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Senate Passes Major Veterans Health Reform Legislation

Washington, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Patty Murray (D-WA) applauded the passage of the VA MISSION Act, which creates a new Veteran Community Care Program to streamline the delivery of health care and help veterans access care closer to home.  The bill also expands eligibility for the Department of Veterans Affairs Caregiver Support Program.  This legislation will empower more veterans to access the care they need and deserve.  After passing in the Senate 92 to 5, the VA MISSION Act now goes to the president’s desk to be signed into law.


The VA Mission Act is supported by 38 veterans advocacy organizations. In a recent joint letter, they called it an “historic opportunity to improve the lives of veterans, their families and caregivers.”  The legislation establishes expanded and more flexible criteria for when veterans may access VA-funded care in their communities, such as when veterans face burdens in accessing VA facilities due to long wait times, excessive driving distances, or medical conditions that might affect his or her ability to travel.  Veterans in Maine who might have to drive great distances to the Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta will have the opportunity to continue receiving care closer to home.  


“Veterans deserve convenient access to the high-quality health care that they have earned through their service.  I’ve heard from countless Maine veterans about how far distances and long wait times were getting in the way of their access to high quality care in their communities,” said Senator Collins.  “I am pleased that Congress passed this legislation to expand access to health care services to all veterans, and I look forward to working with the VA on its implementation in Maine once it is signed into law.”


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 illness.  However, only post-9/11 veterans have been eligible to receive these benefits.  The Caregiver provision included in the VA MISSION Act is inspired by Senators Collins and Murray’s 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 available financial and legal resources.


“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.  “I am pleased that the Senate has passed the VA Mission Act of 2018, which includes a phased expansion of the VA Caregiver Program to support pre-9/11 veterans and their caregivers.  We must never forget our military caregivers, and we should do all that we can to support them.”


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.


“We celebrate today’s passage of the VA MISSION Act in the Senate as the culmination of a years-long effort to ensure that veteran caregivers have access to the support they need and deserve, regardless of the era in which their veteran served,” said Senator Elizabeth Dole, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. “Today’s victory would not have been possible without the stalwart leadership of Senators Murray and Collins, and Representative Langevin, and I thank them for their constant and passionate support of our nation’s hidden heroes.”


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