02 Veterans Pub PenTaking care of America’s veterans is a tough job. This week, Publisher Bill Bowman yields his space to Rep. Richard Hudson to address this important topic.

There is no place like home. This expression always reminds me that family is the most important thing in my life. Family will be there for you through thick and thin, and you can always count on them.

Our veterans especially have to rely on their families. They come back home bearing the scars of battle after putting their lives on the line for our country and oftentimes need help from family and loved ones. The Department of Veterans Affairs has programs to support these caregivers, like the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers.

Through my discussions with many veterans, I’ve learned of the great benefits of the VA’s Caregiver Program, but also of some of its shortcomings. We made a lot of improvements with the VA Mission Act, making it easier for our veterans to obtain care and opening up the VA Caregiver Program to pre-9/11 veterans. There is still room for improvement to ensure our veterans — and their families — can get the care they deserve.

Wanting to get some broader input, I decided to host a caregivers roundtable in Salisbury with Sarah Verardo, the CEO of The Independence Fund and a caregiver to her veteran husband, Mike; the Director of the Salisbury VA; social workers from the VA; and local veterans and their caregivers.

I wanted the roundtable to be an informative event — both from what the VA provides and what caregivers go through. And I also wanted to see if there are areas we could work (on)together to improve the program. When I get back to Washington this week, I’ll be introducing legislation that incorporates a number of the ideas we discussed at the roundtable.

My legislation, which I will be calling the Care for the Veteran Caregiver Act, will make several meaningful improvements and further modernize the VA Caregiver Program. It will:

•  Extend the stipend payments received by caregivers to 180 days after the death of their veteran. This allows the caregiver sufficient time to adjust after the death of a loved one, aides their transition back to work and allows them opportunities to pursue education

•  Eliminate burdensome re-evaluation requirements for critically injured veterans who require the most significant levels of care. Right now, veterans have to reapply annually for benefits, even if they have little to no chance of ever needing a lower level of care. This change will allow them to focus on treatment and living a fuller life.

•  Equalize the application process and evaluation criteria for the determination of eligibility for the program. Right now, the application process and evaluation criteria is a patchwork across the different VA service areas. This has resulted in veterans in different parts of the country having different ratings for similar requirements or being given different ratings if they move to a new part of the country. This is both inefficient and unnecessarily jeopardizes benefits and services.

It’s my hope this common-sense legislation will be enacted quickly so we can start cutting through the red tape for our veterans and their caregivers. If you are a veteran and need assistance with the VA, please do not hesitate to reach out if we can help in any way at our Concord office at 704-786-1612, our Fayetteville office at 910-997-2070, or our Pinehurst office 910-246-5374. I’m here to serve you and will work hard to help in any way I can.

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