(Photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Montes)

Law: Bring caregivers to the table during pre-separation counseling

"If a caregiver is involved from the beginning, we’re going to see fewer veterans slip through the cracks, and fewer families struggling from the stress."

December 13, 2017 - 5:42 pm

Thanks to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018, service members in the separation process will have more assistance for both them and their caregivers. Currently, caregivers are not involved when veterans are going through pre-counseling to learn about VA benefits.

The National Defense Authorization Act, signed by the president Dec. 12, empowers the DoD and VA to work together toward better integrating caregivers into the conversation around the veteran’s and caregiver’s resources during military separation.

“Well, this is a significant change and a huge piece of progress for caregivers across the country and for our cause,” said Steve Schwab, executive director of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, which advocates on behalf of caregivers and their families.

“It actually is a really terrific example of Washington working.”

This section in the new law requires the DoD to ask service members who are in pre-separation counseling to identify if they have a caregiver. If they do, then “pulling that caregiver into the conversation and going through a robust set of resources that they can utilize, that they can apply for, that they can use to support the health, wellness and rehabilitation of their veteran,” Schwab said.

The idea to create legislation that would involve caregivers during this important time in a new veteran’s life came from Dole Caregiver Fellow Amber Oldfield of South Dakota during a meeting with Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) last year.

“It is vital that caregivers be included in the transition process. When a service member transitions out of the military, he or she is often lost in a new and complicated system, and for a caregiver, helping your veteran navigate this system without having been involved from the beginning is incredibly daunting,” Oldfield is quoted in an Elizabeth Dole Foundation press release after the bill became law.

"If a caregiver is involved from the beginning, we’re going to see fewer veterans slip through the cracks, and fewer families struggling from the stress," she added.

The DoD and the VA now have six months to implement this change, and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation will be working with both departments to help in the process of implementation, according to Schwab.

“We want it to be effective, we want folks to be able to understand the kinds of supports and services that are available to them. We want it to be methodical, we want it to become a new and sustained part of the separation counseling that active service military members and their families go through upon separation,” he said.

As a foundation that has advocated for caregivers for five years, “Every step we take is a step of progress in gaining awareness for this population and support and services that they need,” Schwab said. “The idea is to make this hidden population unhidden. And so this is another step in that direction.”