VA’s Family Caregiver Program Aids Disabled Veterans in Their Homes


 By Annie Getsinger


DECATUR, Ill. — Deanna Parson will never stop supporting her child.

The Clinton mom has been serving as a caregiver for her son, Nathan Florey, now 27, since he suffered an aneurysm during a 2008 Army deployment to Iraq.

To help her take care of her son, Parson is, in turn, supported by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Family Caregiver Program, which helps qualifying caretakers with important skills, resources and financial assistance to take care of their loved ones at home.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., visited the VA’s Decatur clinic Friday to talk about the year-old program for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who suffered serious injuries in the line of duty. To date, 131 Illinois family caregivers and more than 5,150 nationwide are part of the program created by a provision authored by Durbin in the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2009. Additional VA support programs exist to help caregivers for veterans of all eras.

“I have a nurse that comes every three months, and she goes over the care of Nathan,” said Parson, adding that the program also provides her with a monthly stipend and has helped her secure needs such as plate guards, weighted mugs and a new wheelchair.

Debbie Bell, a community health nurse with the VA, said she helps program clients with the appropriate tools, knowledge and environment to care for their loved ones safely and properly.

Florey has come a long way since 2008, and his mother has been with him through the journey.

“He was in the hospital 15 months, and I was bedside with him the whole time,” she said.

He uses a motorized wheelchair to get around and has had to relearn basic skills such as eating and talking, his mom said. But Florey has continued to progress, recently learning to stand with the assistance of a bar in the family’s bathroom.

Sending her son to a nursing home wasn’t an option, Parson said. Florey said his positive attitude and progress have had a lot to do with his mom’s love and support and the opportunity to heal at home.

“I think it’s a lot easier,” he said of the familiar environment, where he lives with his mom and stepfather, Johnny Parson. “… At home, I’m not the same as I was, but I’m home.”

Florey received an associate degree in March and is pursuing further studies in homeland security, hoping one day for a job in the field. He completes his schoolwork with the assistance of voice-recognition software and by typing with his thumb and three fingers of his right hand.

“I’m about to get that one back,” he said, wiggling his pinky finger.

“They said in 2008, in two years, that’s the best he will be, and he has far exceeded that,” his mom said.

The mother and son are a team in Florey’s care. She helps him with the daily tasks he can’t complete himself, and the two spend time together visiting local restaurants, going to appointments, talking and just being together. Laughter seems to be a big part of their life.

“He is my strength because he is so upbeat, and he has every reason not to be,” Parson said.

Durbin thanked the pair for meeting with him Friday along with Bell, caregiver support coordinator Suzanne Brandon and others. He said the program helps veterans and their families in many ways.

“First, it starts with the family staying together,” Durbin said. “It starts with the veteran being at home, which is a great place to recover and put your life back together again, and it rewards those wonderful folks and family who pitch in to keep our veterans not only serving our country, but to make sure they have the very best when they come home.”

Parson said the stipend has made a big difference, and the support has helped her locate other helpful resources. Durbin and Brandon encouraged those caring for veterans to learn more about the VA’s support programs.

Families such as Florey’s show the need for such support, Brandon said. “It validates the need and purpose of the program: to see their interactions and to know that you’re part of that and you’re providing support to her, and he’s able to be maintained in the home.”

Florey said he hopes to continue learning and growing to make a difference in the lives of others.

“I’m only 27,” he said. “I have quite a bit of time left to live. I don’t want to sit back and let the world go by.”

Those who know him said their lives are better simply because of him.

“You can’t be around Nathan and not be blessed,” Bell said. “Him and his mom, both.”

For more information on the VA’s support programs for veterans’ caregivers, call the National Caregiver Support Line at 1-855-260-3274 or go to online.

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