Watertown Daily Times
April 8, 2016
U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik’s Support Our Military Caregivers Act, which seeks to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Family Caregiver Program, was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday without opposition.
Mandated in 2010, the VA’s Family Caregiver Program was designed to support family members caring for wounded veterans. The program provides medical staff to assist caregivers along with providing stipends to compensate for their work.
Receiving the benefits, however, has become problematic. While it was anticipated that around 4,000 applications for the benefits would be submitted, the VA has approved 15,600 applications, with a backlog of more than 14,000 more, causing delays.
As a result, caregivers have been denied the program’s benefits. Because caregivers have the right to appeal denials, the VA is also facing an appeals backlog on top of increasing applications.
Introduced last November, Ms. Stefanik’s bill seeks to remedy the issue by directing the VA to contract with a third party to help streamline the application process, relieving the pressure of the growing backlog.
The genesis of the bill stemmed from Ms. Stefanik’s work with caregivers in the 21st Congressional District, who have had difficulty working with the VA’s caregiver system. With a large veteran population within the 21st Congressional District, Ms. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, said she is contacted on a weekly basis by parents, spouses and children of veterans who have difficulty navigating the complex bureaucracy of the VA.
“Our military caregivers are the unsung heroes in the community,” Ms. Stefanik said, noting that caregivers play important roles in providing support to veterans.
Ms. Stefanik there would be no additional costs to implement the legislation. The bill will be brought to vote in the Senate next, and Ms. Stefanik said the bill has garnered strong bipartisan support.
The same day Ms. Stefanik’s bill was passed by the House, the congresswoman also expressed outrage against VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald for comparing wait times for veteran health care to those at Disney theme parks. Citing her experience working with north country veterans, Ms. Stefanik demanded that Mr. McDonald apologize for the remarks.
Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson issued an apology on behalf of the VA Tuesday during a Senate Veterans Affairs hearing, NBC News reported.