By Anthony Wafer
I go to work every morning at the West Los Angeles Veterans Medical Center with a smile on my face because doing my job is the highest honor. There’s nothing better than caring for the brave people who laid it all on the line for our country. Through my work, it’s become crystal clear to me that veterans in L.A. and everywhere need more home care options when they leave the hospital, so they can avoid homelessness and have the necessary support to live full, meaningful, and healthy lives.
My job is in environmental services on the psychiatric unit, which means I help stop the spread of infectious diseases and keep patients’ rooms clean and sanitized. I also go above and beyond my job description to help the nurses in any way I can and make sure veterans are getting the compassionate, empathetic care they deserve.
Our patients served in conflicts from World War II to Afghanistan, and they’re mentally shaken up. Many have turned to drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms to deal with their horrific memories.
I’m a veteran too and served in the Army in the ’80s. I see myself in the troubled faces of our patients who are struggling with mental illness and think “But for the grace of God go I.” I could have been one of them.
Unfortunately, when our patients leave the hospital, too often they face severe difficulties finding home care services to assist them with daily activities like taking medications on time, going to counseling appointments, bathing, and feeding. That’s because there are only a couple of home care programs offered through the V.A., which do not always meet the full range of veterans’ needs. In particular, it’s difficult for many vets to hire friends and family to be their caregivers. Without adequate support, it’s harder for veterans with mental illness to stay living in their own homes and they can be pushed out into the street.
There’s also a crisis-level shortage of home care workers due to inadequate wages, meager benefits, and the tough nature of the job. The Bible says, “The worker is worthy of his wages,” meaning that it is righteous and moral to compensate for hard work fairly. But when it comes to in-home caregivers, this sacred command has been completely disregarded in our country for far too long. Home care workers are not valued, appreciated, or recognized for their essential work, and – especially with the rising cost of living – this has created high turnover rates.
I’ve experienced this problem with my own family members. For the past couple of years, I’ve cared for my older sister and her husband, a Vietnam vet, who both have serious medical issues. I stepped in because it was impossible to find consistent home care for them.
Military families throughout our state and elsewhere are increasingly facing these same struggles because the veteran population is rapidly aging and demand for home care services is surging. California currently has 1.8 million veterans, more than any other state. In Los Angeles County alone, there are almost 20,000 veterans living in shelters or temporary housing. Nationally, there are more than 16.5 million vets. Nearly half are seniors, and up to 20 percent suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
There urgently needs to be expanded home care services for veterans, and vets should be able to more easily choose a family member or friend to be their caregiver. Just as importantly, wages and benefits for home care workers must be substantially increased to attract and keep workers in this vital field.
I know many veterans like myself who have a deep passion for caring for our fellow vets. If we could make a decent living, we would jump at the chance to become full-time home care workers. We need greater home care options – with good jobs for caregivers – to support those who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
Anthony Wafer is an Army veteran, an environmental services worker at the West Los Angeles V.A. Medical Center, and a caregiver for his sister and brother-in-law.
Photo of Anthony Wafer