Page 3 of 3   <      

Caregivers of wounded troops still waiting for benefits signed into law by Obama

"It's tough," he said. "But you would have hoped that this would have been resolved a while back. There's been time, they were given a deadline, and they didn't meet it."

Violante also said the standards being shown to Murray and other congressional leaders may be "too restrictive." He said he would also like the stipend and respite care to be made available to caregivers of veterans wounded in previous wars, a move that would significantly raise the cost of the program.

'Sense of urgency' gone

Steve Nardizzi, executive director of the Wounded Warrior Project, said the "sense of urgency" Obama expressed has evaporated.

"One of the most disheartening things for these families is the continuing promises and the press spin with the lack of any benefits passing on," Nardizzi said, citing the recent White House event and the first lady's "Oprah" appearance. "Now we could be looking at months, if not a year, while these families continue to wait."

Among the elements of the legislation that VA has put in place is a toll-free hotline that caregivers can use to solicit support. But it has become another frustration for people such as Schei, who was told when she called the hotline last week, to find out when the new benefits would be available, that VA did not know and that she could not yet apply.

On Oct. 26, 2005, her son, Erik, was shot through the brain by a sniper in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, where he was serving his second tour. That began his journey through a series of military hospitals and finally to his family home just outside Albuquerque, where Schei and her husband, Gordon, have raised three children.

Schei quit her job with a telecommunications company to care for Erik, whose younger brother, Deven, was wounded in Afghanistan, though less severely. Gordon also traded his high-paying security job at a casino two hours away for one closer to home because Erik, who only now is beginning to speak again, cannot be left unattended.

Christine Schei's day entails bathing Erik, changing his diaper, caring for his injuries and getting him to medical appointments. She is 49 years old.

She has counted on the 30 days of respite care to give herself some time away from the emotionally draining work. Without a second income, the stipend, estimated to average about $2,350 a month, would help patch the hole in her family's finances.

"We love our children, and putting him in a nursing home was never an option," Schei said. "We're just one family. There are hundreds of us out there, thousands who need this desperately."

<          3

© 2011 The Washington Post Company