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Beyond Just Celebrating the Day – Caring for All Veterans

Marine combat veteran Todd Nicely and Xerxes on the deck of his home at the Lake of the Ozarks.
Marine combat veteran Todd Nicely and Xerxes on the deck of his home at the Lake of the Ozarks.

Washington, Nov. 11 – As the nation celebrates Veterans Day, it is important to truly remember our veterans and ensure we are taking care of their needs.

One of their top priorities is employment. Government policies that help veterans with disabilities get and keep jobs are a win-win because they allow veterans the dignity and financial benefits of work and also grow our economy and save taxpayer money.

RespectAbility, along with several partners including Paralyzed Veterans of America, developed a resource called the Disability Employment First Planning Tool. This document details those practices and the most-effective models. If the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act, which was recently signed into law, is put into place thoughtfully, it will help to reduce the government’s expenditure on SSI benefits, while enabling veterans with disabilities with the opportunity to become independent and achieve the American dream.

With help from Paralyzed Veterans of America, we’ve identified two other areas of concern for veterans and some ideas the presidential candidates could use to create their policies.

1) Do you support allowing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide or pay for reproductive services, including IVF, for veterans who have incurred a catastrophic disability while in service that precludes them from having children?

The VA currently does not provide health care benefits for procreative services to veterans with a service-connected condition that prevents the conception of a child. Reproductive assistance provided as a health care benefit through VA would ensure that these veterans are able to have a full quality of life that would otherwise be denied to them as a result of their service.

For many, one of the most devastating results of spinal cord injury or dysfunction is the loss of, or compromised ability, to have a child. As a result of the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, many service members have incurred injuries from explosive devices that have made them unable to conceive a child naturally. While the Department of Defense does provide reproductive services to service members and retired service members, VA does not. When veterans have a loss of reproductive ability due to a service-connected injury, they must bear the total cost for any medical services should they attempt to have children. It is often the case that veterans cannot afford these services and are not able to receive the medical treatment necessary for them to conceive. For many paralyzed veterans, procreative services have been secured in the private sector at great financial and personal cost to the veteran and family.

2) Do you support expanding access to comprehensive caregiver support services to all catastrophically disabled service-connected veterans, not just those injured after September 11, 2001?

Severely disabled veterans with a service-connected injury or illness do not have full access to caregiver support programs and services from the VA. As a result of Public Law 111-163, the “Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010,” the VA only provides the Comprehensive Caregiver Support Program to caregivers of veterans with a service-connected injury that was incurred after September 11, 2001. The benefits include health care coverage through the VA’s Civilian Health and Medical Program of Veterans Affairs, a monthly stipend based on the care provided, and payment for travel and lodging when participating in medical appointments with a veteran.

The majority of PVA members are excluded from these VA caregiver benefits because of the arbitrary selection of the September 11, 2001 date, or because the law excludes veterans with serious diseases such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Multiple Sclerosis (MS), both of which have a catastrophic impact on activities of daily living, and eventually leave veterans dependent on caregivers.

Quality programs that meet the critical needs of service-connected, catastrophically disabled veterans should not be denied because of their date of injury. No reasonable justification, other than cost considerations, can be provided as to why pre-9/11 veterans with a service-connected injury or illness should be excluded from the comprehensive caregiver program.

As severely disabled veterans begin to age, their caregivers will bear an increasing number of responsibilities. Without support services, quality of care is threatened and the veteran is more likely to be placed in costly institutional care. Both the exclusion of “serious illnesses and diseases,” and the use of the “date of injury” as an eligibility requirement for such an important benefit is unfair, and likely to have negative impacts on veterans’ quality of care and well-being.

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