Thursday, December 1, 2016

Don't burn the flag or First Amendment -- Dec. 1, 2016 column


My guess is that few demonstrators who burned American flags to protest the election of Donald J. Trump have attended a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.

Had they watched honor guards in white gloves neatly fold and present to the next of kin the flag that covered the coffin of a fallen service member, they would see the flag as personal.

A powerful and poignant symbol of sacrifice and honor, the American flag should never be torched to make a political point. The very idea is repugnant. 

This is not to say, though, that someone who burns the flag in protest should be jailed for a year or stripped of citizenship, as Trump suggested.

“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail,” the president-elect tweeted at 6:55 on Tuesday morning.

The tweet seemed to come out of the blue, but Fox News reportedly had just aired a segment about a dispute at private Hampshire College in Massachusetts, where a flag was burned in an anti-Trump protest.

“Flag burning should be illegal – end of story,” Jason Miller, Trump transition spokesman, insisted later that day on CNN. “The president-elect is a very strong supporter of the First Amendment, but there’s a big difference between that and burning the American flag.”

No, actually, there’s not.

The Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. Johnson in 1989 that flag burning was “symbolic speech” protected by the First Amendment and invalidated laws against flag burning in 48 states. 

“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable,” the court ruled in a 5-to-4 decision.

Among those in the majority was Justice Antonin Scalia.

“If I were king, I would not allow people to go about burning the American flag,” Scalia later told a TV interviewer. “However, we have a First Amendment, which says that in particular to speech . . . burning the flag is a form of expression.”

That likely would surprise Trump, who has joined the ranks of politicians who periodically fulminate against flag burning. By doing so, they draw attention to an exceedingly rare act that ought to be tolerated -- and ignored.

Perhaps no First Amendment issue is thornier. The American Legion applauded Trump’s tweet and urged Congress to prohibit flag desecration, something Congress has tried to do repeatedly over the years.
Everybody should take a deep breath and remember the wisdom of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii, who received the Medal of Honor for his service in World War II, even as fellow Americans of Japanese descent were incarcerated in U.S. prison camps.

“This objectionable expression is obscene, it is painful, it is unpatriotic,” Inouye once said. “But I believe Americans gave their lives in many wars to make certain all Americans have a right to express themselves, even those who harbor hateful thoughts.”

Then-Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York co-sponsored a bill in 2005 that would have punished flag burning by a fine up to $100,000 or a year in prison, or both. Her idea was to find common ground between veterans groups and free speech advocates.

“Senator Clinton, in Pander Mode,” The New York Times opined in an editorial 11 years ago this week, saying flag burnings had largely disappeared since the Vietnam War.

“Flag-burning hasn’t been in fashion since college students used slide rules in math class and went to pay phones at the student union to call their friends. Even then, it was a rarity that certainly never put the nation’s security in peril,” the editors trenchantly observed.

It’s still true that flag burning is rare and has never imperiled national security. Criminalizing flag burning might be politically popular, but the last thing we need is to make martyrs of publicity seekers with lighters who want their 15 minutes of fame.

Trump soon will fill the court vacancy caused by Scalia’s death. He has promised to name a justice who thinks like Scalia, and he should -- on flag burning and the First Amendment.

© 2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved. 30

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Now, more than ever, it's time for newspapers -- Nov. 24, 2016 column


It’s the holiday season, so here’s a suggestion for your shopping list: Give a newspaper subscription. Better, give two – one local and one national.

To me, getting the newspapers – yes, two -- off the sidewalk in the morning and sitting with them and a cup of coffee is one of the joys of life. People who read newspapers prefer to read them in print, studies show, but fewer people are experiencing that joy.

It’s an irony of our time that newspaper circulation continues to decline when we need to know more than ever what our elected officials are doing. Our democracy needs voters who can distinguish between truth and lies.

We need real news, reliable information from sources we can trust. Real news is the antidote to toxic fake news, click-bait stories that deliberately mislead readers for fun and profit.

Average weekday newspaper circulation fell 7 percent last year, the most since 2010. Sunday paper circulation also declined. Both were because of fewer print sales. Digital circulation rose 2 percent, according to the Pew State of the News Media report in June.

For newspapers to survive and do their watchdog work, they need advertising revenue, which also is in decline.

I recommend giving the print product because we all spend too many hours in front of screens. If your friends and family prefer getting their news digitally, by all means give them a digital subscription. Three-fourths of newspapers now require a subscription to read online. 

