New Funding for Veteran Caregivers in Utah

By Heather Hansen | January 5, 2024
Jennifer Morgan
Jennifer Morgan

Caregiver advocates in Utah have recently received funding to provide long-term support for veteran caregivers' service and time.

A caregiver is anyone who provides service to a person who cannot do a function on their own, mainly long-term service for individuals with disabilities or the elderly. These vital members of society often go unnoticed. According to the University of Utah, "It is estimated that 53 million Americans—about 1 in 5 adults—are currently providing care and support to an older adult or child with special needs. These mostly unpaid contributions are valued at a staggering $470 billion on a national scale, with $5.1 billion attributed to Utah alone." Though these heroes are creating a massive impact on their community, they rarely, if ever, have received support or compensation for their generous and humble service.

That is until now--at least for the caregivers of veterans. The Salt Lake VA Medical Center program has developed the Servailence Enhanced Active Role Caregiver Help (SEARCH) project to advocate for and support caregivers of veterans in Utah. Jennifer Morgan, COVER to COVER Program Manager and IDRPP Aging & Disability Program Manager, has had one of the most active roles in this advocacy project. Her organization recently received a $60,000 grant that will provide funding for training and community awareness of rural agencies so every caregiver can be a part of a support program. This funding will help ensure that those providing caregiving to those who have served in the military are receiving the most support they qualify for in Utah.

The goal of this funding is to provide additional support to caregivers serving individuals who used to be part of the military. Morgan explained that these support programs typically do not ask the caregivers if they are caring for a retired military member. "If they did ask that question, it could open up a whole plate of more support through the VA. So the project is really to bring some awareness to those programs and a referral process that would do a really warm referral to the VA Caregiver Support Program Coordinator ... Andrew Wittwer."

An anonymous caregiver who is participating in the VA Caregiver Health & Well-being Coaching says their life has changed because of the support and training they received. "After many years of being a full-time caregiver, I found myself mentally overwhelmed and emotionally drained. Even though I had the support of my family and close friends, it wasn't until I sought out professional help from the VA Caregiver Health & Wellbeing Coach, a licensed counselor, that my life began to change for the better.  I was surprised to find that only after a few short weeks of counseling, my life gained a newfound perspective with meaning and purpose. Where there was a feeling of hopelessness, now a new hope replaced the feelings of despair."

The application process is incredibly simple and the benefits are long-term, Morgan said. "The project goes through the end of September 2024, but the benefits for the caregiver through the VA, once they sign up they're eligible and can receive those resources basically until the person they are caring for passes away. So there isn't like 'oh, you get XYZ benefits for a year, to help you get on your feet.' ... It's a long-term support.

"The General Program is easy to sign up, no application, the only criteria is that the Veteran is enrolled in VA Healthcare ... The caregiver can be a family member but also maybe a friend or neighbor."

Morgan said this program offers a great, easy, free way for caregivers to find a community of support. "The opportunity to build these relationships with local VAs can just be a new doorway for veterans to get connected to their health care, as well as caregivers getting connected to additional benefits and resources that they really, really need."

If you are or know a caregiver who could benefit from education, resources, support, and services, please consider quickly applying for free, easy-to-use clinical services at the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs' website or contact Andrew Wittwer, program coordinator. His contact information is on the website.  You may also contact the Institute's Jennifer Morgan.

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