In her first initiative as Chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Senator Patty Murray, along with a bipartisan group of 17 Senators, informed the Administration that it was unacceptable to delay help that was mandated by Congress to caregivers of severely wounded veterans.
The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, Public Law 111-163, was enacted on May 5, 2010, and required VA to begin providing caregiver support by January 30, 2011. VA neither met its deadline, nor even announced a date by which the mandated benefits would be available.
"Families of wounded warriors are waiting for these new caregivers’ benefits. And with each day of delay the strain from the sacrifices they make only grows. Congress heard the concerns and problems of family caregivers and responded. This delay in putting the program in place is simply unacceptable. Responding to the needs of those injured while serving their country is a cost of war that must be paid." --Chairman Murray
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The Chairman also put VA on notice that she opposed its proposal to limit benefits to significantly fewer caregivers than required under the law.
Chairman Murray has urged the President, VA Secretary Shinseki, and other top Administration officials to fully implement the caregiver law without further delay. She will not stop in her efforts until caregivers of the nation's wounded warriors are provided the support that was mandated by Congress.
"Unfortunately the plan they put forward today is simply not good enough. The VA outlined how they intended to limit this benefit to an even smaller group of caregivers than intended by Congress, which is unacceptable". –Chairman Murray
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Background: The Nation's servicemembers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan have faced a new and terrifying kind of warfare, characterized by improvised explosive devices, sniper fire, and the increased dangers of fighting a counterinsurgency. Military medicine, fortunately, is saving more of these servicemembers' lives than ever before. As those who suffered catastrophic disability are surviving to return home, many will require a lifetime of care.
During the 110th and 111th Congresses, the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs heard from many family members who quit their jobs, went through their savings, and lost their health insurance as a result of staying home to care for their wounded family members. The toll on these caregivers can be seen in higher rates of depression and worse health status as they struggle to care for their seriously injured family members.
"Most families who are dealing with a veteran with TBI also have demands and responsibilities elsewhere. They often have other family members who need their attention and energy, they must hold down full time jobs and manage households. The stress of dealing with the TBI afflicted veteran cannot be understated." –father of Justin Bunce, a severely disabled OIF veteran
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Senator Daniel K. Akaka, the Chairman at that time and now a Senior Committee Member, believes this obligation ultimately belongs to the federal Government as part of the cost of war. He championed legislation in S.1963, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, to help caregivers of severely wounded veterans. After a long and sometimes difficult debate, provisions drawn from his bill were signed into law as the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, Public Law 111-163, on May 5, 2010.
Once implemented, these new caregiver provisions will help VA fulfill its obligation to care for the nation’s wounded veterans by providing their caregivers with training, counseling, supportive services, and a living stipend. The new law also provides health care to family caregivers under VA’s CHAMPVA program and requires independent oversight of the caregiver program.
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"…[S]ince the founding of our nation, women have always played a role in our military, and that role, of course, has changed over time, and, in today's conflicts, women are playing a far different and far greater role."—Senator Murray
Women veterans are the fastest growing segment of the veteran population. In 1988, they made up approximately four percent of the veteran population; today, women comprise nearly eight percent of all veterans, and their numbers are expected to rise substantially in coming years.
In the 1980’s, VA began to look more at how it was providing medical and psychological services to women veterans and began taking steps to improve gender specific services. Although 144 VA medical centers now have a full- time women veterans program manager, in a system that has been predominantly male for so long, more needs to be done to ensure that women have access to high quality care that meets their specific needs.
On July 14, 2009, the Committee head a hearing entitled Women Veterans, Bridging the Gap in Care to examine issues related to care for women veterans.
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During the 110th Congress, the Committee approved legislation that Chairman Patty Murray, then a senior Committee Member, authored in S. 597, the Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act of 2009. This legislation aimed to enhance the understanding of women veterans need for health care and to improve the delivery of care to women veterans. Provisions from S. 597 were enacted on May 5, 2010, as part of Public Law 111-163, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010.
Provisions for women veterans in the new law include the following:
• require VA to report to Congress on a comprehensive assessment of the barriers to providing health care to women veterans;
• authorize VA to provide health care to a newborn child of a qualifying woman veteran for up to 7 days after the birth of the child;
• require VA to train its mental health providers in the treatment of military sexual trauma; and
• mandate that VA implement pilot programs to provide child care to women veterans receiving medical care, and to provide readjustment services to women veterans.
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