Support for caregivers of our wounded veterans on the way

14 years ago

By U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud
(D-Maine)

    Our veterans make the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country. But few people know how much their families and friends give up to care for them when they return home.
    During a hearing I held last year in the Subcommittee on Health that I chair, I heard from people who put their own lives on hold in order to care for wounded loved ones. One of the witnesses at the hearing highlighted the story of her brother who was severely injured by an IED attack in Iraq. He survived the attack, but now requires full time assistance. This heroic soldier’s father gave up his job and exhausted his retirement savings to care for his wounded son. This is just one example of what goes on everyday in our country. But it shouldn’t be this way. That’s why I have worked so hard to establish a caregiver assistance program at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
    We must recognize that caregivers in Maine, and throughout our country, not only put their lives on hold to care for their injured loved one, but that their duties take a heavy toll financially, emotionally, and physically. Our brave men and women who served our country have come to rely on their spouses, parents, siblings and close friends to be there for them. We owe it to these devoted caregivers to offer them the support they need.
    The caregiver program I authored would help meet the many hardships and sacrifices associated with the lengthy recovery and rehabilitation from severe injuries. The bill creates a robust supportive services program for caregivers, which includes counseling services and respite care to help relieve the heavy emotional and physical stress on caregivers.
    The bill also attempts to alleviate the financial difficulties facing eligible caregivers by providing a monthly financial stipend, as well as access to health care through the CHAMPVA program. And the bill recognizes the importance of caregivers being by the veterans’ side during every step of their medical treatment by authorizing the VA to pay lodging and other costs incurred by caregivers who accompany veterans to medical appointments.
    I am pleased to report that this new caregiver program is nearing the end of its legislative journey. It passed the House last July and the Senate passed it as part of a broader bill last November. On April 21st, the House passed the broader bill with technical amendments, and the Senate passed it the following day. As I write this, the bill is on its way to the President’s desk for his signature.
    The broader bill that contains the caregiver program, the “Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act,” also takes a number of other important steps to help our nation’s veterans.
    It will help the VA deliver high quality health care to our rural veterans and improve VA’s ability to recruit and retain quality medical personnel. The bill creates a more robust health care infrastructure in our rural areas by supporting collaborations with other federal providers and fostering the VA’s ability to contract with community providers. And it addresses the barriers of long trips to medical appointments by providing reimbursements for air travel and authorizing the VA to increase mileage reimbursements for driving.
    The bill enhances health services for the 1.8 million women veterans, including care for newborns for the 1st time in history. It also expands mental health services for veterans and prohibits copayments for veterans who are catastrophically disabled.
    This landmark bill reflects our nation’s strong commitment to our veterans and the caregivers that give up so much to help them.