Washington, D.C.– Today, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21) testified at a House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee hearing on her legislation, the Support Our Military Caregivers Act, which help better support family members caring for seriously wounded veterans.

This bipartisan legislation was introduced following a meeting with a constituent from Alexandria Bay who is a caregiver of a wounded warrior and shared with Congresswoman Stefanik the challenges she faces as the sole caregiver for her hero. Below is a transcript of Congresswoman Stefanik’s testimony before the Committee, or for video, click here.

Chairman Benishek, Ranking Member Brownley, thank you for the invitation to testify on this important legislation.

I truly appreciate the opportunity to appear before you and look forward to discussing this key issue.

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee with a critical Army base and Navy nuclear training facility located in my district, I am dedicated to providing support to servicemembers, veterans and their families.

Since September 11th, 2001, the Army’s 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum has been the most actively forward deployed division in the Global War on Terror.

Over the last 15 years of war, our servicemembers have bravely served our nation and their families have sacrificed an immeasurable amount -- so it is vital that we ensure they receive the best possible care.

This is especially true for our military caregivers -- loved ones of our servicemembers who selflessly care for our heroes behind the scenes.

These men and women are often left out when discussing veterans’ issues.

Military caregivers are an essential component of the communal and family support system for our disabled veterans.

They are usually spouses and other family members who spend their days transporting and caring for disabled veterans in order to provide an environment that enhances their everyday lives.

In 2010, Congress passed a law implementing the Family Caregiver Program.

This was an important piece of legislation that made veterans who sustained injuries in the line of duty eligible for a package of benefits that includes access to a primary caregiver.

These benefits would ensure that the family members who dedicate their lives as caregivers receive access to health care, caregiver training, and stipends for additional costs associated with their disabled veteran.

Unfortunately, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs has had a difficult time managing the high demand of Family Caregiver enrollees, which is much larger than originally accounted for during implementation.

According to the Government Accountability Office, VA officials estimated that they would receive 4,000 enrollees and staffed the program based on this estimate.

However, in the first few months of implementation there were over 15,000 enrollees to the Family Caregiver Program.

VA medical centers lack sufficient caregiver support coordinators and the necessary clinical staff to carry out medical assessments for eligibility for this program.

These implementation issues have led to a delay in both the application and the appeals process.

Application deadlines are not being met by their own internal standards and the staff is still shorthanded.

These issues are not only unacceptable, but I believe they are preventable. 

And after meeting with a constituent who is a caregiver facing the burden of the VA backlog, I introduced H.R. 3989, the Support Our Military Caregivers Act.

This bill would use pre-existing funds already appropriated for the current review and appeals process, to then allow for an objective, independent party to conduct external, clinical reviews.

This bill would ensure that new or modified processes are veteran-centric, outcomes-based and continually improved through the use of best practices.

We can accomplish this by permitting a third party to work within the VA to streamline claims and reduce the caregiver backlog through a more clinical analysis rather than benefits adjudication.

The VA would maintain this third party until appeals are streamlined and the backlog is down to an acceptable rate and addresses the issues highlighted by the GAO.

Military caregivers are silent heroes in our communities and deserve the respect and benefits proportionate to their significant contributions. 

I would also like to highlight that this legislation is supported both by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and the American Veterans

I look forward to discussing this issue further in order to implement a solution and get our military caregivers the benefits they deserve.