Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) maintains a wide range of programs for injured American veterans and service members. The programs help to sustain the mental and physical health of those individuals who have experienced trauma while serving their countries. In addition, WWP serves as a strong advocate for the needs of veterans. Frequently, representatives from the organization appear before Congress to speak about the most pressing issues facing the veteran community and make policy recommendations about how to best meet the needs of individuals who have sacrificed so much for their country.
Much of the advocacy work that WWP undertakes relates to access to care, particularly in terms of veterans’ ability to afford health care coverage and make appointments with providers in a reasonable amount of time. The organization played a decisive role in getting two bills passed that have provided more than $3 billion in funding for additional training and health care coverage.
More recently, WWP has focused on the needs of caregivers and has worked to push through legislation that will improve their efforts to care for individuals with serious wounds. WWP supported the creation of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Family Caregiver Program, which provides robust support for the caregivers of veterans who served in the post-9/11 era. In addition to providing stipends to supplement caregiving, individuals can receive respite and other vital forms of assistance. WWP has worked to ensure that policymakers regularly revisit the legislation behind the program in order to ensure that it continues to meet the needs of the people that it is trying to protect. To that end, the organization has recently brought up the following issues to Congress.
One of the top concerns about the program is that it limits eligibility to the caregivers of those people who have service-connected injuries, wounds, or illnesses acquired after 9/11. While the program was created in order to meet the needs of specific service members, individuals from all generations and their caregivers deserve assistance. WWP asks that the program be expanded to all veterans and their caregivers. Anticipating the challenges of such an expansion, WWP also emphasizes the need to keep existing programs operating as effectively as they currently are.
Creating Greater Consistency
WWP also asks that Congress address the inconsistent way in which the Family Caregiver Program has been implemented across geographic regions. Currently, there is not a sufficient number of Caregiver Support Coordinators (CSCs) available to provide services to all caregivers who are eligible for the program. Moreover, many of the CSCs working around the country are not integrated into medical care teams, so they do not have direct information on the burden that caregivers experience. As a result, caregivers sometimes see their service eligibility reduced or removed for reasons that they do not understand. The program would benefit from greater consistency and increased integration with larger care teams.
Instituting Transition Services
In many situations, the benefits of the Family Caregiver Program are not meant to be permanent. As the situations of veterans and their caregivers change, people often lose eligibility. When this occurs, individuals can be left with radical shifts in their daily lifestyles seemingly overnight. To prevent serious issues from arising, VA officials should institute a transition services program that lets individuals know what changes to expect and how they can prepare themselves in order to continue to thrive. Moreover, CSCs should play an active role in connecting people to additional services in the community when they continue to have unaddressed needs.
Clarifying the Fiduciary Process
Through the Family Caregiver Program, caregivers can become fiduciaries of the veterans whom they assist. However, many people have found this process to be confusing and even burdensome. A great deal of paperwork is involved, and the language used aligns more with that of a professional fiduciary than a family member. Moreover, some families have reported unexpected consequences as a result of appointing a caregiver as a fiduciary, such as the loss of a veteran’s Second Amendment rights. CSCs or other officials should be available to help families navigate this process and all the consequences of making this legal change should be discussed beforehand.
Improving the Appeals Process
Often, changes in eligibility and services are made without consulting with veterans’ medical teams or speaking with their caregivers. Ensuring fairness in these situations is dependent on a robust appeals process that gives both veterans and caregivers a voice in saying what they need and to explain the situation. Many families have complained of wrongful revocations, which is what created the need for an appeals process. However, the small number of successful appeals attests to the difficulty of going through the process. In order for families to continue to receive the services and support that they need, the process needs to be improved and clarified.