late Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs temporarily stopped, for three weeks, its VA medical centers from kicking family caregivers off its program that provides caregivers of Post-9/11 veterans a stipend and benefits.
NPR’s Quil Lawrence reported two weeks ago that several VA medical centers had revoked the eligibility for hundreds of caregivers’ at the same time other centers were expanding their programs.
“VA is taking immediate action to review the National Caregiver Support Program to ensure we honor our commitment to enhance the health and well-being of Veterans,” said Dr. David J. Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs. “I have instructed an internal review to evaluate consistency of revocations in the program and standardize communication with Veterans and caregivers nationwide.”
There are some exceptions. Revocations will still be done at the request of the veteran or caregiver, for noncompliance, death or long-term hospitalization of the veteran or caregiver. For more on the program, go to the Caregiver Website or call the Caregiver Support Line at 855-260-3274.
More than a million Americans are providing care to disabled Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. About 40 percent of these caregivers are young spouses. Photo Courtesy: Department of Veterans Affairs
A report broadcast this week by National Public Radio’s Quil Lawrence found that certain VA centers were dropping caregivers of severely wounded Post 9/11 veterans from a VA support program.
The Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers was created to provide additional benefits to caregivers of Afghanistan and Iraq combat veterans. The support can include health insurance, respite care and a monthly stipend. But as Lawrence found more than 20 percent of the VA centers are purging their caregiver rolls:
But the VA is infamous for lacking consistency from station to station. And while the program has added 6,300 caregivers since 2014, according to VA data, NPR discovered that 32 out of 140 VA medical centers were cutting their programs during the same period — some drastically.
That included the VA in Fayetteville, N.C., which used to send Alishia Graham a monthly stipend of about $2,000 and offer her health insurance, respite and support.
Fayetteville cut more than half of its caregivers, dropping 314 families from the rolls between May 2014 and February 2017. And while data from the VA in Washington showed seven staff at Fayetteville were coordinating caregivers (a ratio of 37/1), the Fayetteville VA shows only two staff are doing that job, meaning that each coordinator is actually overseeing more than 125 veterans.
Check out the full NPR story and the top eight VA centers that pared down their military caregiver programs and the top eight centers that increased enrollment. At the top of the growing programs is the Phoenix VA with a 208 percent jump in caregiver enrollment between 2014 and 2017.
Cadet Nelson Lalli After being Recognized with his mother, Dorie Griggs and sister, Chelle.
Some of the most popular postings to Off the Base have been written by Dorie Griggs. She chronicled her journey as a mother, new to military jargon and life, from when her son entered the Citadel to later joining the U.S. Army.
My son is set to deploy in two weeks. He is married and has two children. His wife is his first priority and I support that wholeheartedly but is there a way for me to keep up with what is going on? Can I still be on his Family List to receive updates? I don’t want to ask him or his wife because they are already under enough stress.
I am uncertain which military branch her son is serving, but I’m hoping all current active-duty, experienced military parents and veterans can share some insight.
Thanks to the military family, ahead of time, for coming through.
The Golden Knights fly a Federal Voting Assistance Program banner promoting absentee voting. Credit: FVAP
In 2000, the Florida ballots of overseas service members were a key point of controversy in the Bush vs. Gore election. Now, 16 years later, little has changed for most overseas troops, who still have to vote absentee mostly through international mail.
Florida lawmakers did create a task force this year to study developing an online voting system for military and overseas voters. But task for members aren’t expected to meet until after the 2016 November election.
However, a handful of other states are experimenting with more modern electronic ballot return.
If you’re active duty military on base, aboard ship or in a combat zone, absentee voting can be a complex process because each state has its own regulations.
So, the Department of Defense created the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) to simplify access. But director Matt Boehmer said many service members remain frustrated with the process.
“One of the things that our active duty military told us was the fact that 67 percent of them weren’t confident that their ballot was counted,” Boehmer said referring to a 2014 post-election survey. “Certainly that 67 percent number gets people’s attention and it certainly got my attention.”
All states are required to provide overseas voters an electronic ballot. All 50 do so by email and online. Most offer faxed ballots and paper ballots can still be requested.
For instance, Florida accepts overseas ballots only by mail or fax.
