Note: MOAA Premium and Life members can access Military Caregivers: An Overview, a webinar featuring experts from the Elizabeth Dole Foundation about the basics of military caregiving. Click here for a list of other archived MOAA webinars, and visit Tips for Lifelong Caregiving, a project from MOAA and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation.
The VA and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation are working together to expand veterans’ medical care teams to include someone who knows the veteran best: their caregiver.
The new initiative will pair veteran caregivers with the medical team from the first appointment. The Academy for Inclusive Care will educate and train VA medical staff to think differently by including caregivers.
“This new model makes sure the doctors are in sync with the caregiver from the very beginning,” said Capt. Pat Williams, USN (Ret), who oversees MOAA’s caregiver resources. “A lot of times, we venture into this and have no idea.”
Medical staff will be trained on ways and strategies to include caregivers in the veteran’s health care plan.
Sen. Elizabeth Dole, left, and Capt. Pat L. Williams, USN (Ret), MOAA program director for engagement and transition services, pose during a Jan. 31 media event. (Amanda Dolasinski/MOAA)
One noticeable change under the Inclusive Care program: Medical staff will be trained to begin appointments by asking the veteran if there is anyone they would like to sit in the room with them. It’s a simple change, but some staff have said they don’t specifically learn how to talk to and include family members -- who typically become caregivers -- into care plans while studying in medical school.
“I hope veterans are more satisfied with their care,” said Lisa Paper, Deputy Chief Officer of Patient Care Services for the VA. “I would like for the caregiver to say, ‘My doctor acknowledged me to help paint the picture.’”
The VA has said about two-thirds of its estimated 5.5 million military caregivers have had difficulties accessing their loved ones' medical care records.
Inclusive Care will initially be offered to just caregivers registered in the VA’s General Caregiver Support Services and Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers. Family members can become registered VA caregivers online.
The initiative is expected to roll out to all caregivers, registered or not, over time. However, even if a family member is not registered as a caregiver through the VA, the veteran can request his or her presence during appointments.
Inclusive Care training will be offered to VA staff online and on-site. It will begin at VA Veteran Integrated Service Networks (VISNs) 10, 17 and 20, which include centers in Texas, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The initiative is scheduled to expand nationwide within two years.
Elizabeth Dole, former senator, philanthropist, and CEO of her namesake foundation, said including caregivers in medical care is invaluable.
“Caregivers are the first-line of defense against the worst possible outcome: suicide,” she said at a Friday press event announcing the program. “These hidden heroes provide care that is extensive, intimate and around the clock. Just imagine the sight our medical professionals have to gain from them.”