113th Congress, second session: Expand Eligibility for VA Caregiver Support Services

Paralyzed Veterans of America member Mike Luckett with his caregiver Adonia WhittierSeverely disabled veterans with a service-connected injury or illness do not have full access to caregiver support programs and services from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  As a result of Public Law 111-163, the “Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010,” the VA only provides comprehensive benefits as part of the Caregiver Support Program to caregivers of veterans with a service-connected injury that was incurred after September 11, 2001.  Specifically, these benefits include health care coverage through the VA’s Civilian Health and Medical Program of Veterans Affairs, a monthly stipend based on the care provided, and payment for travel and lodging when participating in medical appointments with a veteran.  

The majority of Paralyzed Veterans of America members are excluded from these VA caregiver benefits because of the arbitrary selection of the September 11, 2001 date; or because the law also excludes veterans with serious illnesses or diseases such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Multiple Sclerosis (MS), both of which have a catastrophic impact on activities of daily living, and eventually leave veterans dependent upon caregivers.  The need for caregiver support services does not change for service-connected, catastrophically disabled veterans based on the date of injury.   No reasonable justification (other than cost considerations) can be provided as to why pre-9/11 veterans with a service-connected injury or illness should be excluded from the comprehensive caregiver program.   

To ensure that all service-connected, catastrophically disabled veterans receive adequate caregiver support services from the VA, Paralyzed Veterans recommends that Congress pass legislation to expand eligibility for the VA Caregiver Support Program by eliminating the post-9/11 injury requirement, and including “serious illnesses and diseases” in the eligibility criteria.  The use of the “date of injury” as an eligibility requirement for such an important benefit is unfair, and likely to have negative impacts on veterans’ quality of care and well-being.   

Paralyzed Veterans fully supports H.R. 3383, the “Caregiver Expansion and Improvement Act of 2013,” as it would expand eligibility for VA caregiver assistance benefits to veterans who became injured prior to September 11, 2001.  Additionally, we recommend that the Committee consider and pass legislation to expand eligibility for the VA Caregiver Support program to veterans who have incurred a serious illness or disease as a result of their service.

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