Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Susan Collins announced that the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Bill included $860 million – an increase of $365 million over the amount requested in the administration’s budget – for the VA Caregiver Program. This program, which supported caregivers of post-9/11 veterans, will be expanded in the coming years to include pre-9/11 veterans and their caregivers with the enactment of the VA Mission Act, signed into law this week following the advocacy of Senator Collins. The MilCon-VA Appropriations Bill was advanced unanimously by a vote of 31-0 and will now be considered by the full Senate.
“America’s military caregivers enable veterans living with visible and invisible injuries to recover, remain involved with their communities, and enjoy fuller lives,” said Senator Collins. “The additional funding approved unanimously today by the Appropriations Committee will strengthen the VA Caregiver Program and support the expansion of the program to include veterans of all eras and their caregivers. We must never forget our military caregivers, and we should do all that we can to support them.”
For years, the VA Caregiver Program has made resources such as a stipend, counseling, and training available to loved ones who have taken on a caregiver role for a veteran with service-connected injuries or illnesses. However, until the VA Mission Act was signed into law yesterday, only post-9/11 veterans would have been eligible to receive these benefits. The caregiver provision included in the VA MISSION Act is inspired by Senators Collins and Patty Murray’s (D-WA) bill, The Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act. This provision not only expands the program to more veterans and their caregivers, but also strengthens it by adding financial and legal resources.
As a member of the MilCon-VA subcommittee, Senator Collins advocated for the additional caregivers funding in the final bill.
Last year, Senator Collins, the Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, held a hearing focused on military caregivers, which featured experts, advocates, and veterans and their caregivers. In addition to bringing awareness to the challenges faced by military caregivers, the Committee unveiled a RAND Corporation report commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation on a blueprint to aid military caregivers going forward.
In 2014, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation commissioned the largest-ever study of its kind that revealed caregivers--often a spouse, parent, child, or even a close friend--often sacrifice their own physical, emotional, and financial well-being in order to provide care to veterans with service-connected injuries or illness. The Caregiver Support Program offers important resources that improve quality of life and can result in faster and improved rehabilitation and recovery for a veteran.
The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill must now be considered by the full Senate.