Durbin Urges Expansion of VA Family Caregiver Program

Next Week, Senate Will Consider Legislation Extending Eligibility to All Family Caregivers

[CHICAGO] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today urged Congress to expand the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Family Caregiver program which he created.  Next week the Senate will consider a veterans bill which contains a provision extending eligibility for the program to caregivers of all veterans.  Currently only the family members of those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan may participate. 


“I created the Family Caregiver Program in 2009 so that the caregivers of severely injured Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, many of whom sacrifice careers and shoulder the cost of homecare, know they aren't alone,” Durbin said.  “We knew the need didn't stop at the thousands of families who enrolled, but their experience demonstrated this program's value.  Now, for the first time the Senate has a groundbreaking opportunity to offer education, training, peer support and financial assistance to the caregivers of veterans of all eras on an equal basis.  I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting an expansion of this vital program.”


The Family Caregiver Program provides caregivers with a monthly stipend, an expanded mental health respite benefit, mental health treatment and enrollment in the VA's Civilian Health and Medical Program if they are not already eligible.  Currently, 259 family caregivers in Illinois and 12,153 nationwide are part of the program.  The program was created by a Durbin-authored provision in the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2009 and the Department of Veterans Affairs began issuing caregivers checks, which average $1,600 a month, in 2011. 


Next week the Senate will consider a veterans bill which authorizes the Family Caregiver Program's expansion.  The Department of Veterans Affairs has estimated that as many as 88,000 additional veteran caregivers could qualify for the program under the proposed expansion.  Should that expansion be approved, the next step will be to appropriate additional funding for the program.  In addition to the expansion, the bill also establishes education and peer support programs for the family members and caregivers of eligible veterans with mental health disorders. 


More than half of family caregivers are under 40 years of age. Women make up 91 percent of the caregivers and almost three-quarters are spouses.