Bashing the news media is always in fashion for politicians. President-elect Donald Trump has said about the news media: “They are so dishonest…70 to 75 percent are totally dishonest. Absolute scum. Remember that. Scum. Scum. Totally dishonest people.”

He has said he wants to open up the libel laws so he can sue newspapers, although he had second thoughts when someone told him he might get sued more as a result.

Trump, who rarely mentions The New York Times without the word “failing,” is thin-skinned. He doesn’t like news stories that are critical of him and his policies.

With 13 million followers on Twitter and 12 million on Facebook, he prefers to bypass the media. On Monday, he put out his plans for his first 100 days as president in a YouTube video.

But who broke the story of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server? The Times in March 2015 ran a page one story that led to the FBI investigation.   

And it’s not just the big, national newspapers that do excellent work. Reporters for the Tampa Bay Times and Sarasota Herald-Tribune devoted 18 months to a project that uncovered a pattern of violence, neglect and 15 deaths in state mental hospitals in Florida.

The Portland Press Herald in Maine ran a six-part series documenting severe ecological changes in the warming ocean from Nova Scotia to Cape Cod.

Newspapers and the news media are not perfect, of course. The botched prognostications of the presidential election results hurt credibility. Reduced budgets have led to staff cuts and curtailed coverage.

Trump is the latest in a line of presidents and presidential contenders who have used the news media for target practice. Lyndon Johnson scolded the media that criticized his Vietnam policy. Richard Nixon had journalists on his enemies list. 

During the 1992 campaign, President George H.W. Bush loved the bumper strip that read: “Annoy the media. Re-elect Bush.”

Bush, though, distinguished between the reporters covering him and the talking heads he thought unfair. Trump has shown universal disdain, although he cares deeply what’s said about him.

Trump reportedly rises at 5 a.m., reads several newspapers, including The New York Times, and watches the morning TV shows – and then he tweets.   

For all his bluster, even Trump recognizes the value of newspapers.

At his meeting with the Times’s reporters and editors Tuesday, he called it “a great, great American jewel, a world jewel.” And he said. “I hope we can get along.”

Right. We’ll see how that works out.

But reading a daily newspaper -- or two -- will give you the best chance of knowing what really happens around the corner and in the nation’s capital.   

©2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Grateful for this Thanksgiving -- Nov. 17, 2016 column


A friend tells me she’s still very sad. The election was a “slap in the face of decency,” and she can’t forgive her sisters and their husbands for voting for Donald Trump.

Another friend has trouble sleeping. A third said she’s stuck in election denial.

“It cannot be as bad as we can imagine,” she wrote in an email, adding, “Yes it is.”

Nearly 62 million Hillary Clinton voters are as gloomy as the nearly 61 million Trump voters are jubilant. 

Into this maelstrom of emotions comes the holiday devoted to carbs, calories – and gratitude. What -- now?

Yes, bring on Thanksgiving. We have rarely needed it more. 

We can’t always agree about politics, and shouldn’t. But we can use the pause in our daily routines to gather together, give thanks for what we have and share love with family and friends.
We’ve been giving thanks since before we had a president or a country. Massachusetts and Virginia still squabble over where the first Thanksgiving occurred. The Pilgrims’ celebration of the harvest and survival with about 90 Wampanoag Indians was in 1621, two years after Virginia colonists marked their safe arrival with a day of prayerful thanksgiving.
In 1789, George Washington signed a proclamation declaring a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” for the new government. Other presidents followed, with a few interruptions. Thomas Jefferson refused to issue a Thanksgiving proclamation because he saw it as a conflict of church and state.

It took a decades-long crusade by Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, to bring the national holiday into being. She wrote her first editorial on the subject in 1837.

Thanksgiving “might, without inconvenience, be observed on the same day of November, say the last Thursday in the month, throughout all New England; and also in our sister states, who have grafted it upon their social system. It would then have a national character, which would, eventually, induce all the states to join in the commemoration of `Ingathering,’” she wrote. 

With foresight, she added: “It is a festival which will never become obsolete, for it cherishes the best affections of the heart – the social and domestic ties.”

After many more editorials and through Hale’s persistent appeals, more than 30 states and territories had Thanksgiving on their calendars by the 1850s.

Because Hale never gave up, our national Thanksgiving holiday was created at a time even more divisive than ours. She finally persuaded President Abraham Lincoln to issue a proclamation in October 1863, as the Civil War raged.

