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Begich Joins Senators Call for VA to Stop Dragging its Feet in Getting Family Caregivers Critical Benefits

Because of VA inaction, family members of seriously injured veterans who have had to leave their jobs and make sacrifices are going without training, counseling, and financial benefits

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich joined a bipartisan group of 17 Senators calling on Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, and the 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 of 2010, Public Law 111-163, was enacted May 5, 2010 and directed VA to begin providing caregiver support by January 30, 2011. To date, the Obama Administration has failed to even set out its initial plan to carry out the law.

In a letter sent Monday, the bipartisan group of Senators 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.

“Postponing the implementation of VA support for wounded veterans and their caregivers is a disservice that must be immediately addressed,” said Sen. Begich, a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “The sacrifices made by our veterans and their caregivers can likely never be fully repaid, but it’s essential that we carry out this law and provide them the support we promised.”

On Feb. 1, 2011, the VA launched the National Caregiver Support Line for those seeking information and assistance. The line is open Monday through Friday. 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. (Eastern); and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Eastern). The number to dial is 1-855-260-3274.

The full text of the Senators’ letter follows:

February 07, 2011

The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420

The Honorable Jacob J. Lew
Director
Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20503

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 January 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 November 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 servicemembers 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 servicemembers 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.

Sincerely,

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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