March 06, 2009

Udall, Bipartisan Group of Senators Join to Support Families of Severely Disabled Vets

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M., today joined a bipartisan group of Senators in introducing legislation to provide essential support services to family caregivers of severely disabled servicemembers and veterans. The Veteran and Servicemember Family Caregiver Support Act of 2009 establishes a program to provide technical, financial and practical support to family caregivers of veterans or members of the Armed Forces seriously injured in the line of duty since September 11, 2001. Udall joined Senators Dick Durbin, D-IL., Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Mark Begich, D-AK to introduce the bill.


"Families make extraordinary sacrifices to care for loved ones who return home from war unable to live independently," said Udall. "They often face heart wrenching challenges in trying to balance work, manage their family member's care, and trying to keep a roof over their heads. There have been at least 6,800 veterans who have come home with disabilities serious enough to require institutional or home-based care after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. For their sacrifices, they deserve the best care possible, and in many cases that care comes from their family members."


Since September 11, 2001, at least 6,800 veterans and members of the Armed Forces have been injured and are living with disabilities severe enough to require near around the clock care. Many family members stop working outside the home to become primary caregivers. They often do so at great financial and personal sacrifice, while the government is relieved of providing nursing home care, or otherwise paying for care it is obligated to provide.


The Veteran and Servicemember Family Caregiver Support Act of 2009 would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to establish a two-year pilot program in six locations available to a veteran or member of the Armed Forces who was disabled in the line of duty after September 11, 2001, if the disability requires institutional care or home-based services. If the pilot programs are successful, the legislation provides authority to expand the program nationwide. The legislation would:


· Require training and certification of family caregivers by VA and Department of Defense (DoD). The costs associated with training incurred by family caregivers would be covered by the VA or the DoD.


· Allow family caregivers to receive payment for the care they provide once they are trained and certified. The amount of payment would be determined by the VA based on the amount and level of care required for each participant. Costs would be paid by VA, with DoD reimbursement to VA for services benefiting servicemembers.


· Provide for training and certification of an alternate caregiver to relieve the primary caregiver if deemed necessary. In addition, the VA would be required to study further options to improve the availability of respite care.


· Require VA and DoD to make access to mental health and support services available to family caregivers who require these services as it relates to their caregiving. The program would include an assessment of the caregiver's needs and referral to relevant services available.


· Conduct a survey of family caregivers to better understand the value of services provided by this population and assess the overall performance of the pilot program.


The legislation is supported by the Disabled American Veterans (DAV).