News Releases

Senator Murray has fought for years to expand the popular program to veterans of all eras 

VA Caregiver Support Program provides resources and support to those who put their own lives on hold to care for a veteran with service-connected injuries 

A RAND study shows caregivers spend as much as 40 hours a week providing care, often sacrificing their own emotional and physical health and financial well-being to provide care to a veteran 

In floor speech, Senator Murray highlights Washington woman who became a veteran caregiver after her husband lost his eyesight during a suicide bombing in Iraq

Senator Murray: “If a servicemember is hurt while fighting for our country, the responsibility of care should never fall to only one family— it is the responsibility and the duty of the entire nation to have their backs and get them what they need”

***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S SPEECH HERE***

Washington, D.C.)  – Today in a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the daughter of a World War II veteran, cheered the inclusion of a provision in the wide-sweeping VA MISSION Act that would expand the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Caregiver Support Program to veterans of all eras. The provision is derived from Senator Murray’s legislation, the Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act, or S. 591. The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the VA MISSION Act tomorrow.

During her time as Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Senator Murray oversaw the initial implementation of the Caregiver Support Program in 2011, and during the rule-making process, fought back against efforts to curtail eligibility. Given the popularity and success of the program, Senator Murray first introduced legislation in 2014 to expand the program to veterans of all eras, reintroducing the legislation in 2015 and 2017. Senator Murray has also consistently worked to hold senior VA officials accountable for implementing the program in a way that works best for veterans and their caregivers, not the least of which is creating clear, standardized eligibility requirements.

About the Caregiver Support Program:

The Caregiver Support Program is currently open to post-9/11 veterans. It provides resources and support, including training, counseling, a stipend, access to health care, and more to caregivers, who are often a spouse, family member or friend. Sen. Murray’s provision would also include financial and legal advice to the program to deal with the many complex and difficult challenges that are unique to being a veteran caregiver. There are an estimated 5.5 million caregivers in communities across the country.

Key excerpts of Senator Murray’s remarks:

I met one of those caregivers not too long ago in my home state of Washington. Tiffany Smiley wears many hats. She’s a mother, a wife, a nurse, and a veteran caregiver. She and her husband Scotty first met in junior high. Years later they were married, he signed up to serve our country, and Tiffany became a military spouse. And then in 2005, she got the call every military family fears. Scotty had been severely injured in a suicide bombing in Iraq. He was alive, but he’d lost his eyesight permanently.

As Tiffany describes it, her world was shaken to its core and their lives were never the same again. But Tiffany—like so many military spouses—didn’t think twice about whether she would care for her husband and their growing family. It was just a matter of how she would do it.

…we know the care our military caregivers provide comes at a cost. Several years ago, the Dole Foundation commissioned the largest-ever study of its kind to examine the sacrifice of military caregivers. It showed some caregivers spend more than 40 hours a week caring for veterans—the equivalent of a full-time job. This takes a toll. The study showed caregivers often have significantly worse health than non-caregivers and they run a higher risk for depression because they put their own physical and mental well-being on hold. And the stress of providing care can strain relationships and increase divorce rates. So caregivers—or as they’re often called, hidden heroes— don’t necessarily wear a uniform or go overseas. But they sacrifice a whole lot— and they serve our country in ways most people find unimaginable.

Senator Murray’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

“I come to the floor today to bring attention to a particular provision of the bill now before the Senate— a provision that would do so much to help our country fulfill its promise to veterans. And that is to expand and strengthen the VA’s Caregiver program.

“This program may not be well-known outside of military family circles. But make no mistake—the Caregiver program could be a game-changer for the estimated 5 and a half million people across this country who have put their lives on hold to care for a loved one who returned from service with illness or injury.

“I met one of those caregivers not too long ago in my home state of Washington. Tiffany Smiley wears many hats. She’s a mother, a wife, a nurse, and a veteran caregiver. She and her husband Scotty first met in junior high. Years later they were married, he signed up to serve our country, and Tiffany became a military spouse. And then in 2005, she got the call every military family fears. Scotty had been severely injured in a suicide bombing in Iraq. He was alive, but he’d lost his eyesight permanently.

“As Tiffany describes it, her world was shaken to its core and their lives were never the same again. But Tiffany—like so many military spouses—didn’t think twice about whether she would care for her husband and their growing family. It was just a matter of how she would do it.

“To this day, Tiffany is an amazing advocate for the Caregiver program and what it has meant to her and her family. She describes both the good days—and the bad days—so those of us not in her shoes can understand at least some of the challenges they face. She does it because she knows she’s not alone, and she knows that sharing her experience is making a difference to educate the rest of the country about what it means to be a veteran caregiver.

“And it is so true—I’ve heard from countless people who—when their loved one came home from service with an injury or illness—made big life changes like quitting a job or scaling back hours, or taking a leave from college. They put big purchases, retirements, and dream vacations on hold. Or they took on more parenting responsibilities—you name it.

“They sprang into action and did what they needed to do—because it’s just what they do for someone you love. But we know the care our military caregivers provide comes at a cost.

“Several years ago, the Dole Foundation commissioned the largest-ever study of its kind to examine the sacrifice of military caregivers. It showed some caregivers spend more than 40 hours a week caring for veterans—the equivalent of a full-time job. This takes a toll. The study showed caregivers often have significantly worse health than non-caregivers and they run a higher risk for depression because they put their own physical and mental well-being on hold.

“And the stress of providing care can strain relationships and increase divorce rates. So caregivers—or as they’re often called, hidden heroes— don’t necessarily wear a uniform or go overseas. But they sacrifice a whole lot— and they serve our country in ways most people find unimaginable. That’s why expanding the Caregiver program to veterans of all eras is so important—because the program provides resources and support, including training, counseling, a stipend, access to health care, respite, and more.

“And this bill expands the support services for caregivers to address their still unmet needs. That includes offering financial and legal advice to deal with the many complex and difficult challenges that arise that are unique to being a caregiver. And not only does the Caregiver program recognize the sacrifice of caregivers, it also puts decisions about care into the hands of the veteran and their loved ones. They can decide to be at home, with on-site care, on their own terms, as independent as possible. That’s really important.

“And the fact we are so close to getting this program expansion across the finish line goes to show how far we’ve moved the conversation, but also why we must keep pushing it forward so veterans and military caregivers never feel like they have to face these problems alone.

“Because the reality is, if a servicemember is hurt while fighting for our country, the responsibility of care should never fall to only one family, it is the responsibility and the duty of the entire nation to have their backs and get them what they need.

“Because we can’t stop until we get this done. We can’t stop until every veteran and military caregiver knows that their country is there for them, on their terms, no matter what. I’m so proud the Caregivers program expansion is front and center in the VA MISSION Act—and on behalf of Tiffany and Scotty and all the other military families out there, I urge my colleagues to express your support for this critically important program.

“Thank you, I yield the floor.”