Late Breaking News
Military Programs and NGOs Assist Military Families but Many Still Face Financial Hardships
- Categorized in: January 2010
WASHINGTON, DC—On May 31, 2008, Army Pvt Kevin Kammerdiener was serving in Afghanistan when a suicide bomber drove into his Humvee. On top of the Humvee when the bomber struck, the explosion sent him 35 feet into the air blowing off his helmet before he landed on the ground on his head.
Though he was critically injured and sustained burns over 25% of his body, he survived. Initially, he was in a vegetative state, but now, one and a half years later he is living with the loss of 85% of the function of the left side of his brain, among other injuries. “I know how lucky I am that my son is alive and he is able to do things and knows who he is,” Leslie, his mother, told U.S. Medicine.
Leslie describes her son as having “an extreme sense of humor,” and as an “extremely kind and giving person.” Leslie is Kevin’s caregiver as he continues with medical appointments and surgeries and functions with a limited vocabulary of 52 words.
While Leslie is learning to live with her son’s injuries, she is also learning to live with a new financial reality. Because she gave up her job in Pennsylvania at a cable company to care for her son, she no longer has an income or medical insurance, and currently depends upon donations from her home community in East Brady, PA to provide her with living expenses.
Kevin continued to receive military income after his severe injury prior to retiring from the military. This allowed for the purchase of a home in his name which he and his mother live in. For Leslie, however, life is still a struggle. Since Leslie is caring for her son, this does not leave her time for an outside job, so she is struggling to meet her financial obligations.
Legally, as a parent, the current compensation her son receives for his military service must strictly be used for his needs and not go towards any of her expenses, she explained. “Kevin is going to be financially taken care of for the rest of his life by the VA, but I am not taken care of…,” she said. “I am not out looking for a free ride. I am busting my butt, and [caring for him] is the only thing I can do right now until he is well enough so that I can get a part-time job,” she said.
Providing for Caregivers
While there are military programs as well as NGOs that provide some assistance to military families, many still face financial hardships. In an April 2009 study conducted by CNA for DoD, it is estimated that annually 720 new caregivers are needed for seriously wounded, injured, or ill servicemembers. The report estimated that if a caregiver is needed for 19 months, the earnings and benefits losses for the caregiver total $60,300.
When those interviewed for the survey were asked what they would tell military leaders regarding gaps between what is needed by caregivers of seriously wounded and injured and what is provided, the survey stated that, “they agreed unanimously that lost income resulting from being at the bedside is the biggest hardship. Replacement of caregivers’ lost earnings is not something that charities generally provide.”
Parents, who are not military beneficiaries, face burdens, such as potentially losing their benefits, the report noted. “Many parents are not military beneficiaries, so their health benefits may be at risk as a result of leaving their jobs. If they use Medicaid for their health care, their coverage is non-transferable outside the state they live in,” the report stated.
Congress Looks at Caregiver Issue
Steve Stobridge, director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America, said that it is an issue that his organization is very concerned about. “The biggest issues are when the caregiver is a parent, fiancé, or sibling, or someone who is not recognized by the military as a military dependent. In that case, any money they get goes to the servicemember. Many times, the caregiver has to quit his or her job. We’ve had some who have given up their homes and wiped out their retirement savings in order to meet living expenses because they basically had to become a full-time caregiver to the wounded warrior,” he told U.S. Medicine last month.
MOAAand other organizations have been lobbying Congress to address issues affecting caregivers. Stobridge said that some progress is being made on caregiver issues. In the fall, Congress passed the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act that was signed into law that contains a provision to provide special DoD monthly compensations that will enable seriously injured service members to use a non-medical attendant for help with daily living or during travel for medical treatments.
The compensation is intended to help caregivers of these wounded servicemembers, according to Stobridge. In order to be eligible for the payment, a servicemember’s condition would have to be so severe that the servicemember would require hospitalization or other institutional care without the caregiver. “We are happy that Congress is finally trying to focus on this, trying to do something about it. Our view is that even when we do this, we still have a ways to go, but we are very grateful for the progress,” said Stobridge.
One issue that Stobridge said his organization would have preferred, however, was for Congress to have directed that DoD compensation to go directly to the caregiver, rather than the servicemember. Stobridge said that by giving it directly to the caregiver, it ensures that the caregiver receives compensation. “It still goes to the servicemember [in the legislation] and that is why this is still a continuing problem,” he said. As of the middle of December, Stobridge said that his organization was also awaiting the passage of VA legislation that addresses caregiver issues.
Shannon Maxwell, the wife of retired Marine Lt Col Tim Maxwell, who was wounded in Iraq in 2004 and sustained a TBI, said that it is important that Congress address issues for caregivers. “For me as a spouse caregiver, the biggest difference that I have over some families that will truly benefit from these bills, is that I have been blessed with a really strong support system in my friends, neighbors, and teenage children and we work as a team. The difference is that some of the families don’t have those support teams in place. All of these changes will ensure that a caregiver can augment those areas where a support team would have helped,” she told U.S. Medicine.
She and her husband have been involved in helping other families who are dealing with war injuries. They started SemperMax, which is a service disabled veteran owned corporation devoted to the support, employ and advocacy of wounded warriors and their families.