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A New Program Is Trying To Help Veterans' Caregivers During The Pandemic

 December 17, 2020 at 10:37 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 Burnout is a common problem for family members who care for disabled veterans. And for many of them, the pandemic has made things even harder. Now a new program is hoping to give some caregivers a break. Kathy Carter reports for the American Homefront project before COVID-19 Laura Garry of Austin, Texas had a network of support when it came to care for her husband, Tom, an air force veteran diagnosed in 2016 with service related ALS. Speaker 2: 00:29 And once COVID hit, we had to stop everybody coming into the house. So it was just crazy stress Speaker 1: 00:37 Even before the pandemic Gary's daily responsibilities as her husband's primary caregiver left little time to focus on anything else Speaker 2: 00:46 You're giving for me because of Tom's high level disability. Is am I going to get a shower today? Am I gonna get to sit down and actually drink a hot cup of coffee? Speaker 1: 00:55 Now after eight months of nearly going in alone, Gary has received some much needed help with a free respite relief program from the department of veterans affairs and the Elizabeth Dole foundation, the nonprofit founded by the former Senator offer support and resources to military caregivers. Twice. Now, respite workers have come to Gary's house to prepare meals and clean the kitchen. That's a huge job because Tom has a feeding tube and his food has to be chopped blended and liquified. Speaker 2: 01:26 Those are all things that in addition to my normal caregiving duties, I have to take care of. So you just tend to forget that it takes a tremendous amount of energy, Speaker 1: 01:34 Professional caregiving company, Karen links, and the wounded warrior project donated $1 million each to launch the nationwide respite relief for military and veteran caregivers program. The Dole foundation's CEO, Stephen Schwab says the organization saw money. As the pandemic has meant. Military caregivers who are dealing with long-term isolation, Speaker 3: 01:57 Anxiety, depression is skyrocketing among caregivers and all of that equates to a crisis happening in millions of homes across America. Right now Speaker 1: 02:08 In a recent dental foundation survey, respite relief was the top need identified by veteran caregivers still says Schwab many have concerns about safety because they're looking after people with serious illnesses. Speaker 3: 02:20 So in a typical day, that veteran that caregiver, that family is vulnerable. Now that we're inside a pandemic, it can be life-threatening Speaker 1: 02:30 Schwab says before going into the home professional health care workers, complete a symptom check and recipients are also screened for COVID symptoms. That's important for the health of people like air force veteran, Laura novice, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2016, after an IED attack, the blast caused her to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and also damage the nerves that control everyday functions like her blood pressure and heart rate. That's why I noticed with a red stop sign has been taped the door of her home near Clearwater, Florida, since March it alerts any would be visitors. She has a weakened immune system. My has called the house and it was like, are you staying at home? And I was like, yes, I'm staying at home. Cause literally like everything they started saying for people who are sick coming to it, um, I was checking all the boxes basically if nervous is his daughter's caregiver, he's also a fellow with the Elizabeth Dole foundation and an advocate for other veteran caregivers. These days, he hears a lot about how overburdened they feel because of COVID-19 respite care paramount. So it's my job now to educate them and where to get help and how to get help. Steven Schwab of the Dole foundation expects the program to cover 75,000 hours of care for more than 3000 caregivers. The next step he says is to develop a long-term plan for respite relief, Speaker 3: 03:50 Because we want to change the model of the department of veterans affairs and the ways that they're going to offer respite care post pandemic on a sustained basis. So those investments are going to be super simple Speaker 1: 04:03 Because after the professionals leave, veteran caregivers are back on duty. And for many it's a full-time job. I'm Cathy Carter in Tampa. This story was produced by the American Homefront project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans funding comes from the corporation for public broadcasting.

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Burnout is a common problem for family members who care for disabled veterans. And for many of them, the pandemic has made things even harder. Now, a new program is hoping to give some caregivers a break.
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