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Shaheen, Bipartisan Group of Senators Reintroduce Legislation to Strengthen VA Support for Disabled Veterans and Young Caregivers

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators led by Patty Murray (D-WA) and John Boozman (R-AR) reintroduced the Helping Heroes Act of 2023, legislation that would support the families of disabled veterans, including children who take on caregiving roles.

The Helping Heroes Act recognizes the work done by the approximately 2.3 million children under the age of 18 living in a household with a disabled veteran and seeks to provide critical support and assistance to these children in accessing local, state and federal resources. These children provide invaluable support to their veteran family members. In doing so, they face unique challenges and often take on responsibilities that their peers do not carry. More about this issue can be found in the Elizabeth Dole Foundation commissioned 2021 report from Mathematica on supporting the healthy development of children from military and veteran caregiving homes here.

“In many families, young people take on caregiving roles to assist veteran family members living with disabilities. It’s imperative that our government respond to the full scope of challenges that military families face, including the immense responsibility of caregiving,” said Shaheen. “Our nation must keep its promise to those who’ve served that we will have their back when they come home – providing the resources they need to be cared for by family on their own terms should be part of that commitment. I’m proud to join this bipartisan bill to provide crucial assistance that young Americans need to care for the ones they love.”

Senators Durbin (D-IL), Reed (D-RI), Sanders (I-VT), Kaine (D-VA), Wyden (D-OR) and Murkowski (R-AK) are also original cosponsors of the legislation.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) currently has limited authority to support veteran families with healthy development, especially when it comes to children who take on these caregiving roles. Veteran families could benefit from access to mental health care, peer support, and recreational opportunities and other experiences that can help these children lead healthier lives.

The Helping Heroes Act of 2023 would help meet the unmet needs of these children and would:

  • Require a full-time Family Coordinator at each VA medical center to assess the needs of veteran families in their catchment area and refer them to available local, state, and federal resources;
  • Establish a Family Support Program to provide supportive services to eligible family members of disabled veterans;
  • Ensure transition assistance curriculum includes information on services for children in veteran families adjusting from Active Duty to veteran status;
  • And require VA to collect data on the experiences of disabled veteran families to better identify and understand their needs.

The full bill text is available here.

The Helping Heroes Act is supported by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), The American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) and American Veterans (AMVETS).

Senator Shaheen has spearheaded efforts in the Senate to support veterans and military families. She worked to include provisions and helped pass the historic PACT Act, which expanded health care for veterans who were exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances. In the fiscal year (FY) 2021 national defense bill that became law, Shaheen supported an amendment offered by Senator Tester (D-MT) that would require the VA to provide benefits for veterans suffering from four diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The amendment was based on standalone legislation authored by Senator Tester, which Senator Shaheen cosponsored. In addition, Shaheen cosponsored the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which was signed into law in 2019 and created a permanent legislative fix to help ensure “Blue Water” Navy veterans get the disability and health care benefits they deserve as a result of exposure to Agent Orange. Senator Shaheen worked with a bipartisan group of Senators to introduce the Access for Veterans to Records Act to help more veterans access their service records. Last month, Shaheen sent a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough pushing the VA to address urgent infrastructure failures at the Manchester VA Medical Center and prioritize building a full-service VA hospital in the state.