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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Vets' families deserve caregiving support

Most military families will affirm that service members who suffer injuries in wartime duty have made a great sacrifice but it's not the only one.

Relatives spouses, parents, other family members often shoulder much of the burden of their recovery and care.

And many of them want to be that primary caregiver, recognizing that their loved one may do better in the home rather than in an institutionalized setting.

But they need help to do it.

That's why more than a dozen of them circulated through the halls of Congress last week to drum up support for legislation that assists family caregivers in a variety of ways, including coverage of training, respite help and counseling and treatment to help them bear up under the strain.

Some efforts already exist or are proposed in various plans. For example, the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, which has passed the Senate, would expand access to compensation for troops who suffer injury or illness in the line of duty, rather than only in combat, and to family caregivers.

But it's going to take a systematic approach by the Veterans Administration to deliver this support most effectively, rather than sending families chasing after an array of scattered grants. That's why S. 801, the Family Caregiver Program Act of 2009, a bill introduced by Hawai'i Sen. Daniel Akaka, deserves further discussion. In addition to training, it would give primary caregivers health care benefits and stipends.

Although home care is widely believed to be most cost-effective, the actual studies have not been finished. How much would the VA cover? And how big a stipend could families get?

A final critical question: Would the benefit be sufficiently comprehensive? Since Sept. 11, 2001, about 6,800 troops have received serious injuries in the line of duty, but there are older vets to consider as well.

Despite the questions left to answer, it seems rational to conclude that a good way to help America's wounded warriors is to help those who may be able to care for them most lovingly: their families.

These troops have given enormously to the nation. It's not asking too much of taxpayers, who all benefit from their service, to share in the true cost.