Durbin Marks 2-Year Anniversary of Veteran Caregiver Program by Meeting with Participating Families

259 Illinois Caregivers Now Receive Financial Support as a Result of Durbin-Authored Law

[HINES, IL] – In recognition of the two-year anniversary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Family Caregiver Program, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) visited the Hines VA Hospital today to meet with veterans and their family caregivers and hear how their lives have changed as a result of the program.  The Family Caregiver Program provides technical, financial and practical support to family caregivers of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seriously injured in the line of duty.  It was created by a Durbin-authored provision in the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2009 and the VA issued its first caregivers checks, which average between $600 and $2,200 per month, the summer of 2011. 


“Because of advances in medicine and their own fighting spirit, many soldiers come home having suffered catastrophic disabilities, often from traumatic brain injuries. The family members who care for these severely injured veterans provide love and care in the comfort of their own home, often giving up their jobs and bearing the substantial cost of home care to do so.  They need to know they aren’t alone in that daunting task.  I authored the Family Caregiver Program several years ago to provide those families with financial assistance, training and counseling as they care for our most severely wounded warriors.”


The Family Caregiver Program provides family caregivers with a monthly stipend, an expanded mental health respite benefit, mental health treatment and enrollment in the VA’s Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA) if they are not already eligible.  The law authorizing the program also established a National Caregiver Support Program with a prevention and wellness focus that includes the use of evidence-based training and support services for family caregivers.


As of July 29, 259 family caregivers in Illinois and 10,984 nationwide are part of the program.  More than half of family caregivers are between 26 and 40 years of age. Women make up 92 percent of the caregivers and almost three-quarters are spouses. 


Durbin met today with five caregivers and several of their veteran family members.

  • Dan Sylvester, a Chicago resident and himself a veteran of the conflict in Bosnia, cares for his wife Trish, an Iraq veteran with severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The Caregiver Program allowed him to pursue his law degree while providing the full-time care Trish needs.
  • Ingrid Meija, from Chicago, cares for her husband, a medic in Iraq who suffers from the effects traumatic brain injuries from several explosions.  Ingrid gave up her career as an elementary school teacher to care for her husband and says the program allows the couple to still get by.
  • Jennifer Duzinskas, from Bensenville, cares for her husband Richard, who she met after he was severely wounded in Iraq.  The caregiver program allows her to stay home to care for her husband and also allows her to connect with other helpful groups like Wounded Warriors and an organization that provides service dogs to help aid recovery.
  • Andrea Simone, a Joliet resident, cares for her husband Tony, who suffered a traumatic brain injury along with several other injuries when his helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan.  In addition to the financial benefits, Andrea says the caregiver program helps her by giving her opportunities to connect with other caregivers who understand what her family is going through.
  • Juan Lopez, from Oak Lawn, cares for his wife Rebecca, who was left with severe PTSD and metal plates in both legs after an explosion in Iraq.  Juan quit his job to care for her and the couple was forced to live with their parents for a time, but says the program “changed everything for us” by helping them stay afloat financially and giving Juan more opportunities to learn about and understand his wife’s condition.


“I applaud each of the special caregivers I met today, as well as their veteran family members and the husbands, wives and parents like them all across the country,” Durbin said.  “These veterans sacrificed their health and well-being for their country, and their caregivers have sacrificed to care for them upon their return home.  We owe each and every one of them a great debt of gratitude.  We want to make sure all qualified family caregivers are enrolled in this program.  If you are a family caregiver of a catastrophically disabled post-9/11 veteran, or you know someone who is, call my office or the VA to receive assistance applying for this program.”


Information outlining the application process is on the VA’s Caregivers website (http://www.caregiver.va.gov/) and available via the Caregiver Hotline at 1-855-260-3274.  Applications can be processed by telephone, mail, online or in person at a local VA Medical Center, where Support Coordinators can assist in the application process.