Some Military Caregivers Lose Benefits While Rolls Grow

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.







Service Dog Cappucino Shows Off for Patriot Paws

Photo courtesy of Patriot Paws.

Watch as Cappucino helps his master dress and undress, fetches items like a bucket or a broom and even picks up trash. Mike his owner is paralyzed and was given Cappucino by Patriot Paws.

When Mike came to pick up Cappucino, he didn’t want to take the dog after learning that there were veterans on a waiting list to receive a service dog. But the Patriot Paws talked him into and said instead he would help raise money and awareness for the program. That’s what he’s doing in this video:

The demonstration was held at the 2012 United Access of Dallas Open House. Despite the large crowd, the smell of barbecue and being in a new environment, Cap showed how a service dog can help veterans.

Purple Heart Day: Florida Wants Wounded Remembered

The Florida Department of Veterans Affairs is supporting two modest bills for the 2012 legislative session that don’t require any state money.

If passed, House Bill 469 would designate August 7th as Purple Heart Day in Florida.

“August 7th back in 1782 was when Gen. George Washington established the Purple Heart back in the Revolutionary War,” said Steve Murray with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Florida is late in recognizing military veterans who were wounded or killed in combat.

“Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada are just a few of the states that have been out there,” said Murray. “So, this is not Florida unique, but it’s important enough that we want to encourage folks to honor our wounded warriors.”

The legislation would call for commemorations, however, it would not make August 7th an “official holiday” so state workers would not get the day off.

The other bill, Florida Senate Bill 94, would give  student veterans an advantage already extended to some student athletes. The legislation would allow early course registration for veterans, especially those using the new post 9-11 GI Bill, to help them complete their education and get the required courses necessary before their financial aid runs out.

Murray said it’s important that both bills are revenue neutral because there’s little chance of legislation that costs money passing in these tight budget times.

A Veteran Adapts Thanks to a Service Dog, VA Social Rehab

Frances "Frankie" Torres volunteering for the community renovation project earlier this month at Tampa's K9s for Veterans.

If people get a little too close, Frankie Torres becomes anxious when he’s out in public. That’s when Hunter steps in to help shield Torres. Hunter is the Army veteran’s service dog.

I met Torres at Tampa’s K9s for Veterans. That’s not where he got his service dog. Instead, Torres was there volunteering with the Mission Continues and Home Depot community project to renovate the service dog facility earlier this month.

Torres used the volunteer project as a step on his way back from injuries. He’s part of the James A. Haley VA social rehab program. Many wounded veterans, like Torres, are uneasy when put in a civilian, social setting. It can feel foreign and destabilizing especially to a soldier dealing with post traumatic stress and brain injuries Torres said.

“I had a brain injury which I had to recover (from). I was in a wheelchair for a long, long time,” Torres said. “Thanks to the VA Hospital here in Tampa, they helped me cope with my injuries and learn how to deal with them with minimum medication.”

Frankie Torres proudly served on active duty for more than 18 years.

Proudly wearing an 82nd Airborne cap, Torres talks about his 18 and a half years of active duty serving in Panama, Columbia, Kosovo, Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, it’s an accomplishment to attend a local community event.

Torres credited his progress to his will to live, “It’s a lot of depression that sets in when you’re active duty and then you come out of it. And you can’t do what you could do before, but through the social rehab program I learned to deal with my inner self and try to kind of put the injuries aside.”

“I took that label that was supposed to be a label ‘oh, I’m an injured vet, I suffer from depression and anxiety’ to – I could go out there and do other things and enjoy life.”

Working on rehabilitating the buildings and kennels at K9s for Vets was a good fit because it reminded Torres of his service dog, Hunter.

Renovations included new fencing around the K9s for Veterans kennels and dog runs.

“I still suffer from seizures and my dog, he’s trained to, he senses when I’m going to have a seizure,” Torres said. “Also when he senses that I’m anxious, my heart rate goes up, he stands in front of me so if anyone comes too close – he kind of like pushes them away – to give me that space to be able to relax.”

Torres said some people view having a service dog as a crutch, but he disagrees.

“I could tell my dog secrets and talk to him and tell him how I’m feeling and I know he’s not going to go out there and blabber it out to people,” Torres said. And thanks to his service dog and the James A. Haley VA social rehab program – Frankie Torres – is reentering the civilian world a step at a time.

Civilian Cyclists Can Join in a Soldier Ride

Soldier Rides were started in 2004 as a way to raise money for the Wounded Warriors Project.

Soldier Rides started solely for wounded warriors to help restore them physically and emotionally and civilians were invited to only to cheer them on. But now, the Wounded Warrior Project sponsored cycle rides are welcoming the public to ride along.

So far, cycle teams representing Republic Riders, MSGI Corporation, EKS Group, Bank of America and Macy’s are signed up for the Tampa ride.

At first the public were only spectators, now civilians are invited to ride along with the wounded warriors.

That Soldier Ride is set this Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011, in Tampa. It will start and finish at Macy’s WestShore Mall, 259 WestShore Plaza. Registration begins at 6:30 a.m., the ride starts at 8 a.m. followed by a community picnic. For registration and details, click here.

The ride provides a unique adaptive cycling experience that honors military men and women living with physical and invisible wounds.  The Wounded Warrior Project provides equipment and support to participating injured service members at no cost to the warrior.

Soldier Ride raises funds for Wounded Warrior Project programs and initiatives to ensure this generation is the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded warriors in our nation’s history.

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