When America sends its troops to war, they fight bravely and, if necessary, give the last full measure to protect our freedoms. In return for their service, the troops and their families expect the Veterans Affairs Department to properly provide for them if they return from their duties injured. Five years into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, thousands of troops returning with severe physical and psychological injuries are receiving subpar care because of an inadequate federal program, according to the Wounded Warrior Project. All Americans should be concerned.
Traditionally, the VA contracted with private caregivers to serve veterans. Since the 1990s, the VA has allowed the relatives of injured troops to train as aides with the companies under contract that provide home care. The main objective of the new approach is to keep the veterans at home with relatives, which is less expensive than institutionalizing them.
But relatives, many of whom are spouses, make great personal sacrifices to be caregivers, and they are not compensated. Some even give up lucrative careers to care for their loved ones. For several years, they have been campaigning to get the VA to fairly compensate them for their efforts. During the last session of Congress, veterans advocates and families persuaded lawmakers to introduce a bill that would, among other benefits, permit families of troops with traumatic brain injuries to be paid for being in-home aides after they are trained and certified by the VA. The bill did not come up for a vote.
Now, hope is running high that things will change. President-elect Barack Obama has supported other legislation for veterans. The next first lady, Michelle Obama, has said she is committed to helping veterans and their families. All Americans should encourage the new administration to support legislation to compensate veterans' families for the care they give. To deny them is to inflict more pain on families that already have seen more than their share.
In a move in the right direction, the Labor Department approved rules that will allow relatives of seriously injured or ill troops to take up to 26 weeks off from work annually to care for them. The regulations also let relatives of those called to active duty in the National Guards and the Reserves take up to 12 weeks off to handle important matters before departure and after return. Labor officials deserve credit for approving these regulations.