A forgotten population in the veteran community has been the caregivers of our disabled veterans. In my opinion, there is so much emphasis on the veterans themselves, and rightfully so; however, the sacrifices of our veteran caretakers should not be in vain or unrecognized. As discussed below, there are many non-veterans sacrificing a great deal to help those who have served our country.
A recent study by the Rand Corporation indicated that more than 5 million Americans are serving in the role as caregivers for disabled veterans. This group includes spouses, children, parents, and friends. The study indicated that a large number of these caretakers spend more than 40 hours a week caring for veterans, frequently missing work, and experiencing economic loss in order to help their loved one. The study also showed that caregivers suffer from elevated risks of health problems such as depression.
In VA disability law, there is a type of compensation available known as special monthly compensation, or SMC for short. SMC is awarded to veterans as additional compensation over and above their regular disability payments due to the profound or severe nature of their disabilities. There are many different types of SMC benefits, but in the caregivers’ context, the two that are most relevant are SMC(s) which is the ‘housebound’ benefit, and SMC(l), which are ‘aid and attendance’ benefits.
SMC for housebound status does not necessarily require a veteran to be confined to his/her house, although this is one way to obtain the benefit. The other way is if the veteran has TDIU or a single disability rated at 100%, and other service connected disabilities with a combined rating of 60 percent or higher. SMC for aid and attendance may be implicated if a veteran needs assistance with activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing and undressing, or feeding.
The overall message from the Rand study is that there is a dire need for programs and services that cater to veteran caregivers. I certainly echo this sentiment, and note that although monetary benefits such as aid and attendance and housebound are helpful; it seems that these benefits do not fully compensate or account for the great sacrifices of our veteran caretakers. It is my hope that one day this population will be able to receive the services and benefits needed in order to make sure they are completed supported, emotionally and financially, and fully recognized for their valuable contributions to our disabled veterans.