Durbin, Baldwin Introduce Expansion of VA Caregiver Program That Could Help Thousands More Veterans and Their Families

Expansion would allow eligible veterans from all wars to apply for program

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) announced the introduction of the Veterans Affairs (VA) Family Caregivers Expansion and Improvement Act, a bill that would open the VA Family Caregivers Program to all eligible veterans who were severely injured while serving our country. The Family Caregivers Program provides home health training, peer support, and a small financial stipend to caregivers of severely injured veterans. The caregivers also have access to mental health support and enrollment in the VA’s Civilian Health and Mental Program, if they are not already eligible.

Introduced by Durbin in 2009, the original Family Caregiver Program was limited to post 9/11 veterans. Today’s bill would allow eligible veterans from all wars to apply for the VA Family Caregivers Program. The VA has estimated that at least 70,000 more veterans would be eligible under the expansion of the Family Caregiver Program, including nearly 400 from Illinois.

“We owe each and every veteran a great debt of gratitude,” said Durbin. “The VA Family Caregivers Program proved it can make a difference in the lives of America’s heroes and the dedicated caregivers who made the decision to care for them. Expanding this program to veterans of all wars will make tens of thousands more families eligible for critical homecare services and financial assistance. With this bill, we are on the way to helping many families in need and can finally provide assistance to the caregivers of veterans of all eras on an equal basis.”

“Family caregivers of America’s severely ill and injured veterans make up a critical support system for our nation’s heroes, providing assistance that allows their loved ones to remain in their homes and preserves their quality of life,” said Baldwin. “I’m proud to join Senator Durbin today to fix an existing inequity these hidden heroes face by expanding the eligibility for VA family caregiver benefits to cover all severely disabled veterans. It’s past time that we support each and every family caregiver who supports our veterans.”

The Family Caregiver Program was created by a Durbin-authored provision in the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2009, which was enacted in 2010. The VA began providing caregiver support in 2011 and has been a success for veterans and their families. 22,000 veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan participate in the program today.

“DAV greatly appreciates the leadership of Senators Durbin and Baldwin for introducing their new bill, the Caregivers Expansion and Improvement Act of 2015, a measure that could improve the lives of tens of thousands of our members and their family caregivers. DAV strongly supported the 2010 legislation that brought VA caregiver services into the homes of veterans injured after 9/11 because it was the right thing to do. This new measure recognizes the caregivers of our most severely disabled veterans of all generations and we're deeply grateful for the leadership of these two Senators who've made it possible.” -- Garry J. Augustine, DAV (Disabled American Veterans) Executive Director, Washington Headquarters

Not only does the program allow veterans to stay in their homes with their families, but it is also a money saver for taxpayers. The VA spends an average of $332,000 per veteran per year in VA nursing homes, an average of $88,000 per veteran per year in community nursing homes, and about $45,000 a year in per diem payments to veterans in State Veterans Homes.

Through the Family Caregivers Program, the VA cost per veteran per year is about $36,000. This includes the stipend, which averages between $600 and $2,250 a month, based on the level of care and the geographic location, and services provided to the caregiver.

“Imagine being a veteran who fought during the Battle of Medina Ridge during the Persian Gulf War or the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia or the Battle of Hue during the Vietnam War. Now consider the fact that any of these individuals who incurred a catastrophic injury are not eligible for the Comprehensive Family Caregiver program. We tell these men and women we are proud of their service, but unfortunately the country cannot afford this benefit that you have earned and deserve. This inequity must be corrected.” – Paralyzed Veterans of America National President Al Kovach, Jr.

“Family caregivers who provide care to veterans who were severely disabled in the line of duty truly epitomize the concept of selfless service. Our nation owes these caregivers the support they need and deserve. It is time to grant Caregiver benefits for veterans of all wars.” – John W. Stroud, Commander-in-Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.