On this Memorial Day weekend, when our thoughts turn with hearts full of gratitude to those who have died on the fields of battle defending our freedoms, I take the opportunity to impart some information specifically for those who are caregivers for veterans. A word of caution: dealing with the Veterans Administration (VA), working through the rather confusing maze of paperwork, requirements, prerequisites and qualifications involved in securing benefits due a veteran can be a stressful and challenging undertaking, totally aside from your regular care duties. It is not for the faint of heart! I've been in your shoes, as the daughter of a WWII veteran, and I can tell you it is frustrating, time-consuming, and at times completely bewildering -- however, if you persevere and keep asking questions, you will eventually find it worth all the trials & tribulations of dealing with the bureaucracy. The hardest part is often getting reliable information as to what benefits the veteran is entitled to receive. There is a great deal of information on the VA website -(click here for the 2011 Benefits book) and it is available as a PDF file if you'd like to print it out. Have a ream of paper ready! It makes great reading for the insomniac.
Also online, you can begin the process by filling out the necessary application forms online, but I would strongly recommend finding a live human being in the system to help. They know how to navigate the obstacle course and they know VA-speak, which is a particular dialect of government legalese. There were two such individuals along our 17-year journey, who were extremely helpful -- one was in the office of Disabled American Veterans. He helped complete all the voluminous paperwork to achieve a veteran's Aid & Assistance pension. The other was in the local county government Veteran services office and they provide the following services:
(I am not sure every county has this type of liaison, but if you can find help at this level it will save you a great deal of time and frustration.)
Honoring Our Heroes: Veterans Benefits
Each year, on the last Monday in May, America sets aside a day to honor the servicemen and women who died serving our nation: Memorial Day. We owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude to these men and women who have given their lives for our freedom and safety. But this debt of gratitude extends to all those who served our country. One of the most profound ways to memorialize those who fell serving our country is to honor their surviving comrades— our veterans.
Benefits for Veterans
Veterans, and their families, risked much and sacrificed much, and are entitled to special consideration as they age. There are benefit programs through the Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA) that can help wartime veterans and their spouses pay for care, including assisted living, memory care and nursing homes.
Five Little Known Facts About Veteran’s Benefits:
1. The veteran does not need to have been involved in actual combat, only to have served during a period considered wartime. Wartime dates can be viewed here.
2. The approval process for VA benefits usually takes many months, but it pays retroactively. That means if an application takes eight months to be approved, the first award includes a lump-sum payment for the eight months that the application was pending.
3. Applicants 70 and over can request that the review process be expedited.
4. Those who intend to apply but don't have all necessary documents ready can submit a one-page form (VA Form 21-4138) to get the process started. Retroactive benefits will then be based on the date that this "intent to apply" form was received, rather than the date the final documents are submitted.
5. There are maximum allowable incomes for VA benefit applicants, but medical and personal care expenses can be deducted from applicants' overall income to calculate "countable income." Even applicants with above-average incomes may be eligible when medical and care expenses become high.
A Day for Remembering
On Memorial Day 2012—a leisure Monday that may be filled with barbeques, day-trips and auto-racing—let's take a moment to remember the men and women who gave their lives for our freedom. Let's also remember to honor their surviving comrades-in-arms; our great veterans who are living memorials themselves.
Need Help Understanding VA Benefits? Ask an Expert
Our Veterans Expert, Debbie Burak, offers a wealth of information and insights about the process of filing for veteran benefits. Send us your questions and Debbie will answer top questions on our site. If you’re looking for immediate assistance, our Senior Living Advisors can answer basic questions about VA benefits over the phone, and can refer you to qualified, local VA experts for more in-depth information.
So, this Memorial Day weekend, do spend some time in feeling the patriotic stirring and give thanks for those who answered the call to action with their very lives. And if you are one who cares for a veteran, know that you have an honor and privilege in that care.
