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(Washington, D.C.) -- Today U.S. Senator Patty Murray urged the Senate to pass legislation to help the thousands of Americans who serve as caregivers for a family member. Murray testified before a joint hearing of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pension Committee and the Subcommittee on Aging.

Senator Murray's remarks follow:

Thank you Chairman Mikulski and Chairman Breaux for your leadership on this issue and for calling this unique hearing. When I look at the issue of long term care, I really think back to my own experiences in my family starting with my mother.

My Mother was my hero. She was the best basketball player at five feet tall on her team where she grew up in Butte, Montana. She went to college to become a pharmacist. She loved every Notre Dame team and could name all the players and could recite all the scores.

She raised seven kids on a shoestring budget. When I was 15 -- with siblings ranging from one to 16 years old, my Dad was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and had to quit his job and soon became wheelchair-bound and homebound. My mom went back to work. She got every one of us kids off to college, and she worked full time as my Dad's caregiver.

When other moms were taking trips to Hawaii after their kids were grown, my mom was lifting my dad out of bed and dressing him every single morning.

When her friends learned to play bridge and golf, my mom learned how to get a motorized wheel chair in and out of the car.

When other moms cared for their new grandchildren, my mom was making dinner and feeding my dad.

My mom never became a pharmacist. My mom only took one trip in her life and that was here to Washington, D.C. when her daughter became a U.S. Senator. My mom never went to the opera, saw a movie, or went to lunch with her friends. And you know: she never complained even when it affected her own health. She accepted her role as a caregiver. But I think for many families like my own, caregiving is cloaked in silence.

Caregivers like my mom can't speak out for one reason: they don't want the person they are caring for to ever feel they are a burden. So we must speak out for them.

Today both my parents are gone. But thousands of people are at home today silently taking care of someone they love. They need us to speak out. I see two proposals that could help.

First, we should double funding for the family caregiver support program. Senator Mikulski has proposed this, and I strongly support it.

Second, I still think we need a respite care benefit under Medicare. You'll recall that in 1997, President Clinton proposed this idea. It would provide vital relief for family members who are caring for a relative in the home. Even if it only provides up to 72 hours a year of respite care, I can assure you it would be a lifeline for thousands of families. Seventy-two hours a year for my mom would have been an incredible miracle.

My mother was a hero because she worked in silence. But today, we can break that silence and give families the support they need as they care for loved ones.

I'm very grateful to Chairman Breaux, Senator Mikulski, and the members of this committee for holding this hearing and allowing us to do the right thing for so many people who are caring for a family member in silence.