Many vets’ caregivers cut out from federal benefit

September 4, 2013 • National News, State News

AP Photos Above: Chris Ott, right, helps her son, former Marine John Thomas Doody. [auth] J.T., who was shot while serving in Fallujah, Iraq., subsequently suffering an infection and a series of strokes that left him in a coma and relying on a ventilator to survive, Tuesday, in Riverview, Fla. 

WASHINGTON (AP) — John Thomas Doody was in a coma and on a ventilator, but his mom refused to follow a doctor’s advice and put the Iraq war veteran in a nursing home.

Chris Ott quit her job, moved the family to Tampa, Fla., so her son, known as J.T., could be near the Veterans Affairs hospital. She spends most of her waking hours trying to meet his many needs.

He was shot while serving with the Marines in Fallujah and suffered an infection and series of strokes during his recovery. She says he’s paralyzed and nearly blind but has made dramatic improvement over the years.

To ease the financial burden, Ott relies on a relatively new federal program that pays her a stipend of about $2,000 per month, trains her on how to care for J.T. and provides at least 30 days of respite care each year.

Once every three months, a VA inspector comes by her house to check on her and J.T.

“Now, I can still love him and hug him and kiss him and talk to him and laugh with him. Oh yeah, I still have my son,” she said.

The extra help has eased one family’s financial hardship. Yet there’s a question of fairness. For every family receiving the caregiver benefit, many more make do without.

For example, Pauline King of Anna, Ill., is not eligible for the stipend even though her husband, Jerry, a Vietnam veteran, needs help with bathing, dressing and going to the bathroom as a result of multiple sclerosis.

When lawmakers created the program in 2010, it limited participation to veterans who had served since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

King said the move to exclude Vietnam veterans shows “they’re still not paying attention” in Congress.

Cost was a factor on Capitol Hill. The caregivers for veterans from earlier wars can get some help from the VA, such as counseling and a lesser amount of respite care, but no monthly stipend.

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