WASHINGTON – 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.
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.