I just came across a gem of an article in AgingCare.com, titled: What's OK and What's Not OK When You Are a Caregiver by Cindy Laverty of The Care Company. The truth in this article resounded strongly with my own experience as a caregiver in that for some reason, especially for daughters who are caring for aging parents, we need permission to ask for help. Somehow, our work ethic or perfectionism or some crazy thing prevents us from realizing that it is not only OK to ask for help -- it is absolutely essential to our well being and that of our loved one! This article clearly outlines what is OK, and gives vital permission to handle your own personal care and needs while caring for another's. It also defines what is NOT OK if you are to keep your health and balance through the caregiving journey.
If there is one message that I want to bring to you through this blog, above all others, it is that you are doing your best and perfection is not only NOT required, but can be actively damaging to your own mental health. Get rid of it -- banish it from your mind and heart, and know that the love & compassion and human-ness that you bring to your loved one is enough and IS perfect. You don't have to be! Cindy Laverty also hosts a radio show www.thecindylavertyshow.com and is on facebook, both as Cindy Laverty and The Care Company. There is a wonderful video of her philosophy on facebook if you want some encouragement and inspiration. Check it out. You can get there easily from her The Care Company website.
If you could design the perfect retreat for stressed out caregivers -- a place which was nurturing, and inherently a place of healing -- providing both a quiet respite and tools for coping with burnout and stress -- what would it look like? What features would be most important to you? Would it be close to the ocean or water body of some kind? In the mountains? In a peaceful, rural setting? With acres of forest to walk and lose yourself in natural beauty?
I am not just asking random questions here, but rather shaping an idea, a concept, for just such a retreat. I envision a place where you can completely disconnect from all demands on you -- where there is silence, if that is what you need - without the endless chatter and background noise of TV and radio, but instead, there is soothing, peaceful, de-stressing music available. There would be plenty of natural settings, lots of open space, a chance to be with others or be solitary according to your needs and wishes. There would be time for stargazing, wool-gathering, sitting fireside or poolside according to season.
There would be tailored programs to teach about various proven stress reduction techniques such as yoga, Tai Chi, massage, meditation & relaxation. There would be information and practical tips as to how your diet can support your health (and by extension, that of your loved one for whom you are caring).
There would be gardens growing the plants for these healthy foods (envision blueberries, pomegranates, walnuts, tumeric, lavender, sunflowers, and other antioxidant fruits, seeds, herbs and spices.) You could participate in the gardening if you feel drawn to immerse yourself in that special timeless therapy of nurturing growing plants and getting your hands in the soil.
There would be a counselor on hand -- skilled in helping people reduce stress and find empowerment and clarity. Does this place sound like a perfect Paradise to you? Me, too!
I am currently designing this retreat for Caregivers seeking a chance to renew themselves, learn specific helpful stress relief techniques, exercises, and develop the skills needed to nourish themselves, body, mind & spirit -- to support optimum health and inner peace as they accomplish their caregiving in the most joyful way possible. I would love your input and ideas. It is my desire to make this accessible, not a five-star resort, but more a comforting, cozy, peaceful retreat, available to those who most need it. Please leave your feedback and share your own vision for such a place that it can inform and inspire. This place is for you, the caregiver, and with the right sense of purpose and filling the need, it will become reality. Soon. It's actually there already, just awaiting the foundations under the dream.
Does it feel to you as though time is speeding up? People have always said the older one gets the faster it all goes by. I'm finding some truth to that. But I also know the secret of slowing time down. Wish I could patent it :) But, just for you, my caregiver friends, here it is: Stop the distractions. Yup, it is just that simple -- and also that hard to do!
I am fortunate enough to have a place to go where there is no phone, no TV, no internet (well, unless you count smart phones, which allow you internet access anywhere). There are virtually NO distractions, unless I invite them. There is an elastic quality to time in this place that is so healing and rejuvenating -- it expands and slows down and it is simply wonderful! I usually choose to go on a news "fast" when I go to this special place -- the point is, I can choose exactly what I want to occupy my thoughts, fill my head with images, or I can choose silence, nature sounds, reading inspiring books, doing a puzzle, watching grass grow. This may not sound very exciting to you, but I can tell you the transformation in me from having shifted to the "slow motion" time, is nothing short of miraculous! Unfortunately, this place is 600 miles from my home, so it is a challenge to get there as often as I need it and it was especially difficult when I was caregiving 24/7. The really tough part of this for all of us is to find that special place "here" --wherever you are. You can do it. It takes a little planning, a lot of perseverance, and some good escape skills, but you can do it.
