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Veteran Caregivers Continue to Wait for Benefits

Law is slow to provide support, respite care

Amid much fanfare, President Obama signed legislation last May designed to dramatically ease the burden faced by caregivers of this nation's wounded veterans.

See also: When wounded vets come home.

Under the law — known as the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act — those caring for veterans wounded since Sept. 11, 2001, are eligible for a host of benefits ranging from financial assistance to mental health support and respite care as of January 2011.

caregiver-holds-cup-for-wounded-soldier

Veteran caregivers continue to wait for "critically needed benefits." — Kevin Moloney/The New York Times/Redux

But today that assistance is nowhere to be found. Implementation of the law is so delayed that a month after the program was supposed to begin, the Department of Veterans Affairs was still working to figure out how it might work and who exactly would qualify for benefits.

"They're pretty upset," says Disabled American Veterans' Adrian Atizado of the families he's heard from.

Members of Congress also are none too pleased about the delay. A group of 18 senators representing both parties wrote to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki in February accusing the agency of withholding "critically needed benefits."

For their part, VA officials now say the program could be in place by this summer.

"We all agree the process has taken longer than many expected," the agency said in a statement. "This is new territory for VA, but we have to get it right."

Michelle Diament is a frequent contributor to the AARP Bulletin.

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