The official blog of American Veteran Magazine, the national quarterly publication of AMVETS.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

House approves caregiver bill; VSOs push for the Senate version

Yesterday, the House passed its version of a new VA family caregiver bill that would establish a new set of benefits for family and non-family member caregivers for wounded warriors.

However, veterans' advocates note that the House bill (H.R. 3155) would create a program only available to a small fraction of wounded veterans. The Senate version of the bill (S. 801) would make up to 34,000 wounded veterans eligible for the program.

"When we're looking at a version of a bill between the House and Senate, AMVETS usually believes 'more is better,'" said AMVETS Legislative Director Ray Kelley. "If more veterans will be served, or if more benefits will be offered, we usually encourage Congress to accept that version of the bill."

The House bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), contains a more restrictive definition of severely-wounded combat veterans, which advocates believe would only allow up to 200 caregivers to take advantage of the new benefits. Meanwhile, the Senate bill, introduced by Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), contains a much broader definition of eligible veterans.

The VA has testified that it does not wish to assume the responsibility for training family caregivers since it would set a dangerous precedent of the VA providing services and benefits for non-veterans.

Here is a line-by-line breakdown of each bill and the terms of eligibility:

H.R. 3155:

(A) provides caregiver services to a veteran who--
        `(i) was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom; and
        `(ii) for purposes of this subsection, is determined by the Secretary--
          `(I) to have a service-connected disability or illness that is severe;
          `(II) to be in need of caregiver services, such that without such services, the veteran would require hospitalization, nursing home care, or other residential institutional care; and
          `(III) based on an examination by a physician employed by the Department (or, in areas where no such physician is available, by a physician carrying out such function under a contract or fee arrangement), to be unable to carry out the activities (including instrumental activities) of daily living;
S. 801:

(b) Eligible Veterans- (1) For purposes of this section, an eligible veteran is a veteran (or member of the Armed Forces undergoing medical discharge from the Armed Forces)--
      `(A) who has a serious injury (including traumatic brain injury, psychological trauma, or other mental disorder) incurred or aggravated in line of duty in the active military, naval, or air service on or after the date described in paragraph (2); and
      `(B) whom the Secretary determines, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense as necessary, is in need of personal care services because of--
        `(i) an inability to perform one or more independent activities of daily living;
        `(ii) a need for supervision or protection based on symptoms or residuals of neurological or other impairment or injury; or
        `(iii) such other matters as the Secretary shall establish in consultation with the Secretary of Defense as appropriate.

As the Senate version indicates, the secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs can confer on who else will be eligible for the new program simply based on the service-connected injury and its effects on everyday life, without the constraints of domiciliary care found in the House version.

Check back with American Veteran Online for updates as each caregiver program act moves through Congress, and please let us know what you think of this potential new program.

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