Serving as a caregiver for a loved one can be a daunting and draining challenge, but caregivers must remember they do not have to bear all of the burden, especially if the person they are caring for is a veteran.

Peggi Spears, a social worker for the Walla Walla VA’s Caregiver Support Program, emphasized this point during a visit to
La Grande Friday to spotlight November as National Family Caregiver Month. Spears wants more people to be aware of the services offered by the VA to caregivers.

“The VA honors care givers,” Spears said. “It honors all these people who honor others.”

Services the VA provides to caregivers include access to Home Health Aides, Respite Care and Home Based Primary Care. Home Health Aides are trained individuals who can come to veterans’ homes and help them take care of themselves and their daily activities. Respite Care providers come to homes specifically to allow caregivers to take breaks. Home Based Primary Care is a more comprehensive service provided to veterans in their homes. A VA physician supervises the health care team that provides the services.

In addition to these and many other services, the VA offers financial compensation to caregivers of veterans who have high needs, Spears said. In many cases the request for this compensation is made by the veteran on behalf of his or her caregiver, she said.

Spears has a firsthand appreciation of the services offered by the VA to caregivers. She took care of her husband, a veteran who needed extensive caregiving services until passing away last year.

“If it wasn’t for the VA, I would have become very ill (because of stress and exhaustion),” Spears said.

Many of the veterans who need caregivers fall into two categories — geriatric and post-9/11. Those in the geriatric category are confronting issues brought on by aging and chronic disease while the post-9/11 veterans are
primarily those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Wounded post-9/11 veterans are relatively young and trying to get their lives back on track.

“They are still learning to survive,” Spears said. “They have potentially a long life ahead and (need to learn) how to live with their injuries.”

This means in many cases they need to focus on how to do things they once did via a different route. For example, a veteran who enjoyed skiing and mountain climbing may still be able to do both after losing a leg but will have to do so with prosthetics.

Caregivers helping such veterans should strive to put them in touch with people who can provide the training they need to overcome their injuries and do what they once did but on a different level, Spears said.

“You are trying to help them reach their new potential,” she said.

The role played by caregivers in helping veterans and non-veterans alike is often overlooked, she said.

See more in Monday's edition of The Observer.