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Bill extends health care benefits to eligible family caregivers under the CHAMPVA program

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By Congressman Tom Perriello

After months of work, I had the honor of voting for and helping to finalize last week the passage of S. 1963, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, which passed the House of Representatives with overwhelming support. This bipartisan bill contained legislation I introduced in late 2009 that would increase benefits for the caregivers of veterans, particularly those with severe disabilities. Supporting our veterans must include supporting those family members who care for them when they are unable to care for themselves: Today more than ever, technological advances in military medicine have significantly increased service members’ chances of surviving a catastrophic injury sustained in combat. In many cases, however, surviving a catastrophic injury is followed by a long period of recovery that requires real commitment by caregivers.

Once an injured veteran returns home from treatment at a DoD or VA hospital, it is often a spouse, mother, father or other loving family member who steps up to the challenge of providing ongoing care. This can be a full-time commitment that requires the caregiver to make significant personal and professional sacrifices. To help support family caregivers, I introduced H.R. 2734, the Healthcare for Family Caregivers Act of 2009, which extends health care benefits to eligible family caregivers under the CHAMPVA program. The expanded CHAMPVA benefit is limited to the primary family caregiver who lacks health care coverage, with family members defined as nuclear and extended family members, step family members, and non–family members who live with the veteran. The residency requirement only applies if the primary caregiver is not a family member. 

As a nation, we have a sacred obligation to care for those who have served in the defense of freedom. We have an equal obligation to their families, who fully share in this heroic sacrifice, which is why I was thrilled to see my legislation pass as part of S. 1963, granting provisions of stipend and lodging payments, health care, training and education, mental health services, respite care, and information on support services for caregivers of veterans.

This landmark legislation also:

Improves rural veterans’ health care services by expanding transportation for veterans to local VA hospitals and clinics through VA grants to local Veterans Service Organizations;

Improves care for 1.8 million women who have served their country by establishing a child care pilot program, conducting a study of barriers to women veterans seeking health care, implementing a reintegration and readjustment pilot program, and improving care for veterans with sexual trauma;

Provides access to counseling and mental health centers  to any members of the Armed Forces;

Requires the VA to conduct a veterans’ suicide study;

Expands organizations offering transitional housing for homeless veterans;

Prohibits the VA from collecting copayments from veterans who are catastrophically disabled;

Creates a dental services pilot program;

Requires the VA to provide medical services for veterans;

Provides higher priority status for certain Medal of Honor recipients; and

Requires the VA to provide medical services, hospital care and nursing home care for certain Vietnam-era and Gulf War–era veterans with insufficient medical evidence to establish a service-connected disability.

Please feel free to contact me to share your concerns and ideas. You may call 1-888-4-TOM4US (1-888-486-6487); write to 1520 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515; or visit www.perriello.house.gov to sign up for my weekly e-newsletter.