On June 6, 2018, following years of debate, collaboration and finally compromise, President Donald Trump signed into law historic veterans legislation that will expand the eligibility for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) comprehensive caregiver program to veterans catastrophically injured before Sept. 11, 2001. The “John S. McCain III, Daniel K. Akaka and Samuel R. Johnson VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act of 2018,”—referred to as the “VA MISSION Act,”—will phase in eligible veterans into the caregiver program over time, as well as strengthen VA health care and consolidate VA’s community care programs; provide supplemental funding to continue the current Choice program for another year; give VA new tools to hire and retain quality health care professionals; and develop a long-term plan to realign and modernize VA’s health care infrastructure.

The bill signing ceremony—held in the White House Rose Garden—was attended by representatives from a number of veterans service organizations, including DAV.

“No matter when you served or where you fought, if at some point you were in that uniform, then you deserve our absolute best,” Trump said at the ceremony.

“DAV has long advocated for extending comprehensive caregiver benefits to veterans injured and made ill prior to Sept. 11, 2001, and the VA MISSION Act takes major strides to close that gap and provide equity to thousands of family caregivers,” said DAV Washington Headquarters Executive Director Garry Augustine. “This legislation also provides VA with the tools and roadmap to expand access, improve quality and sustain VA health care for millions of veterans. It was an honor to stand up on behalf of our organization as the president signed this monumental bill into law.”

The VA MISSION Act was introduced by Rep. Phil Roe, Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC), in agreement with Senators Johnny Isakson and Jon Tester, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. DAV and other major veterans service organizations worked closely with both committees in reaching the final compromise, and submitted a joint letter of support signed by 38 veterans organizations and stakeholders.

“As leaders of the nation’s veterans and military service organizations, we thank you for your steadfast leadership in crafting this important bipartisan bill and call on all members of Congress to seize this historic opportunity to improve the lives of veterans, their families and caregivers by swiftly passing the VA MISSION Act of 2018,” the letter read.

“This new bill will not only extend support to thousands more deserving family caregivers that severely injured veterans rely on, but also make a number of reforms and improvements to strengthen the VA health care system and improve veterans’ access to care,” said DAV National Commander Delphine Metcalf-Foster, a former caregiver. “With the signing of the VA MISSION Act, we are now one step closer to ensuring no veteran or caregiver will be left behind again.”

Additionally, the VA MISSION Act contains dozens of provisions to expand access, improve quality and strengthen the VA health care system. The bill reforms VA’s Choice and community care programs by requiring the development of integrated health care networks. Importantly, VA will remain the coordinator and primary provider of care for enrolled veterans, and will have oversight over the whole patient to ensure quality care at every step of the individual’s health care.

DAV has also long advocated for VA to modernize its health care facilities to meet the needs of veterans. This bill requires VA to develop a long-term plan to transform and properly align its health infrastructure to match 21st century medicine. The bill’s Asset and Infrastructure Review provides significant checks and balances by Congress, the administration and outside veteran stakeholders to enhance the veterans health care system and ensure it remains viable for future generations of disabled veterans.

“This groundbreaking legislation will not only support America’s unsung heroes—family caregivers—but also make a number of reforms and improvements to strengthen the VA health care system and expand access for all enrolled veterans,” added Metcalf-Foster.