If you don't have access to a quiet retreat, create one. I'm perfectly serious. You can do it in your backyard or your bathroom. Or a closet or corner of your home that you claim for your sanctuary. Here's how.
If you choose the outdoor route, find a little place in your yard where you can be in solitude -- you can screen it using plants (scented herbs & flowers work beautifully for this), a room divider, a fence (or bamboo or reed fencing that you buy in 6' lengths) or even a cloth draped over a rope. If you want to get fancy, you can make a mini-meditation garden, but it's not necessary to go overboard. What you are after is a small space where you can just go and sit -- apart from any outer distractions. Make it comfy with a chair & cushions, or blanket on the ground. You can add a water fountain if you'd like that sound. Your objective is to make a peaceful place just for you.
If the backyard doesn't work for some reason, you can create an escape "spa experience" in your own bathroom. Close the door, run a bath, add lavender or other essential oil for relaxing scent, or bubbles, light a candle and sink into oblivion and lovely relaxation. The whole idea is that you control the distractions, even if only for a brief time. These mini-respites from your daily care can save your sanity. Trust me on this. I know.
The same idea can apply to a small space in your home -- the key ingredients are: privacy, quiet, control over distractions of noise or interruption, inspiring peacefulness in your being -- whatever that means for you, personally. You'll be surprised how quickly you can "shift" into slow time with this method. If you can meditate, it happens even faster and you'll learn to do it pretty much anywhere, anytime you need. Experiment with some ideas. Consider this part of your saving lifeline, because this skill truly is just that!
I invite your comments and thoughts about slowing time.
OK, I know what you're thinking..."How can I possibly find humor when this illness is so serious?" I understand. There were times I felt that way, too. But, you know what? Lack of a sense of humor can, if not kill you, make you miserable enough to wish it did! As a caregiver, you have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders, whether you are dealing directly with a loved one's daily care, or doing it though others at a distance. Stress is stress, and it's basically bad for you in whatever form it takes. Humor can wipe stress out, and reset your whole being into a happier, calmer state, and make life a whole lot more liveable. Humor can help you avoid being sucked into seriousness over and over again until it feels like you are mired in quicksand and sinking deeper by the minute. Humor can actually be your lifeline and help preserve your sanity.
So, how, you say, do I get my dose of humor? Well, that's a highly individual and personal choice. There are many answers: funny movies, Erma Bombeck or other humorous columnist or author, a daily dose of humor via the internet, such as a joke a day, the comics in the newspaper (or virtual version) or a page a day calendar with funny sayings. Situational humor may appeal, such as watching a farce or, my own personal fave, Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean has me in stitches with his silent comedic talents. You may have your own favorite stand up comedian. Whatever makes you laugh is good! This isn't just my opinion, by the way, but has been documented through studies, reflecting the benefits of belly laughs.
I actually often found humor in my mother's little habits and sayings. She would often repeat the poem, "Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone, they want full measure of your pleasure, but they do not want your woe." I guess if a saying had to be stuck in repeat mode, that was a good one to replay. After hearing that over and over, one day I happened upon a little wooden plaque that made a pun of this poem: "Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone..." I hung this in a prominent spot where it brought a chuckle each time I glanced at it. Little doses of humor count, too. Be creative!
So choose your brand of humor and start laughing your way to better health!
Karen is a compassionate, enthusiastic student of life, who cared for her mother for 17 years. She brings her insights, compassion, experience and desire to share knowledge and healing to this ongoing conversation with others on the caregiving path. If you are caring for a parent, spouse, friend or other loved one this site offers sanity-saving tips, open-hearted self-care ideas, and an open forum for discussion, connection and sharing resources for the journey.
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