Lincoln put out a call to “fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Secretary of State William H. Seward, not Lincoln, actually wrote the proclamation, although Lincoln signed it. Seward’s original manuscript was sold a year later to raise money for Union troops, according to Abraham Lincoln Online.
The holiday was celebrated on the last Thursday of November by tradition – until President Franklin D. Roosevelt thought he’d boost retail sales by moving Thanksgiving up a week in 1939, from Nov. 30 to Nov. 23. An uproar ensued, and some states celebrated two Thanksgivings. Two years later Congress set Thanksgiving in law as the fourth Thursday.
Today we know that practicing gratitude – and not just on Thanksgiving -- is good for us. Hundreds of academic studies have found physical, psychological and social benefits in gratitude – from lower blood pressure to less loneliness to more optimism.

Gratitude is “an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received,” Robert A. Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, wrote in an essay for Greater Good, a University of California, Berkeley, website.

Emmons, a leading authority in the study of gratitude, said by practicing gratitude, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves.”

Some things haven’t changed in 400 years. Happy Thanksgiving.

©2016 Marsha Mercer


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hillary Clinton's quest ends as it began, with Bill -- Nov. 10, 2016 column


Hillary Clinton will never be just an asterisk of history.

She’s no Michael Dukakis or Walter Mondale, failed Democratic presidential nominees who fell to obscurity.  

And yet, one of the many ironies of the 2016 election is that Clinton’s marital status and gender may define her place in history – as former first lady and first woman presidential nominee of a major political party.

She won the popular vote, but because she did not win the White House, she will always be seen as the wife of a president. Because of the Electoral College, she will never have the chance to prove herself as president.

For all her subsequent accomplishments, marrying Bill Clinton was Hillary’s best career move, her ticket to the national stage.

As his wife, she became first lady of Arkansas and the first lady of the United States.

She, an ambitious Yale law graduate surely would have succeeded in life on her own, but we’ll never know if she would have become a U.S. senator, secretary of state and a presidential contender – twice – had she not first risen to prominence in the role of Mrs. In this way, the Hillary Clinton story is more 20th century than 21st.

The Clintons’ marriage, like most relationships, is unfathomable to those on the outside. When her husband was accused of womanizing during his bid for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton proved her loyalty by dutifully standing by her man -- even as she denied she was doing so.

She later showed her strength by enduring the public humiliation of his philandering in the White House.

So it seems a particularly cruel twist of fate that, after she built her own president-ready resume with Senate and State Department posts, her husband may be to blame for Donald Trump’s decision to enter the 2016 presidential race.

Strange as it now seems, both Clintons formerly were friends with Trump, who donated to the Clinton Foundation and played golf with Bill.

Bill Clinton called his pal Trump in May 2015 and encouraged him to play a larger role in Republican politics, The Washington Post reported.

What exactly was said in the private phone conversation isn’t known. A few weeks later, Trump glided down the escalator at Trump Tower and began knocking off GOP presidential contenders, one by one.

And so, Hillary Clinton who in 2008 lost to a Democratic outsider promising change, lost Tuesday to a Republican outsider promising change.  

As the 2016 campaign tightened at the end, Clinton relied more and more on President Obama and his popular wife, Michelle, to make the case for her. Days before the election, the president conversationally asked men about their resistance to a woman president.

“I just want to say to the guys out there . . . there’s a reason why we haven’t had a woman president before . . . I want every man out there who’s voting to kind of look inside yourself and ask yourself, if you’re having problems with this stuff, how much of it is that we’re just not used to it?” Obama said at a Clinton rally in Columbus, Ohio.

“So that, like, when a guy is ambitious and out in the public arena and working hard, well, that’s OK. But when a woman suddenly does it, suddenly you’re all like, well, why is she doing that?” he said.

Obama was onto something. Trump won white males’ votes 63 percent to Clinton’s 31 percent, exit polls found.

But Trump also won the votes of white women 53 percent to Clinton’s 43 percent.
When Tim Kaine, Clinton’s running mate, introduced her at her concession speech Wednesday, he said: “She has made history. In a nation that is good at so many things, but that has made it uniquely difficult for women to be elected to federal office, she became the first major party nominee as a woman to be president and last night won the popular vote of Americans for the president.”

Minutes later, Clinton, with her husband standing behind her, said:  

“I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but some day someone will, and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.”

Yes, but that woman will not be Hillary Clinton.  

(c) 2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


Thursday, November 3, 2016

A gracious loser? We can hope -- Nov 3, 2016 column


A ritual of American politics will unfold Tuesday night.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will hold victory parties but, before the night is over, one will concede defeat. If we’re lucky.

