The push to expand the VA’s comprehensive caregiver assistance program to veterans severely injured prior to Sept. 11, 2001, has picked up serious momentum in the past year; however, it remains unclear whether the House, Senate and White House will be able to finalize a deal to include caregiver provisions as part of a larger veterans health care refor bill expected to be passed by Congress later this year.
Last June, DAV launched the Unsung Heroes Initiative to focus national attention on the unfairness of the current caregiver assistance program and build support in Congress to correct the inequity. Currently, comprehensive caregiver benefits—including respite care, health insurance and monthly stipends—are only available to caregivers of veterans injured on or after 9/11.
In December, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee voted affirmatively to expand the VA’s comprehensive caregiver program to veterans from earlier eras as part of the Caring for Our Veterans Act of 2017 (S. 2193), legislation designed to reform the VA’s community care programs and strengthen the VA health care system.
DAV testified in February in support of the caregiver expansion at a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing and participated in March in a committee roundtable focused on reaching an agreement on how to expand eligibility to pre-9/11 veterans and their caregivers.
DAV Deputy National Legislative Director Adrian Atizado told the committee that “there is no issue more important today than finally correcting the gross unfairness and inequity that discriminates against veterans ill and injured prior to Sept. 11, 2001, as well as their family caregivers.”
Subsequently, in late March, DAV and other veterans service organizations (VSOs) pushed Congress to attach a package of veterans legislation that included provisions for caregiver expansion, as well as VA health care reform, to an omnibus spending bill. Unfortunately, despite significant support from VSOs and a number of key congressional leaders, this effort fell just short, as the veterans provisions were left out of the final omnibus bill.
“Although we are disappointed that the veterans provisions were not part of the final omnibus bill, we are encouraged and energized that so many congressional leaders are now on record in support of this much-needed, long-awaited fix for caregivers,” said DAV Washington Headquarters Executive Director Garry Augustine.
DAV and others continue to work with Congress to reach an agreement on caregiver expansion, but the fate of the legislation remains uncertain.
“It’s important to keep in mind that time is not on the side of many of the veterans and caregivers who would benefit from expanded eligibility,” said Augustine. “Every day that passes without a resolution is another day they go without adequate support.”
Find out more about the Unsung Heroes Initiative and what you can do to support veteran family caregivers at unsungheroesinitiative.org.