“In the morning, he needs help putting on his shirt and his prosthetics—both his legs and arms. Then, I brush his teeth and shave him,” said Yvonne Riley, who serves as her husband’s primary caregiver. At night, Yvonne reverses that routine to get Dave into bed.
Dave is an Army and Coast Guard veteran; he served as a helicopter rescue swimmer. He is also a quadruple amputee. In 1997, he contracted a rare bacterial infection when swimming—septic shock pneumococcussepsis. The infection essentially stopped the blood flow inside his body. As a result, doctors advised Yvonne that they would need to have all four of his limbs amputated and several internal organs removed. It was the only thing that could be done to save Dave’s life.
“As I lay in the hospital bed recovering, I was devastated to find both my arms and legs had been amputated. All I could feel was despair,” Dave recalled. “I couldn’t imagine how the rest of my life would have any value or happiness.”
But thanks to his wife’s continuous care and support from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and others, Dave was able to rebuild his life and start a new career in IT. Over the years, he has learned to ski and golf, he has competed in cycling races, and he has honed his skills as a woodworker. Dave has also risen through the ranks to become the National Commander of the 1.3 million−member veteran service organization DAV (Disabled American Veterans).
Yvonne—like many other caregivers of veterans severely injured while serving their country—has made a lifetime of personal sacrifices to help manage her husband’s care. These sacrifices not only benefit Dave, but serve the country as well.
Statistics show that family caregivers save the federal government significant dollars, when compared to treating disabled veterans through institutions. For example, veterans with catastrophic injuries such as Dave’s, who are eligible for nursing home care, could cost taxpayers upward of $300,000 per year.
However, by providing support to the family member caregiver through VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, the average cost per veteran is under $30,000 annually. And the care is generally better for the veteran’s health and quality of life. It’s shown that family caregivers help reduce overall health care costs through care that minimizes medical complications and lowers the number of hospital admissions for veteran patients.
Yet Yvonne and Dave do not qualify for all of VA’s caregiver benefits.
Surprisingly, only veterans injured after September 11, 2001, are eligible for the complete comprehensive caregiver benefit package through the VA—which includes education and training, respite care and mental health services, and, perhaps most importantly, monthly stipends and health care coverage for the caregiver.
Organizations such as DAV, veterans such as Dave Riley, and Veterans Service Organization partners and caregiver advocacy groups are working hard to change these laws and correct this inequity. Many Americans, concerned about fair treatment for every veteran who needs a caregiver, are calling (202) 224-3121 to ask their legislators where they stand on the issue.
“Caregivers are really