We can take nothing for granted. To the end, Trump remains a question mark. In his last debate with Clinton, he refused to say whether he would accept the results of the election.

“I will keep you in suspense,” he said. It was outrageous, provocative and pure Trump. He still appears likely to come up short in the Electoral College, although polls have tightened in the last week.

One thing is certain, though. The American people have suffered enough disappointment during this dispiriting campaign. Barring an election disaster, the loser needs to accept the will of the voters with grace and urge his or her followers to do the same.

The winner also must move immediately to begin repairing the breach that has riven the country.

This presidential contest has always been more about the candidates’ deficiencies than their policies. When the votes are finally counted, it’s time for all of us to put the country first.

Our admirable American tradition holds that defeated presidential candidates rise to the occasion for the sake of the greater good. It’s reassuring to see failed candidates muster grace – and even humor -- at a time of personal misery.

In 1908, after his third failed campaign for the White House, Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan said: “I am reminded of the drunk who, when he had been thrown down the stairs of the club for the third time, gathered himself up, and said, `I am on to those people. They don’t want me in there,’” William Safire wrote in “Safire’s New Political Dictionary.”

Going into the 1948 election, Thomas Dewey was confident he’d beat Harry Truman – as were some newspaper editors. We’ve all seen the screaming banner headline in the Chicago Daily Tribune, “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.”

All night the votes came in. When Dewey awoke the next morning to learn he’d lost, he sent a gracious telegram to Truman.

“My heartiest congratulations to you on your election and every good wish for a successful administration. I urge all Americans to unite behind you in support of every effort to keep our nation strong and free and establish peace in the world,” he wrote.

Asked by reporters what had happened, Dewey replied, “I was just as surprised as you are . . . It has been grand fun, boys and girls. I enjoyed it immensely.”

Four years later, when he lost to Dwight Eisenhower, Democrat Adlai Stevenson said he was reminded of the story about Abraham Lincoln after an election defeat. Lincoln said he felt like the boy who stubbed his foot in the dark -- “too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh.”

After the bitter 1960 presidential campaign, Richard Nixon offered a quasi-concession statement to John F. Kennedy.

“If the present trend continues, Mister Kennedy, Senator Kennedy, will be the next president of the United States,” Nixon told his supporters in California about midnight Pacific time. 

“I want Senator Kennedy to know . . . that certainly if this trend does continue, and he does become our next president, that he will have my wholehearted support and yours too,” Nixon said.

Nixon was convinced voter fraud cost him the election but he did not demand a recount despite JFK’s razor-thin margin of victory -- just over 100,000 votes out of 68 million votes cast. 

Kennedy won 303 electoral votes and Nixon 219. Fifteen unpledged electors in Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma voted for segregationist Sen. Harry Byrd of Virginia.

To preserve his viability for future elections, Nixon would not look like a sore loser.

Nobody ever warms to defeat. Mitt Romney was so sure he was going to win four years ago that he’d written only a victory speech.

“It’s about 1,118 words long,” he told reporters traveling with him on Election Day. His staff hadn’t written a concession speech either.

A few hours later, Romney called President Barack Obama to congratulate him. Then Romney went to what was supposed to be his victory party.

After wishing the president and his family well, Romney told supporters, “This is a time of great challenges for America and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation.”

We can dream that whoever loses on Tuesday is as classy.

(c) 2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Ballot selfies -- fun, but . . . -- Oct. 27, 2016 column


You may have heard -- how could you not? -- that pop star Justin Timberlake snapped a ballot selfie while voting in Tennessee on Monday and posted it online.  

“Hey! You! Yeah, You! I just flew from LA to Memphis to #rock the vote!!! No excuses, my good people! There could be early voting in your town too,” Timberlake, 35, wrote to his 37 million Instagram followers. That’s right – 37 million.

Timberlake’s selfie didn’t show how he voted, but He’s with Her. He was host of a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in August.

He rocked the vote all right. His selfie was seen ‘round the world, because it could have landed him in jail. In Tennessee, it’s against state law to use a mobile device to take photos or videos in a polling place.

Fortunately, the sensible district attorney in Memphis issued a statement saying: “No one in our office is currently investigating this matter nor will we be using our limited resources to do to so.”

In the universe of potential problems at the polling places, ballot selfies are minor irritants, indeed. They’re innocuous and fun, the latest manifestation of the urge to share all on social media, and they encourage people to get out and vote. What could go wrong?

