VA Caregiver Program Update

Posted: April 4, 2012 in Uncategorized
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When Veterans Affairs officials in Washington, D.C., decided there was a need for a toll-free hotline for people who watch over vets who can’t care for themselves, they didn’t realize how right they were. Only weeks after the program was started on 1 FEB 2011, at the V.A. Medical Center in Canandaigua, they realized they were getting so many calls on the National Caregiver Support Line 855-260-3274 that they would have to double their staff, which now includes 13 licensed social workers and four health technicians. “We really didn’t know there would be such a great response and need for this,” said Deborah Amdur, a Veterans Affairs official based in Washington who visited the Canandaigua program 8 FEB to mark the first anniversary of the hotline that has handled more than 27,000 calls in its first year. “I think it’s just an absolutely vital resource for our family caregivers across the country, and when we support our family caregivers we support our veterans,” she said.
Before the hotline was created, people caring for veterans had no one-stop place they could go to find out about benefits and services. “People were picking up a piece here and a piece there. The support line really addresses that need,” Amdur said. During the first year of the program that ended Tuesday, the program handled 27,474 calls and 908 inquiries were received through the program’s website http://www.caregiver.va.gov. Most of the calls are from California, Florida, Texas, Georgia and New York. The program that operates on the second floor of Building 6 at the VA campus in Canandaigua started with an idea in Amdur’s head and developed in a brainstorming session in Washington, D.C. It was up and running within six weeks. “This was probably set up faster than any program in the history of the VA,” said Amdur. On weekdays, staffers handle about 100 calls per day, but fewer on weekends. And the average call lasts about 45 minutes. The volume got so heavy that VA workers created a software program to track every call, make follow-up calls and generally make sure the caregivers get what they need. The data collected helps the VA adjust programs based on the types of inquiries received.
Because many of the callers are not accustomed to asking for help, the job requires excellent listening skills and the ability to draw out what they really need, but might have difficulty expressing, staffers said. The workers often hear stories from caregivers in extremely difficult and stressful situations, many of whom can’t leave their home very often because they have been caring for a vet for years, or even decades. “I feel very privileged, very lucky to have this position. In 25 years as a social worker this has probably been the most gratifying job and the most gratifying environment to be in,” said Suzanne Dougherty, who has worked on the Caregiver Support line since it was started. “Every phone call can be a new challenge, a new request, a new situation,” she said. [Source: DemocratandChronicle.com Bennett J. Loudon article 9 Feb 2012 ++]

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