This is my third essay on caregiving, first published on another website on April 25, 2012.
Having just put my mother in a nursing home the previous week, I was anxious to get over there to console her, since she was positively distraught. However, I had to make a deposit, so I was standing in line at the bank, thinking about all the things I needed to do. I would have to empty out her apartment, which meant deciding what to keep, what to give away, and what to throw away. I needed to drive across town to get help applying for the Aid and Attendance Benefit from the Veterans Administration. Unfortunately, I did not have much faith in the car I was driving, which the garage had lent me, because my old heap needed to be in the shop for extensive repairs (seven weeks worth, as it turned out). Moreover, I had just discovered that I would have to become the representative payee (see “Caveats for Caretakers (1)”) for each of her three government checks, and I was wondering how involved that would be. And, as the pièce de résistance, I had just found out I would need to go into the hospital for some minor surgery.
“What next?” I asked myself.
“Your driver’s license is about to expire,” the bank teller informed me, as she proceeded to record my deposit.
At this point, I guess I should mention that I live in Texas. I don’t know how it is in other states, but from the time I arrived at the driver’s license office until the time I renewed the license and was heading out the door was three hours and forty-five minutes. Considering all the other problems I had to contend with, this was an inconvenience indeed. “Oh well, at least that’s over with,” I said to myself as I got to my car. And then it hit me. Since my mother has dementia, I carry her driver’s license around with me. I looked at it, holding my breath. Sure enough, her license would expire in four months.
Now, obviously, she would never drive again. But she would need a photo ID, since that is one of the first things they want to see when you go the doctor, a hospital, or a nursing home. I could see the ordeal unfolding before my eyes. I would have to get wheelchair transportation. I would have to hire an attendant to help my mother go the restroom, which she would surely need to do during a four-hour wait.
“There must be some kind of exception made for people like my mother,” I thought. And since this must happen all the time to people in nursing homes, I asked one of the administrators at the nursing home if she knew what usually happened in such situations. She did not have the slightest idea. The head nurse had no experience in such matters, and I even drew a blank with the social worker.
I went to the appropriate website, but my question was apparently one that is not frequently asked, and nothing seemed to fit my particular problem. I looked at the contact number. You know you are in trouble when the contact number is not toll free. It’s not the cost of the call that worried me, but the attitude that this phone number represented, that they were really not interested in hearing about my problem or helping me solve it. The woman I spoke with, however, was quite helpful, and she had some good news. For people who are homebound or in a nursing home, Texas has a policy of sending someone out to photograph the person and do all the paperwork. Unfortunately, the woman informed me, I would have to go out to the driver’s license office in person to set it up. “Don’t bother to try to get them on the phone,” she cautioned me. “It’s impossible.” I tried anyway. It was impossible. So, back I went to the driver’s license office. For this situation, which could have easily been handled over the phone, I only had to stand in line for forty-five minutes (not to mention the commute, which was the better part of an hour). I was told that someone visits homebound people or those in nursing homes once a month, and that I would be contacted sometime next month. I asked for a contact number, just in case. I did not get one.
All’s well that ends well, I suppose. I was contacted, and a couple of state employees came to the nursing home. They took my mother’s information, took her photograph, and then tried to get her to sign the form. Unfortunately, my mother was too confused to sign her name or even to make a mark. So, one of the state employees told me to sign for her.
“Do you want me to sign with my power of attorney?” I asked.
“We don’t accept power of attorney,” she replied. (There it was again, the government’s mantra.) “Just sign her name for her,” she said.
And so, I signed my mother’s name, and within a few weeks, my mother received her photo ID, with my version of her signature right there at the bottom. “If I need to forge my mother’s name on some document,” I thought to myself sardonically, “the signature will be a perfect match with the one on her photo ID.”
As noted above, none of the employees in the nursing home were aware of this service provided for people that are homebound. For this reason, I have told this tale, to make the reader aware of a service that may be available, depending on the state in which one lives. I would only add that one should not wait until the driver’s license is about to expire. As soon as you are sure that your mother will never drive again, start making arrangements right away to get her a photo ID to take its place.
In the opening paragraph, I referred to the Aid and Attendance Benefit that is available to veterans who have served in wartime and their spouses. The benefit may be as much as $1,700 per month. If you think your mother may qualify, ask the social worker at the nursing home about it. She will probably be able to give you a contact number of a government employee who can assist you with this. My first effort was with someone at the VA, but the nursing home directed to me to a county employee, without whose assistance I would have long since given up. Unfortunately, it takes a long time for the claim to be processed. The odds are very good that you will have to put your mother on Medicaid before she ever receives anything, at which point she will no longer be eligible for the benefit (it will be reduced to $10).