More than you might think.

We didn’t always have a secret ballot and, until the late 1880s and early 1890s, American elections were rife with corruption.

Party bosses and local officials provided ballots with only some candidates’ names, “helped” voters mark their ballots and gave voters a corn kernel or button, proving they voted “right.” The voter could exchange the token later for money.

As states adopted the secret, or Australian ballot, named for where it originated, in the late 19th century there was less opportunity for vote buying and coercion. You could say how you voted, but no one knew for sure.

To continue ensuring a secret ballot in the 21st century, some states have passed laws banning ballot selfies.

It’s illegal in 16 states to take pictures of ballots at polling places, legal to do so in 21 states and the District of Columbia, and legally unclear in the rest, the Associated Press reported. The situation in the states is fluid, however.

In Virginia, for example, it was illegal in previous elections to take pictures of one’s ballot but will be OK this time, Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring said last month. You can also use your phone to look up information, but not to call someone.

In much of the Deep South, including Alabama and North Carolina, it’s illegal to take pictures of ballots or in polling places. Texas and California are among states where it’s unclear, according to AP.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other free speech advocates have fought state laws prohibiting ballot selfies with some success. A federal appeals court ruled in August that New Hampshire’s ban on ballot selfies unconstitutionally limited the right of free speech.

A federal district court granted a preliminary injunction Oct. 24 against Michigan’s ban on selfies, so voters can snap away Nov. 8. With so many different laws, the issue likely will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But critics like law professor Rick Hasen of the University of California-Irvine,  author of the Election Law Blog, warn that ballot selfies could bring a return of buying and selling votes and of coercion from employers, unions and others.

While vote-buying cases do pop up from time to time, no corroborating evidence of vote buying or voter coercion from the 20th or 21st centuries was presented in the New Hampshire case, the appellate court said.

Quoting from a 1957 U.S. Supreme Court opinion by Justice Felix Frankfurter, the appeals court wrote that prohibiting ballot selfies was like “burn(ing) the house to roast the pig.”

Technology undeniably has changed how we communicate, and we must protect our right to self-expression. But nobody wants to make it easier for someone to intimidate, coerce or buy voters.

It’s dismaying that the ubiquitous selfie might turn back the clock and undermine our shaky confidence in honest elections. Too many people are already trying to do that. 

©2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ins and outs of getting paid as a family caregiver -- on

You Can Get Paid as a Family Caregiver

Medicaid is making it easier for families to afford caring for a loved one at home

You Can Get Paid as a Family Caregiver
Exploring the maze of public and private options to help you get paid for caregiving. — Getty Images
Getting paid as a family caregiver seems about as likely as winning the lottery. Just ask the nation's 40 million family caregivers — spouses, adult children and other relatives — 34 million of whom provide unpaid care to someone 50 or older.
Medicare does not pay family caregivers, who traditionally have assumed these duties without pay.
But with older adults living and needing care longer and wanting to stay in their own homes, attitudes and public policies about family caregiving are slowly changing.
Thanks to innovations in Medicaid and the Department of Veterans Affairs, older adults and people with disabilities are designing their own in-home care programs and hiring family members (and, in rare cases, spouses). There's still a long way to go, though.
"These programs are so small. They're not picking up enough people," says Gail Gibson Hunt, president of the National Alliance for Caregiving.
With those caveats in mind, here are some ways family caregivers can be compensated.


If your loved one is eligible for Medicaid, check to see if your state has a participant-directed services program. These Medicaid programs are aimed at keeping people of all ages and disabilities independent and in their own homes.
Typically, the participant, working with a caseworker, draws up a care plan and hires a worker of choice, who can be a family member (though in many states not a spouse) to help with such activities as bathing, preparing meals or feeding.
Started as pilot projects called Cash & Counseling in the 1990s, consumer-directed programs expanded under the Affordable Care Act. Currently about 1 million people participate in self-directed Medicaid plans. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) provide financial incentives to states — as much as 6 percent of the cost — to offer the self-directed option.
"The federal government has been extremely supportive of self-direction," granting waivers for states to develop programs, said Suzanne Crisp, a senior adviser for PPL Consulting and former director of program design and implementation at the National Resources Center for Participant-Directed Services at Boston College.
Under self-directed plans, the participant (or a surrogate in cases of mental impairment) can have an overall budget for goods and services based on an assessment of needs. The participant negotiates the caregiver's rate of pay at or above the state minimum wage.
A financial management services firm typically performs such employer duties as collecting time sheets and issuing paychecks, filing taxes, workers' compensation and other insurance.
Programs go by different names and operate differently in each state (if they have them).
Through California's In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program, run by Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid, 500,000 seniors, blind or people with disabilities pay friends, family members and in some instances, spouses, for help with housework, meal preparation and personal care.
Training materials warn, "It can be tricky to be the paid IHSS care provider to a relative or close friend," noting that the caregiver is an employee in a program with a lot of rules.
Check with your local Area Agency on Aging for more information.


