Patty in the News

Many caregivers of severely disabled veterans will be unnecessarily excluded from a new benefits and support program because of limitations proposed by the Obama administration, the new chairwoman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee says.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., appointed chairwoman just two weeks ago, is launching a high-profile fight with the Veterans Affairs Department over eligibility rules for benefits for the caregivers of severely injured Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. When Congress passed the benefits law last year, lawmakers believed about 3,500 families would be helped. But Murray said Wednesday VA’s criteria for determining who is eligible would “severely limit” who is covered.

“I’m not going to let VA minimize the impact of the bill that we passed,” Murray said in a statement.

At issue is a proposed rule that would provide benefits and support only in cases where severely disabled veterans needs a minimum of six months of continuous support from a caregiver or would otherwise have to be hospitalized because of their medical condition, inability to care for themselves or personal safety. What the caregiver is doing cannot duplicate services provided by another entity.

VA officials said the idea is to narrow eligibility to veterans who are “most at need” and to a population that can be supported.

Murray said that is “simply not good enough.” VA intends “to limit this benefit to an even smaller group of caregivers than intended by Congress, which is unacceptable,” she said.

She already has been unhappy with VA because of the long delay in implementing the caregiver support program that was signed into law in May and was supposed to take effect Jan. 30.

VA announced Wednesday it was implementing some of the referral and support services promised by the law now, but said that major new benefits — including monthly stipends for caregivers who receive certain training, health and mental health benefits, and the possibility of getting up to 30 days of respite care per year — won’t take effect until later because regulations still must be written and approved.

“I remain concerned by the delay in moving forward with providing this crucial benefit for those that are taking care of our wounded warriors,” Murray said.”

“This law was passed to help support the thousands of family members of veterans who have left behind careers, lives, and responsibilities to see that their loved one can recover from wounds they suffered defending our country. It’s a cost of war that for too long has gone unaccounted for, but it’s one that last year Congress very clearly decided that our country must step up to meet.”

- Navy Times