Extra help is on the way for family members who give up their jobs to become caregivers for severely wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, courtesy of a bill signed Wednesday by President Barack Obama.
The bill, estimated to cost $3.7 billion over five years, also expands veterans care for women, the homeless, and those who live in rural areas.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) called the new law "comprehensive bi-partisan legislation to prepare the Department of Veterans Affairs for the influx of women veterans who will access care there in the coming years."
She said the law will address many of the unique needs of female veterans, particularly those women who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The women veterans bill, which was included in S. 1963, The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, is the first of its kind to focus on care for one of the VA's fastest growing populations.
"This is an important victory for all of the women who have stepped forward to serve us," said Senator Murray, a senior member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. "It will help the VA to meet the challenge of serving the growing number of women who will walk through their door. This bill addresses the unique challenges women face by providing specialized care for the visible and invisible wounds of war. As more women begin to transition home, and step back into lives as mothers, wives, and citizens, the VA must be there for them."
"Generations of women have served honorably in all of this country's major conflicts. These women have earned the right to expect the same high quality health care services and benefits as their male counterparts," said Dave Gorman, Executive Director of Disabled American Veterans (DAV). "While significant progress has been made in recent years to remove institutional barriers that often discourage women veterans from seeking assistance at VA facilities, more needs to be done. The Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act will help ensure these women have equal access to VA benefits and services. DAV is proud to have worked on this legislation with Senator Murray, who has proven herself time and again to be a steadfast and effective champion for all of America's veterans."
Among other things, the law will require the Veterans Administration to implement a program to train, educate, and certify mental health professionals to care for women with sexual trauma; require the administration to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the barriers women are facing in accessing care; authorize a report to Congress on the effects the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on the physical, mental, and reproductive health of women who have served there; begin a pilot program that provides child care to women veterans that seek mental health care services at the Veterans Administration; and create a pilot program providing readjustment counseling to women veterans in group retreat settings.
Standing behind Obama at the White House signing was Ted Wade, 32, who lost his right arm and sustained a traumatic brain injury in a roadside bombing in Iraq in 2004 while serving with the 82nd Airborne Division. Wade smiled and grasped the hand of his wife, Sarah, as she wiped a tear.
"These caregivers put their own lives on hold, their own careers and dreams aside, to care for a loved one. They do it every day around the clock," Obama said. "As Sarah can tell you, it's hard physically and it's hard emotionally. It's certainly hard financially."
The Wades lobbied for the legislation on behalf of the Wounded Warrior Project, one of several veterans service organizations that pushed for more support for caregivers out of concern that the wounded were going to institutions because parents, spouses, and other family members couldn't afford to take care of them.
First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of the vice president, also attended along with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and several members of Congress.
Under the bill, caregivers of the estimated 2,000 severely wounded veterans from the recent conflicts are eligible for training, a monthly stipend and health care.
Caregivers of veterans from other eras receive more limited benefits. But the VA secretary under the law must report on the possibility of expanding benefits to them within two years.
The bill also expands care in other ways. It instructs the VA to create a childcare pilot program; offer post-delivery care to female veterans' newborns; and work with the Pentagon on a study on veterans suicide.
--from staff and wire sources