A new push to help families of veterans
Recognition is growing in the military that soldiers' injuries put extra hardships on immediate family members.
It's become a new refrain: Families of veterans, say advocates and senior military officials, are becoming "brittle" from the strains of war and need help.Skip to next paragraph
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The controversy last year surrounding Walter Reed military hospital called attention to the problems of ailing veterans, and the Pentagon moved to improve care and shore up lagging programs. Now the focus is broadening, as advocates and military officials recognize that family members of injured veterans endure extra hardships and need help caring for their loved ones.
This new push is as much for members of families caring for injured veterans who will most likely not return to active duty, as for families of active duty National Guard and Reservists whose families are dealing with the impact of their deployment overseas.
Some advocacy groups insist that the families of injured veterans are in crisis. "We have to take care of the caregivers," says Joy Elam, assistant national legislative director for the advocacy group Disabled American Veterans. "There are huge gaps in those programs."
About 40 percent of the roughly 300,000 veterans from the war in Iraq have accessed Veterans Administration mental healthcare benefits, for everything from posttraumatic stress disorder to substance abuse and "mood disorders," says Rep. Michael Michaud, a Democrat from Maine who chairs a subcommittee on the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, and held a hearing on the matter last week.
"Veterans' mental-health conditions not only affect the returning veterans, but also have a significant impact on their families," he says. "While the VA is working hard to care for veterans with mental-health needs, too often families of these veterans are neglected."
The case of Annette McLeod illustrates this. McLeod's husband, Wendell, is a soldier who was severely injured in July 2005 near the Iraq-Kuwaiti border when a truck door blew open and sent him sailing through the air. He suffered back and shoulder injuries, but also developed a "cognitive dysfunction" that has made it impossible for him to return to work thus far.
He now waits to hear if the Army will give him permanent disability status. Annette had to quit her job at the assembly line where she had worked for 20 years to take care of him full time. The couple live on his VA income and Social Security.