Veterans’ caregivers raise program concerns at VA town hall meeting

By Dan Stokes - [email protected]
Russell Lloyd, Wilkes-Barre Veterans Affairs Medical Center director, talks about veterans’ benefits at a VA Community Town Hall Meeting at the VA Medical Center on Wednesday. - Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE TWP. — For Molly Rosencrans, it’s been a lifeline.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers a caregiver support program designed for the family members of veterans who play an important role in their care and well-being.

“The stipend is honestly the difference between staying home and helping my husband or going to work and wonder if my husband is going to burn the house down,” the Wilkes-Barre resident said. “It’s a 24/7 job.”

But Rosencrans and other caregiver spouses came to a Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center town hall meeting Wednesday to raise concerns about whether the program is being managed properly, including if some people have been removed prematurely.

“I was kicked out of the caregiver program,” East Stroudsburg resident Laura Pride said. “I was told by the social workers my husband was graduating, and that I was stipend-dependent.”

“The women here are not stipend-dependent, we are family dependent,” Pride added.

Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center director Russell E. Lloyd listened and said he would relay the women’s stories to VA leadership.

“After hearing the caregivers today at the meeting, I think we need to call in to our central offices and have a program evaluation,” Lloyd said. “If we haven’t been communicating things well or misinterpreting things with the caregivers, we need to be more compassionate.”

The stipend Pride is referring to is provided by the VA in tiers. Depending on what tier the caregiver is in, the amount from the stipend varies. Many caregivers who receive this stipend in lieu of having a full-time job.

“I’ve been a caregiver for my husband for five years,” Pride said. “I rely on that stipend, my full-time job is caring for my husband who served his country proudly.”

“I just don’t know how the re-evaluation process is done,” Pride added.

Rosencrans said the situation is especially difficult for caregivers who now find themselves without the stipend and having been away from the workforce.

“People like Laura who have been kicked out of the caregiver program have not had a job in years because their jobs have been taking care of their husbands or vice-versa,” Rosencrans said. “I think it’s detrimental to them.”

“How about the VA hires these folks?” she asked.

“Sometimes we get an opportunity to recommend pilot programs,” Lloyd said. “I think this is certainly a good idea.”

Another caregiver, Andrea Hodgins of Brodheadsville, said she and others had positive experiences with the caregivers program until the previous director retired in January.

“Since she left, we’ve started to hear horrible, awful things,” Hodgins said.

Rosencrans said many caregivers feel their concerns have fallen on deaf ears, and she has reached out to the region’s congressional delegation.

Lloyd said he was glad the caregivers brought their concerns to the meeting, and that he and his executive assistant, Bill Klaips, will follow up on them.

“I thank you for your service,” Lloyd said to the caregivers. “I am sincerely sorry for everything that you all have had to go through.”

Russell Lloyd, Wilkes-Barre Veterans Affairs Medical Center director, talks about veterans’ benefits at a VA Community Town Hall Meeting at the VA Medical Center on Wednesday.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_VA-Benefits-1.jpgRussell Lloyd, Wilkes-Barre Veterans Affairs Medical Center director, talks about veterans’ benefits at a VA Community Town Hall Meeting at the VA Medical Center on Wednesday. Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

By Dan Stokes

[email protected]