“If you’re in a Forward Operation Base in the middle of the mountains in Afghanistan there’s no option to fax,” said U.S. Army veteran Diego Echeverri. “And you’re not going to have a scanner, you’re not going to have these devices.”
Echeverri served in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2004 and is Florida director for the advocacy group, Concerned Veterans for America (CV4A).
Dan Caldwell, CV4A vice president of communications and policy, is an Iraq War veteran. He said their generation expects the ease of electronic voting.
“If troops can Skype overseas in most locations now with their family members, then they should be able to find a way to securely and secretly vote,” Caldwell said. “And I think that can work. I think we have the technology to do it. It just requires some government bureaucrats to get off their butts and actually do it.”
Courtesy: FVAP and MacDill Air Force Base
But it’s not just bureaucrats; state lawmakers decide their states’ election rules.
And it’s a balancing act between giving voters the convenience of online access versus protecting the integrity of their ballot.
“We’ve got legislators who are very interested in meeting the needs of military members,” said Wendy Underhill, program director for elections and redistricting with the National Conference of State Legislatures. “They are younger. They are used to using electronic interactions for every single thing in their life, and so, there is that push against the security.”
Four states do provide online voting to limited groups like military personnel in combat zones. Alaska is the first state to allow everyone to vote online. Yet, Underhill says the Alaska process is not all that simple.
“Not only do they cast their ballot online, they have to printout a voter identification certificate and something else and get it signed by themselves and a couple of witnesses. And then, scan that back in and send it too. And so it’s not that it’s an easy process,” Underhill said.
Looking at the bigger picture, 56 percent of active duty military, in the 2014 FVAP survey, said the process to get an absentee ballot was too complicated and confusing.
Omaha Beach in the background where Pvt. Leo Chalcraft is buried at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, on September 27, 2013, at Colleville-sur-Mer, France. (Photo by Warrick Page – American Battle Monuments Commission)
Army Private Leo Kenneth Chalcraft was a green-eyed, brown-haired teen from St. Petersburg, FL when he was killed in action in World War II.
It happened just six days after his 19th birthday.
Today, his grave is among the 9,387 military dead buried in France at the Normandy American Cemetery that overlooks Omaha Beach. There, 72 years ago this June 6, U.S. troops stormed the beaches on D-Day, marking the beginning of the end of World War II.
“He was so young and I feel like he didn’t get to experience a lot of his life,” said Konner Ross, a 17-year-old who lives in Largo, near St. Petersburg. Continue reading →
Ellsworth “Tony” Williams, founder and CEO of Veterans Counseling Veterans.
The nation will remember those killed while serving their country on Memorial Day in just over a week. But a local group called Veterans Counseling Veterans wants people to think about another kind of Memorial Day – one honoring those who served in uniform and died by suicide — and is planning such as service this Sunday in Tampa at American Legion Post 5.
The Veterans Counseling Veterans memorial service is an example of the many different efforts to eliminate the stigma of suicide and improve veteran suicide prevention from Congress to local counselors.
One of the challenges some advocates say they face is a number: 22. A 2012 VA report estimated 22 vets a day die by suicide, and it’s often quoted in media reports. But that data is questionable because it didn’t include all 50 states. And it’s mistakenly associated with only Post 9-11 veterans. Continue reading →
Care packages being prepared for Citadel Cadets prior to Christmas.
The Blue Star Families blog has five essential tips to send a memorable box of goodies to your loved one overseas. And they throw in some ideas on popular gifts.
Send them holiday traditions. Pack up a DVD of the family’s favorite holiday movie such as It’s A Wonderful Life, or a family favorite holiday food like fruitcake or special cookies.
Check the country’s list of prohibited goods. The military has an agreement to not ship prohibited foods for certain countries. For example in the Middle East or Persian Gulf areas, you should not send anything that would offend people of the Islamic faith, including pork or pork by-products, obscene material, and alcohol.
Take care when packing. Some foods may spoil before they reach their destination and chocolate items melt if being mailed to a hotter climate.
Check shipping dates. The United States Postal Service suggests for priority packages and letters to mail by Dec. 10, 2015 or Dec. 3 for AE ZIP 093.
Send something to share. Deployed troops live, work and survive as teams. So, send enough cookies for their team. Some families even send personalized stockings for team members.