Sometimes a Great Notion

Ken Kesey’s 1964 novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, tells the story of a proud and hardscrabble lumbering family in Oregon who live–and die–with the oft-spoken motto, “never give a inch.” The title is somewhat intriguing, though. Far from uplifting, Kesey’s “great notion” refers to the dark lyrics of Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter’s Goodnight Irene.

“Sometimes I live in the country/Sometimes I live in the town/
Sometimes I get a great notion/To jump into the river an’ drown.

The other subtext of the title is less fatalistic. It stems from recognition of the power of family–the great notion–of rugged individualism and heroic determination that marked the Stamper family in the novel. It’s that great notion that speaks to us today.

Since 9/11 we in the extended military family have seen a type of combat and combat injuries that are unique to the War on Terror. As we wrote last month, these wounds are often as invisible as they are grievous. Often, family caregivers bear the brunt of caring for a wounded veteran who may be simply unable to care for himself in certain important respects. Just as often, the strength of the family and its ability to support the wounded veteran is all that stands between the veteran and the despair of the Ledbetter lyrics.

Recognizing the immense curative power of family, last year Congress passed the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act to provide enhanced benefits for family caregivers of seriously injured or incapacitated veterans who, but for their families, might well face institutionalization. Those services included a toll-free Caregiver Support Line 1-877-222-8387; education and training programs regarding caring for Veterans at home; counseling, support groups, and referral services. There is even a caregivers’ website, http://www.caregiver.va.gov/ where you can access a number of fact-sheets on benefits available to caregivers to veterans of all eras.

On 9 May 2011 the VA published regulations governing eligibility for and application to the VA for enhanced benefits for family caregivers of veterans sustaining serious injuries post 9/11. These enhanced benefits include a stipend, mental health services, and access to health care insurance, if not already so entitled. Like most VA benefits, the application process can be exacting. An eligible veteran must name a primary and family caregiver who must in turn, undergo VA-supervised training. Entitlement to benefits will vary depending upon the nature and extent of the veteran’s injuries or illness, specifically, the ability or lack thereof of the veteran to perform one or more of daily life activities such as feeding, bathing, hygiene, and ambulation. Application has just now been made possible on-line. To start the process, the veteran should download a copy of the VA CG 10-10 from www.caregiver.va.gov.

A loving family can heal many wounds. When it comes to caring for our veterans, we do well to adopt the Stampers’ motto that refused even to consider the possibility of defeat–Never give a inch! That truly is a great notion!