The Department of Veterans Affairs has several programs that pay family caregivers under certain circumstances.
Veteran-Directed Home and Community Based Services gives veterans of all ages who otherwise would be in nursing homes the ability to tailor their long-term care at home, including hiring family members or friends as caregivers.
To qualify, a veteran must need assistance with at least three activities of daily living or have a significant cognitive impairment, and be enrolled in the VA for health care. There's no income limit, but higher-income vets are subject to a copayment.
"The veteran is the employer," said Daniel Schoeps, the VA's director of purchased long-term services and support. "It's up to the veteran how much they pay the workers" — although the guideline is $20 an hour maximum.
The veteran has a monthly budget based on physical condition that ranges from $1,200 to $4,000. The average is $2,000 a month. The vet doesn't receive a check; the state or the aging office handles payments to the caregiver, employee taxes, and fees for counseling and financial management services.
The veteran-directed program started in 2009 and is available through 61 VA medical centers in 35 states. About 1,900 veterans participate, a fraction of the 50,000 veterans who receive home health care on any given day. The VA hopes to have the program operating in all 150 medical centers within three years.
The VA offers home caregivers of veterans who were severely injured or suffered mental health issues since 9/11 special benefits through Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, a congressionally mandated program. The caregiver may be a spouse, family member or friend.
"Just because we're talking about post-9/11 veterans doesn't mean we're talking about 21- and 22-year-olds," said Meg Kabat, national director of the VA's Caregiver Support program. Many who were injured in the early 2000s had already been in the service many years.
About 34 percent of the caregivers in the comprehensive assistance program are 41 to 64, and 15 percent are 50 or older. Participants receive a stipend, travel expenses, health insurance and not less than 30 days a year respite care.
"They're paid a financial stipend that represents the sacrifices they make in taking care of the veteran," Kabat said. The payment ranges from $600 a month to $2,300 a month, depending on geographical area and the extent of the disability.
The payment is not taxed, and the caregiver does not earn work credits toward Social Security and Medicare. That can be an issue for younger spouses.
About 24,000 caregivers participated in fiscal 2015. About 300 to 400 new caregivers join the program each month, and several hundred a month leave it because veterans improve through rehab and other services.
A veteran who qualifies for the needs-based VA pension and has served one day in wartime, or a surviving spouse, may be eligible for Aid & Attendance. The vet may pay a family member, though not a spouse, for help with activities of daily living, such as bathing, eating and dressing.
Housebound is a separate program that allows VA pension-eligible veterans who need help ambulating outside the home to pay a family caregiver. In both Aid & Attendance and Housebound, the caregiver must report the income to the IRS.
Peer support group, face-to-face classes and online training are available to anyone caring for a veteran or to veterans caring for nonveterans. Learn more at

Your family member pays you

If your loved one can afford to pay you directly for home care, congratulations. You're an employee, and you'll need to pay federal, state and local taxes.
"If you're paid under the table, you're in violation of the law," warned Hyman G. Darling, an attorney in Springfield, Mass., and president-elect of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.
As for accepting payment as a "gift," Darling says, don't. "People do it all the time, but it's not right. If someone makes a gift in return for services, it's no longer a gift. It's taxable to the recipient."
He suggests the caregiver consider training as a home health aide by an agency and then working directly for the agency, which will file the necessary paperwork. In some cases, the agency may be able to bill Medicaid or Medicare, he said. Check with your local Area Agency on Aging.
If your loved one planned ahead and has long-term care insurance, some hybrid policies allow payments to family caregivers.
It may seem odd, but if you become a family caregiver paid by the family member, sign a contract. It should specify the services being performed and the payment amount, Darling said.
The documentation will come in handy if the loved one later needs to qualify for Medicaid. Under the "look-back" provision, Medicaid will examine five years of records and could say the payments were a gift, Darling said. "If you're continuing to pay someone and not reporting the payments as taxable income, each payment extends the five-year period." And that could jeopardize your loved one from being qualified for Medicaid.
Marsha Mercer is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist