Washington, D.C. – On Thursday, June 4, the House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee, led by Chairman Michael Michaud (D-ME), held a hearing to assess how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) meets the needs of family caregivers of veterans and to identify any gaps in supportive services for family caregivers.
Chairman Michaud provided the following statement to begin the hearing: “Clearly, the family caregivers of our veterans have made great sacrifices. I have heard from family members who gave up their jobs, delayed their schooling, or made other significant life-changing sacrifices in order to be by their loved one’s side. This raises questions about the VA’s current efforts to help these family caregivers and whether there are sufficient supportive services in place. Additionally, there are concerns about the lack of coordination of caregiver benefits when the service member transitions to veteran status. In other words, supportive services that family caregivers may have depended on during military service are suddenly discontinued when the wounded warrior transitions to the VA system.”
VA does not collect data on caregivers of veterans. As such, the number of family members who provide care for veterans is unknown. However, a July 2007 report released by the Dole-Shalala Commission found that of the 1,730 injured OEF/OIF veterans surveyed, about 21 percent of active duty, 15 percent of the reserve, and 24 percent of retired/ separated service members had friends or family who gave up a job to be the caregiver.
Witnesses identified unmet needs for families of the severely injured and offered recommendations to address these shortfalls. Currently VA does not replace family caregiver loss of income or medical insurance coverage, does not assist in preparing home and family for veteran’s arrival, or offer suitable long-term care options for younger veterans. Caregivers recommended providing in-person support or a reference book to provide guidance at time of injury. Also cited was a need for emotional and mental health support for the caregiver, education regarding treatment options, and a standardized, certified training program so they have the skills to perform their job well.
Legislation to address the needs of caregivers has been introduced in the House of Representatives. Congressman John Salazar (D-CO) introduced H.R. 667, a bill to direct the VA to establish a training and certification program for family caregivers of veterans and service members suffering from traumatic brain injury. Chairman Michaud introduced H.R. 2342, “Wounded Warrior Project Family Caregiver Act of 2009.” This bill would establish a family caregiver program for veterans seriously injured while on active duty, or on training for Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom. Specifically, the family caregiver program provides instruction, counseling, and training to the caregiver or another individual designated by the veteran, as well as reimburse the caregiver for travel, lodging and per diem expenses for accompanying the veteran for medical appointments.
“As with many programs in the VA, caregiver support is not consistently available to all veterans across the United States,” commented Bob Filner, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “The Committee is currently looking at ways to expand these programs and to provide more services to family members of veterans, particularly to caregivers of the seriously wounded.”
· Anna Frese, Caregiver, Wounded Warrior Project
· Cdr. René A. Campos, U.S. Navy (Ret.), Deputy Director, Government Relations, Military Officers Association of America (MOAA)
· Barbara Cohoon, RN, Ph.D., Deputy Director of Government Relations, National Military Family Association
· Jill Kagan, MPH, Chair, ARCH National Respite Coalition
· Suzanne Mintz, President and Co-Founder, National Family Caregivers Association
· Mark S. Heaney, President and Chief Executive Officer, Addus Healthcare, Inc., National Association for Home and Hospice Care
· Dr. Madhulika Agarwal, MPH, Chief Patient Care Services Officer, Veterans Health Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Accompanied by: Lucille Beck, Ph.D., Chief Consultant, Rehabilitation Services, Veterans Health Adminstration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Dr. Thomas E. Edes, MS, Director of Home and Community-Based Care, Office of Geriatrics and Extended Care, Veterans Health Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Thomas J. Kniffen, Chief, Regulations Staff, Compensation, and Pension Service, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
· Edwin L. Walker, Acting Assistant Secretary for Aging, Administration on Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
· Noel Koch, Deputy Under Secretary, Office of Transition Policy and Care Coordination, U.S. Department of Defense
Prepared testimony and a link to the webcast is available on the internet at this link: http://veterans.house.gov/hearings/hearing.aspx?newsid=412.