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Published: Friday, 2/25/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Failing our veterans

Last May, President Obama signed a law designed to help thousands of families who are caring for the nation's wounded soldiers. Since then, the parents, spouses, and siblings of post-9/11 veterans have watched the calendar with hope in their eyes.

They were told that help was on the way in their struggles to provide 24-hour care for seriously wounded warriors. It was supposed to arrive Jan. 31. Instead, that day came and went. Heartbroken, hard-working relatives are left to wait some more.

Under the new law, the Department of Veterans Affairs must provide qualified primary caregivers with a monthly stipend, medical insurance, training, counseling, and as much as 30 days of respite care so they can take a break from their overwhelming responsibilities. The law specified the Jan. 31 start date. But the VA failed to meet that deadline and has offered no timetable for completing its draft of regulations for eligibility.

In a development that could be even worse in the long term, the VA said this month that the program Congress earlier estimated would serve 3,500 veterans now is expected to cover just 10 percent of soldiers getting home care who were critically wounded in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — about 850 people.

Caregivers, veterans organizations, and lawmakers are right to complain. The White House said that the delays were unacceptable, and that it is important to get the details right so benefits go only to those who deserve them.

But the bureaucrats must move faster. They should put themselves in the shoes of an affected family.

Leslie Kammerdiener's son Kevin nearly was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. She gave up her job and home in Pennsylvania to move to Texas, where she cares for him full-time.

She's not looking for thanks or praise for tending to her son's needs rather than placing him in a VA facility. But she now is financially strapped, doesn't have medical insurance, and is physically and emotionally drained.

She's 45 years old. Her doctor told her she won't make it to 50 if she doesn't find a way to take better care of herself while she cares for her son. Now, instead of worrying only about when help will arrive, Ms. Kammerdiener is left to wonder whether it will come at all, and whether she will be among those who eventually qualify for it.

Family members who care for wounded soldiers do it out of love of their relatives. But they also save taxpayers the cost of providing institutional care.

The caregivers act says they've earned some help in return. It's past time the government gave it to them.



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