Azerbaijan's War-Disabled Struggle to Access Home Care

Memories of the war over Nagorny Karabakh are very much alive in Azerbaijan. But the men who fought in the war and were left disabled say they are forgotten by the social services that should be helping them.

The state pays welfare benefits to Karabakh war veterans amounting to around 270 manats (340 US dollars) a month for those with “class one” disabilities. Azerbaijan uses a graduated system of three classes of disability, one counted as the most serious. Disabled veterans in classes two and three get 192 and 165 manats a month, respectively.

Those in class one, if they are bedridden or otherwise incapacitated, are eligible for a specific payment to cover some of the costs of home care provided by family members. But this comes to just ten manats (13 dollars) a month.

Firudin Mammadov, deputy head of the Association of Karabakh Veterans, says the amount set aside for care is woefully inadequate for disabled veterans who need to be attended to round the clock.

“Many of the disabled from the Karabakh war need constant care. Some lost legs or arms and need assistance just to have a drink of water,” Mammadov told IWPR, explaining that it was left to the men’s wives to provide this care. “There’s a limit to everything. Is it right to ask this much self-denial of her [a wife] for the rest of her life? And there are also disabled men who are unmarried. There’s one called Nizami who lives in Mingechevir. He lost his legs in the war and his brother looks after him. Nizami’s prosthetic legs still aren’t ready and his brother has to carry him around.”

Taleh Hasanov has two children at school and one at university and says the ten manats he receives every month are his family’s main income.

“It doesn’t cover anything. My wife cares for me all day, so she can’t work. But the state doesn’t take that into account,” he said.

Rasim Aliyev, another veteran, has difficulty eating because of a throat injury.

“I always need help from someone. The state won’t assign a social worker to me and doesn’t give me any treatment. The state hospital wouldn’t take me. My relatives paid when I had an operation.”

In Mammadov’s view, this is poor reward for men who fought for their country.

“The war disabled are in a very difficult position financially,” he said. “He sacrificed his own youth for his homeland. He had hopes and dreams for the future then. Those hopes are lost to him along with his health.”

Mammadov argues that the government should provide free home-care to those who need it with medically trained staff working in shifts, and pay an allowance to family members who perform this function themselves.

“We have proposed paying family members of disabled men the wage of a social services worker, but this hasn’t been accepted,” he said.

Sevda Safaraliyeva, an advisor to the parliamentary committee on social policy, says the current legislation on disabled veterans’ rights, contained in the Law on Social Services, leaves a lot to be desired.

“The law sets out very harsh conditions on disabled care,” she said.

According to current legislation, disabled veterans are only eligible to get the monthly benefit of ten manats plus any work pension they were entitled to. “If they don’t have a right to a work pension, they’re barred from that too,” Safaraliyeva added.

As for careworkers, Safaraliyeva said only single people were entitled to them. “By law, if disabled people have a relative or carer, they don’t get allocated a social services worker,” she explained.

Under a government ruling issued in April, even in these cases, care provision is severely limited. When the individual concerned cannot look after  himself, carers provide eight meals a month and buy food, clean the apartment and wash clothing once a week.

“Who is supposed to look after these helpless individuals on the remaining days each month?” Safaraliyeva asked.

She added that with neither state institutions nor the NGO sector doing much to address these issues, “The first thing that needs to be done is change the law.”

Igbal Agazade, head of the Umid party and a member of Azerbaijan’s parliament, believes benefit levels are far too low, and can lead to hardship, family break-up and even suicide.

He pointed out that the ten-manat monthly care payment is only given to a minority, those with the most serious, “class one” disabilities.

“The overwhelming majority of families don’t even get that sum,” he said. “A large sum of money needs to be assigned to resolve the problems facing disabled people.”

Agazade described the bureaucratic web of regulations governing disabled war veterans.

“For starters, disabled people are categorised as those disabled in the Second World War, those from the Karabakh war, people disabled as a result of their work and those born with a disability. Then disability is divided into groups one, two and three [according to gravity]. Disabled Second World War veterans get bigger pensions than those from the Karabakh war,” he said. “The state creates a situation where some categories receive more assistance than others. And this prevents disabled people from uniting and having a common starting-point.”

Agazade would like to see a much-simplified system being introduced.

“Common standards should apply to all the disabled, without dividing them into categories. Once that’s done, war veterans should be eligible for special benefits,” he said.

When these concerns were put to head of public affairs at the labour and welfare ministry, Elman Babayev, he said he would find out and give a response, but that has yet to happen. 

Afgan Mukhtarli is an Azerbaijani journalist living abroad.