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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Langevin pushes new bill to help veterans and caregivers

Family Caregivers Share Personal Stories of the Challenges They Face

Pictured from left are veteran caregivers Dottie Furlong and Angela 
O’Connell, Rep. Langevin, Kathleen McKeon of the Caregivers 
Alliance of Rhode Island and Erik Wallin, executive director of 
Operation Stand Down RI. (Photos courtesy of Rep. Jim Langevin)
WEST WARWICK, RI – Donald O’Connell served his country bravely in the Vietnam War. He later became commander of his local Disabled American Veterans (DAV) chapter so he could help other service men and women. In particular, Donald worked hard to help veterans navigate the system so they could access their benefits.

He never imagined he would be the one in need of an advocate, until four years ago, when he was diagnosed with dementia.

Thankfully, he has Angela, his loving wife of 37 years. Angela still works full time, but had to change her hours so she could better care for Donald. She drives him to and from day services and is his full-time caregiver at home. Accessing benefits and resources has been a daunting maze, she says, and her new life as a family caregiver has been overwhelming.

“You’re blindsided. It’s all on you and, without support, it’s beyond challenging,” she said. “There wasn’t a rock I didn’t look under, but an average person or an elderly person? They could never do it.”

Angela is one of many veteran family caregivers who have exhausted their emotional and financial resources doing the right thing for their loved one. Congressman Jim Langevin, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, has introduced two pieces of legislation that he hopes will make life easier for American veterans and their families, including the O’Connells.

The Veterans Homebuyer Accessibility Act would provide a tax credit of up to $8,000 for specially adaptive housing improvements and a first-time homebuyer tax credit of up to $8,000 to eligible veterans. 

The Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act would make veterans of all eras eligible for caregiver support services; extend eligibility to include a wider array of needs that may require caregiving; and expand services available to caregivers, such as child care, financial advice and legal counseling.

Dottie Furlong and Angela O’Connell,
veteran family caregivers
The bill also creates a national interagency working group to coordinate caregiver policy and services, and it reauthorizes the Lifespan Respite Care Act, which was originally introduced by Langevin and former Congressman Mike Ferguson and passed into law in 2006.

Operation Stand Down Rhode Island Executive Director Erik Wallin and Kathleen McKeon of the Caregiver Alliance of Rhode Island also spoke about the challenges facing the veterans they serve. They were joined by veteran caregiver Dottie Furlong, whose son is currently serving in Kuwait with the Army Reserves. While he is overseas, Furlong cares for his fiancée, a veteran who suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq, and is now battling PTSD.

“I’m doing what I have to do but there’s not enough support. It’s just been one heartache after another,” Furlong said. “I, as a caregiver, want to see more consistency and more accountability. I want to be part of the solution.”

Langevin believes these caregiver experiences illustrate the need for stronger supports and services for veterans and their families.

“The critical support provided by family caregivers often goes unrecognized and unpaid. These selfless individuals put the needs of their veteran loved ones first, often at the expense of their emotional health and financial security,” said Langevin. “Veterans have made tremendous sacrifices for our nation, and it is our responsibility to support them when they return home. That must include support for the families that love and care for them.”

“Our brave men and women in uniform fought the good fight on foreign lands, now we must all fight for our veterans and their families to ensure they have the resources necessary to overcome their struggles at home,” said Wallin. “Congressman Langevin’s legislation recognizes the value of the uniquely compassionate and invaluable care our veteran families provide their service member.”   

“The Caregiver Alliance of Rhode Island represents family caregivers caring for disabled children, adults and elders and the agencies and organizations that provide them with support. Included in the over 200,000 Rhode Island caregivers are many who care for those who served our country,” said McKeon. “On behalf of the Caregiver Alliance I would like to say how pleased we are to see Congressman Langevin furthering the cause of Rhode Island’s caregivers with the Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act.”