For the last few weeks, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) had a hold on the Senate version of a bill (S. 1963) that would establish monthly living stipends, travel reimbursement, and health care benefits for family caregivers of severely disabled veterans. Yesterday, Coburn lifted his hold and tonight the Senate passed the bipartisan bill 98-0.
Coburn put a hold on the bill after the Congressional Budget Office determined that it could cost up to $4 billion over the next four years to implement the new programs without an offset in other government spending.
AMVETS testified in support of the companion family caregiver bill in the House, calling it a critical step in caring for today's war-fighters.
Though AMVETS leaders were happy to see Coburn lift his hold, AMVETS still disagrees with the CBO assessment that the family caregiver plan represented a completely "new" cost of war.
"CBO looked at the family caregiver program as if no other program existed to care for our severely injured veterans," said AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley. "However, the family caregiver plan is an innovative and more efficient way to offer the kind of care already available through VA. Over time, the family caregiver plan should only open up more resources to veterans and their families."
In addition to the family caregiver plan, the bill includes increased funding for veterans' health care facilities, improved care for female veterans, and expanded programs for rural and remote veterans.
As as cost-controlling measure, the Senate version of the family caregiver plan limits the program to OIF/OEF-era veterans.
Versions of the landmark bill have now passed in both the House and the Senate. Now the bills will go to committee before Congress votes on a final version. Check back with American Veteran Online for updates, as we inch closer to a groundbreaking family caregiver plan for today's veterans.
(Photo: Stock image of the U.S. Capitol from spring 2009 by Ryan Gallucci.)