Categorized | Health

VA mandated to provide family caregiver benefits


U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) and 17 other Senators wrote to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Jack Lew to urge the Administration to carry out the law and begin providing supportive services to caregivers of wounded veterans.

The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, authored by Akaka and signed into law last May, directed VA to begin providing caregiver support by Jan. 30, 2011. To date, VA and OMB have not even set out an initial plan to carry out the law.

“VA and OMB must fulfill their duty to implement this law and provide timely assistance to families and other caregivers of veterans who have served this nation bravely,” said Akaka, the immediate past chair of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “These caregivers have sacrificed so much for so long, and they deserve the full support of the nation their loved ones risked everything to serve.”

In the letter sent Monday, the bipartisan group of Senators, led by new Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Washington), urged VA and the Office of Management and Budget to quickly implement this vital law to provide crucial benefits for very seriously injured veterans.

The Senators noted that, as a result of the Administration’s inaction, family caregivers across the nation have not received the benefits to which they are entitled.

Among the services required by the caregivers law are training in the provision of care, respite care, technical assistance, counseling, and financial support for those who give up the opportunity to work in order to provide needed care to their injured loved ones.

Timeline of legislation:

* April 2009: Senator Akaka sponsors legislation for the caregivers of injured veterans.
* May 2009: The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs approves the caregivers legislation and several other veterans bills
* October 2009: After two veterans bills are obstructed by a single Republican Senator, Akaka merges them into The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act.
* November 2009: Akaka leads a successful fight to overcome the objection:
* April 2010: The bill is amended to include provisions from the House of Representatives; both the Senate and House unanimously pass the amended bill.
* May 2010: President Obama signs the bill into law at The White House.
* September 2010: The Military Coalition honors Akaka for his advocacy for veterans and their families
* January 30, 2011: VA’s deadline to begin providing caregiver support passes.
* February 7, 2011: 18 U.S. Senators send letter to VA and OMB.

The full text of the Senators’ letter:

Dear Secretary Shinseki and Director Lew:

We are writing regarding the status of the family caregivers program mandated by the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, Public Law 111-163, which was enacted on May 5, 2010. To date, implementation of this program is significantly behind the schedule required by law. The statutory deadline for the full implementation of this program was Jan. 30, 2011, yet not even an initial plan has been completed to this point. We are troubled by this apparent inaction.

Among the critically needed benefits and services that are being withheld from family caregivers are instruction and training in the provision of care, respite care, technical assistance, counseling, and a living stipend for those who must give up their jobs or work limited hours to provide care to their loved one.

This law also requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to submit a plan for the implementation of the family caregiver program. That report was due to the Committee 180 days after the enactment of the law, which was Nov. 1, 2010. At this point, the report is more than three months late.

We also note that the National Defense Authorization Act, Public Law 111-383, tied the Department of Defense’s stipend for caregiver services to the amounts of the caregiver stipend to be developed under Public Law 111-163. As a result, any further delay in implementing the caregiver program hinders the implementation of the Defense Department’s program as well.

We know you share our view that very seriously injured veterans and service members should not be made to suffer by being denied care essential to daily living. Indeed, we noted the commitments made in the President’s most recent State of the Union address, and his comments on the recent release of the report on services for military families, which seem to support prompt assistance to those who have served the nation.

The caregivers program is one of the most important ways to assist the families of our service members and veterans and we ask for the immediate completion of any further work so that efforts to implement this program can proceed.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Patty Murray (D-WA), Richard Burr (R-NC), Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Roger Wicker (R-MS), James Inhofe (R-OK), Mark Begich (D-AK), John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Scott P. Brown (R-MA), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)

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