Caregiving for Veterans — There’s a Map for That

John was an Army officer who was struck by a bomb blast that threw him 20 feet from where he was standing while on a patrol. After a few months of recovery, John’s family realized something was very wrong. He began having spells of confusion and memory loss, and as he got older, things got worse for him. His wife, Mindy, took on the full responsibility of being his caregiver. Every task, from cooking dinner and paying bills to managing my John’s healthcare fell on her. She loved her husband dearly, but caregiving for him wasn’t an easy task and she needed all the help she could get.

Millions who are Caring for Veterans Need Assistance

Similar to John’s family, over 5.5 million spouses, mothers, fathers, siblings, and other loved ones across the U.S. are facing enormous challenges caring for members of the military and gravely injured veterans. More than a million caregivers are caring for a veteran or service member who served after September 11, 2001, while 4.4 million are caring for someone who served on or before September 11, 2001. Military caregivers provide $14 billion of uncompensated voluntary healthcare services annually. According to the Dole Foundation, “By caregiving for these heroes, these families are serving our country with the same honor and duty their loved ones demonstrated in volunteering to defend our freedom. Why then is there little to no support for those who are caring for our wounded warriors?”

“Hidden Heroes” Answers the Call for Military Caregiver Assistance

The Dole Foundation answered this need when they launched “Hidden Heroes,” a groundbreaking campaign to call vital attention to America’s military and veteran caregivers. Actor Tom Hanks, the campaign chair, presided over the launch, which included a series of major announcements and commitments that will bring critical resources to those caring for wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans. According to Hanks, “If we want to be a nation that truly cares for those who have borne the battle, we must also be a nation that cares for our caregivers.”

In establishing “Hidden Heroes,” the goal of the Dole Foundation is as follows:

  • Raise awareness of the issues military caregivers confront every day.
  • Inspire individuals, businesses, communities, and civic, faith, and government leaders to take action in supporting military caregivers in their communities.
  • Establish a national registry, encouraging military caregivers to register at HiddenHeroes.org to better connect them to helpful resources and support.

How Hidden Heroes Works: The Military and Veteran Caregiver Experience Map

To assist caregivers, the Dole Foundation set up an online resource to guide caregivers. The Military and Veteran Caregiver Experience Map is a valuable tool that caregivers can use to manage the complex process of providing care for military veterans. The intent of the map is to visually represent the journey that caregivers take when they accept the responsibility of caring for a veteran. The map identifies three stages in the caregiving process, and notes turning points and landmarks along the way:

  • The first stage is “Becoming Aware & Adjusting.” This is the period when the family member is beginning to notice changes in a loved one that affects their relationship. A tipping point often occurs as a result of a health crisis which forces the family member to realize that something needs to change. As a result, this individual begins to identify himself or herself as the primary caregiver.
  • The second stage of the journey is named “Shifting Priorities & Seeking Help.”  During this stage, the caregiver who has committed to take on the additional responsibility of caring for a loved one seeks answers and reaches out for support. A care plan comes together but setbacks often occur at every stage along the way.
  • In the third and final stage, identified as “Finding a Rhythm,” the caregiver has established a personal support system and finds a new rhythm in daily life with the veteran. Each day is described as “a cycle of understanding and problem solving” and is a work in progress. This rhythm recognizes the new normal created by the veteran’s physical and mental limitations and the resulting care plan. Occasionally the caregiver may experience grief or anger about this new reality but usually maintains hope for the future.

This experience map is certainly a worthwhile re-creation of the caregiving process for caregivers of veterans, and of course can help caregivers of others as well. It provides a meaningful tool for military caregivers that recognizes the invaluable service these hidden heroes provide and helps them prepare for the challenges they will face.

Military caregivers don’t often ask for help, but they deserve our support. If you’re caring for an injured service member or veteran, we hope you find this to be a helpful resource!

Hidden Heroes in Local Cities

As part of the “Hidden Heroes” effort, the U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution to encourage cities to increase resources for military and veteran caregivers. To inspire participation, the Dole Foundation established “Hidden Heroes Cities,” a growing network dedicated to identifying local military and veteran caregivers and increasing awareness and support for them. Through this program, cities join the Foundation and participating communities across the nation to streamline services and share best practices for addressing the needs of caregivers at a local level. In our area, Washington, DC and Alexandria, VA are considered “Hidden Heroes” cities. See the entire list here.

Planning for Veterans

Here at the Farr Law Firm, we work with veterans and their spouses to evaluate whether they qualify, or may potentially qualify in the future, for the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit and/or Medicaid, and we deal with all the paperwork. Although there are new rule changes that make qualifying more challenging, you can rest assured that the Farr Law Firm Elder Law experts are at the forefront of working through the new VA regulations and implementing the newest asset protection strategies that are required to help our clients obtain these important benefits that they have earned by serving in the United States Armed Forces.

Living Trust Plus™ for Veterans

Since Aid and Attendance is harder to qualify for now with the newly enacted three-year lookback rule (similar to the five-year look back rule for Medicaid), the Living Trust Plus™ asset protection trust is often the best option for a veterans asset protection plan, as well as Medicaid asset protection planning. The Living Trust Plus™ is a very special type of irrevocable asset protection trust that you create while you are living that allows you to retain full control over all of the trust assets, including the right to live in or use any trust-owned real estate. Read more about Living Trust Plus™ here.

Applying for veteran’s benefits can be confusing and arduous. Here at the Farr Law Firm, we work with veterans and their families to evaluate whether they qualify or may in the future qualify for the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit and/or Medicaid, and we deal with all the paperwork. As a Certified Elder Law Attorney and an Accredited Attorney with the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, I understand both the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit and the Medicaid program and the interaction between both entitlement programs — and this interaction between the programs is of crucial importance because most veterans who start off needing Aid and Attendance will eventually need Medicaid, so all asset protection planning that is done to make a veteran eligible for Aid and Attendance must take future Medicaid benefits into account. Please call us at any time to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation:

Veteran’s Aid and Attendance Attorney Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Veteran’s Aid and Attendance Attorney Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Veteran’s Aid and Attendance Attorney Rockville: 301-519-8041
Veteran’s Aid and Attendance Attorney Washington, D.C.: 202-587-2797

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