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Military caregiving and the Veterans Directed Program

The pandemic changed the way we do everyday things. For caregivers, these changes may mean added stress and a need for resources and help.  But did you know that military caregivers experience higher risks of poor health, strained family relationships, and a more immense financial loss than non-military caregivers?

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A new study revealed COVID-19 has exacerbated the stress for the 5.5 million caregivers in the U.S. who care for military members and veterans. That's the bad news. The good news is that there is a host of resources available for our brave men and women who have served our country in uniform.

"The first service they want to enroll in upon discharge is with the Veterans Administration (VA)," said Keith Taylor, Case Manager and Veterans Specialist with the Harris County Area Agency on Aging. "Veterans have several options from which to choose. One of the things I am very proud of is the Veterans Directed Home and Community Based Services Program."



In cooperation with the Veterans Administration, this unique program gives veterans another option to have their caregiving needs delivered.

"It's not a traditional top-down form of delivery of services or model of care," said Taylor. "Under the Veterans Directed Program, there is a pot of funds allocated to each veteran according to their specific caregiving needs."

The VA provides the funding for the program, said Taylor. The veteran or his representative can hire their caregiver, set the hourly pay, and the hourly work schedule. Taylor said it's a self-directed model of care that works better because it takes the recipient's needs and schedules into account. A financial management services contractor even takes care of the taxes and W-2 forms necessary for employees to handle their taxes.

Janet Harris' husband, Russell, is a Navy Veteran who served in Vietnam.  She said the program has given them more freedom. It also gives her a chance to care for herself.  The VA introduced Harris and her husband to this program.  Russel Harris is in his fifth stage of Parkinson's and has Dementia. Harris says he needs total care.

"The reason this program is so wonderful is because you can work through this program to choose your own caregiver," said Harris. "We try to keep his (husband) body moving. They manually do exercises with him every day. They laugh with him. They talk to him. They watch television and explain things to him as they're watching television."

Harris said she and the caregivers try to let her husband be as normal as possible, which means being able to do day to day things like feed himself.

"We've always heard that there is no place like home, and that's the way it is for us. It's also that way for the people we take care of," said Harris. "I have a little plaque in my house that says 'Home is where you hang your heart,' and a veteran's heart is in this home.  Being at home is the greatest asset, and I am so thankful for this program."

Harris said anyone who has served our country and given of themselves, including their health, is a hero, just like her husband.

Taylor said the Veterans Directed Program is available across the country. He said that if your loved one is a veteran in need of caregiving help, ask the VA about this program.

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