In coming months, physicians at Veterans Affairs hospitals will start their patient visits with a seemingly mundane but potentially radical question: “Should someone else be in the room too?”

The move is part of a new initiative by VA leaders and the caregiver-focused Elizabeth Dole Foundation to make sure that spouses, parents and loved ones providing direct care for injured veterans are included in every step of their medical planning and treatment, something that happens inconsistently today.

Advocates said the goal is not only to improve health care for veterans but also for their families and the entire department health system.

“(Caregivers) manage veterans medication … They do their best to keep veterans spirits up,” said Dole, a former North Carolina senator and caregiver to her veteran husband, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. “They are the first line of defense against the worst of all possible outcomes: suicides.

“These hidden heroes provide care that is extensive, intimate and around the clock. Just imagine the insight our medical professionals have to gain from them.”

According to past research with VA, roughly two-thirds of veterans’ caregivers reported difficulty accessing their loved ones’ medical records or being fully involved in their medical visits.

The new initiative, starting at three regional department networks today, includes training for hundreds of doctors, nurses and social workers on how to better include caregivers in veterans’ medical plans. That includes making sure they are invited to appointments, asking for their observations and input, and including their information in medical charts.

Click here to read more.