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Opening Statement of Hon. Gus M. Bilirakis, a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida

Chairwoman Buerkle, Ranking Member Michaud and  members of the Subcommittee: I want to thank you for calling this hearing today to learn more about and evaluate the implementation plan for the caregiver-assistance program established in Public Law 111-163 (the Caregivers Act). 

When family members, loved ones and friends willingly put the needs of a wounded veteran above their own by becoming a primary caregiver, it is clear that the wounded and disabled veterans are not the only ones who suffer.  Veteran caregivers often sacrifice careers, social lives, and responsibilities in order to ensure that their loved one can receive care and recover at home.  The men and women who selflessly support our wounded soldiers in this manner are as heroic to me as our men and women in uniform, and I am grateful to them for their service.

Congress recognized the myriad sacrifices that veteran caregivers make by passing the Caregivers Act into law in 2010.  This legislation was originally designed to provide supportive services and comprehensive assistance for family caregivers of veterans.  However, the VA’s implementation plan for the law contains troubling new criteria that could limit the scope and inclusiveness of the program.  It is very worrisome that the VA would seek to restrict a program customized to support our veterans and their caregivers. Additionally, the VA’s continued delay in the roll-out of the caregiver assistance program is extremely frustrating.  Veteran caregivers have waited long enough; to ask them to wait longer for the benefits we promised them, which will help them provide better care to our wounded veterans, is simply unacceptable.

I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today on how we can ensure that this legislation retains its congressional intent.  Thank you.