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Opening Statement of Hon. Michael H. Michaud, Ranking Democratic Member, Subcommittee on Health

Thank you, Madam Chair. 

I would like to thank you for holding today’s hearing.  The goal of today’s hearing is to identify the gaps in the implementation of Public Law 111-163, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010.  We also seek a better understanding of the VA’s current efforts to meet the needs of family caregivers of veterans. 

P.L. 111-163 provides immediate support to the mothers, fathers, husbands, and wives and other family members caring for warriors from the current conflicts, as well as previous conflicts.  Today, we have the opportunity to recognize their tremendous sacrifice and share their heavy burden. 

I would like to recognize in attendance today Ted and Sarah Wade, as well as Pat and Patty Horan.  Army Captain Pat Horan is from Springfield, VA, and was part of the Stryker Brigade at Ft. Lewis in Washington state.  Over four years ago, Pat sustaining a gunshot wound to the head in Iraq, leaving him completely and totally disabled.  Pat has made major strides in his rehabilitation, and all along, his wife Patty has been by his side.

For the last six years, Sarah Wade has acted as her husband’s primary caregiver and case manager.  In February 2004, her husband, Army Sergeant Ted Wade, was in Iraq when his Humvee was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED).  Ted was one of the first major explosive blast polytrauma cases from Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Sarah suspended her studies to serve as an advocate and caregiver for her husband.

Thank you all for your service and sacrifice to this Nation.   

As Patty and Sarah demonstrate each and every day, family caregivers are the true back-bone of the U.S. long-term care system.  There are more than 50 million people who provide informal caregiving for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member or friend in any given year. 

Studies of the general family caregiver population show the real adverse financial and physical toll that caregiving has on these individuals.  For example, women family caregivers are more than twice as likely to live in poverty.  Also, family caregivers report having a chronic health condition at twice the rate of their non-caregiver counterparts and those who provide 36 or more hours of weekly caregiving are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety than non-caregivers.  In the end, this has serious implications for our veterans.  In order to ensure that our country’s heroes receive the highest quality of care from their family caregivers, it is important that we arm them with the right tools and offer appropriate supportive services so that they are less apt to be overwhelmed by the difficult day to day realities of being a caregiver.

Clearly, the family caregivers of our veterans have made great sacrifices.  I have heard from family members who gave up their jobs, delayed their schooling, or made other significant life-changing sacrifices in order to be by their loved one’s side.  This raises questions about the VA’s current efforts to help these family caregivers and whether there are sufficient supportive services in place. 

Today’s hearing will give the Subcommittee the opportunity to better understand the VA’s implementation plan as required by Public Law 111-163.  As many of you may be aware, there are numerous concerns, including:

  • The delays in the rollout of the implementation plan.  This law required a plan for implementation that was due to the Committee in November 2010, with full implementation of the program in January 2011.  However, the VA is only now preparing regulations-- which will have to undergo a lengthy public comment and approval  process-- and there is still no definitive date when veterans and caregivers will begin receiving the services required by P.L. 111-163. 
  • Second, the narrowing of criteria for eligibility of these benefits.  VA has put forth in the regulations, criteria that would seriously limit access to the stipend and healthcare benefits for caregivers that the law was intended to include.  The law was written in a way to allow for about 3,500 caregivers who would be eligible for the program, while the regulations narrow the eligibility to about 800 to 1,000.  Specifically it outlines as one of the “clinical eligibility requirements” that without ongoing caregiver support, the veteran would require hospitalization, nursing home, or other institutional care.
  • Finally, moving forward.  These setbacks increase my apprehension towards VA’s capabilities to successfully implement the caregivers program.  This is a major concern, and we will continue to actively engage VA as we move forward with a plan that is more in line with the intent of Congress.

Madam Chair, the implementation of the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 demands our immediate attention.  I hope that it is clear to our panelists before us today that by making this our first hearing of 2011, we demonstrate the importance of the subject at hand. 

This hearing provides the VA with an opportunity to present clear details to our Subcommittee about where the VA currently stands with regard to the implementation of the new caregiver requirements.  Our goal continues to be that veterans and their caregivers are ensured these critical benefits.