When it comes to wounded or disabled veterans, we can all agree that they deserve our total support and respect. But there also is another group of unsung heroes who often don’t get the thanks and support they deserve: veteran caregivers.
Whether it’s family members or friends, caregivers often give up their own lives to support wounded and disabled veterans when they return home. For many caregivers, the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers has been a critical lifeline. However, I’ve heard over and over from vets and their families about challenges accessing and using the VA Caregiver program and know there is room for improvement.
As Fort Bragg’s congressman and a voice for North Carolina veterans, making sure veterans, their families, and their caregivers get the support they deserve is a top priority for me.
That’s why I introduced the Care for the Veteran Caregiver Act. Rep. Kathleen Rice (NY-04) joined me in sponsoring this bipartisan bill that will ensure veterans and their caregivers have better access to the VA Caregiver program through extended benefits, permanent eligibility and a standardized evaluation process.
Last week, I was joined by veterans, caregivers and supporting organizations in Washington to discuss how our bipartisan legislation can better support veterans and their caregivers. Sarah Verardo, CEO of the Independence Fund, is caregiver to her husband, Sgt. Mike Verardo, who was combat wounded in Afghanistan in April 2010 as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne. Sarah discussed how our Caregiver Act would help caregivers through extended stipends and health care.
Another caregiver, Patti Cannon, discussed how a permanent eligibility status and a standardized evaluation process would alleviate stress veterans and caregivers have to endure every year during annual reapplications. Patti is caregiver to her son, Spc. Dillon Cannon. At age 20, Dillon deployed to Iraq in November 2006, where he was shot in the neck by a sniper one month later. The bullet left Dillon paralyzed from the chest down and with little use of his hands. But instead of giving up, he says, “God spared my life for a reason. I am meant to be here on this earth and become a productive person.” His determination is an inspiration to all of us, and he couldn’t continue his mission without the help of Patti.
Veteran caregivers like Sarah and Patti are the reason I introduced the Care for the Veteran Caregiver Act. Bill co-sponsor Rep. Rice is a Democrat from New York, and I’m a Republican from North Carolina. But I’m thankful that caring for veterans and caregivers is a priority we can all agree on. I’ll continue to work across the aisle on real solutions for our veterans, their families and their caregivers.