March 20 – March 31
Department of Veterans Affairs
VA Press Conference
On Wednesday, March 23rd, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) held its monthly press conference with Secretary Denis McDonough. The Secretary acknowledged March as Womens History Month and celebrated all the work that women have done at VA and for the military. He discussed PACT Act updates, including joint DoD/VA clinics to inform transitioning service members about their potential benefits, noted an increase in claims being received and processed, and the sharp hiring increase across the department.
Secretary McDonough addressed a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report that recommended means testing for veterans to continue receiving their disability benefits. McDonough firmly objected to this recommendation and affirmed that VA and Congress are not actively discussing this as an option.
Watch this month’s press conference here.
Last Wednesday, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a legislative hearing to discuss nine bills, one of which was HR. 542: The Elizabeth Dole Home Care Act. This hearing hosted three separate panels that featured Members of Congress, the VA, and Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs). EDF’s policy team was proud to attend and represent the caregiver community. A recording of the hearing can be found here.
The Foundation greatly appreciated the opportunity to submit a Statement for the Record (SFR) for this hearing. In our SFR, we focus on the importance of the 65% non-institutional expenditure cap within The Elizabeth Dole Home Care Act. We discuss the anticipated cost of this provision, as well as highlight caregivers who have experienced challenges due to this cap. We’d like to express our appreciation to veteran caregivers/survivors Jim, Karee, Lara, and Mary for sharing their experiences and inspiring so much for this work. The SFR we submitted can be found here.
During the hearing, The Elizabeth Dole Home Care Act received resounding support from the VA, veteran groups, and lawmakers from both parties.
Julia Brownley (D-CA), the subcommittee’s ranking member and bill sponsor, spoke to the importance of investing in Home and Community-based Care Services (HCBS) and the ability for veterans to age in place during the VA panel. VA agreed that veterans generally have better health outcomes at home and in the community, and that HCBS is less costly than institutional care. Brownley focused on the CBO’s estimated cost of the bill and asked the VA to send Congress data on how many veterans have reached the 65% non-institutional expenditure cap.
Jack Bergman (R-MI), the bill’s Republican co-lead, focused his line of questioning on how the VA determines regional cost of institutional care and ensuring rural access.
Nikki Budzinski (D-IL) asked VA to address the current challenges of caregivers and aging veterans, and to speak on how this bill might alleviate these pain points. The VA responded, “this bill has been very helpful in us aligning our timelines…we had previously said we were going to make vet-directed care be available at all VAs over five years but recently due to feedback…we’re going to do it over eight quarters.” Budzinski concluded by stating, “I’m really a proud co-sponsor of the Elizabeth Dole Home Care Act and I’m grateful to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle because it does have a lot of really great bipartisan support.”
During the panel featuring DAV, The American Legion, and PVA, all three groups spoke in favor of The Elizabeth Dole Home Care Act. Below are quotes from their testimonies:
“DAV is pleased to support HR 542, the Elizabeth Dole Home Care Act…VA must significantly expand and fund home and community-based services as proposed in HR 542. The programs are not only more affordable, but often preferred by veterans and their families. We also support the increasing of the expenditure cap for home and community services to create the financial incentives to expand these important services. – Jon Retzer, Assistant National Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans (DAV)
“Often caregivers will put their veterans’ health and care above their own, leading them toward poor health and burnout. The American Legion is pleased to see that respite care is addressed in this legislation as it is beneficial to caregivers, their families and the veterans they care for. – Tiffany Ellett, Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division Director, The American Legion
“PVA gives its strongest endorsement to HR 542, the Elizabeth Dole Home Care Act, which would make urgently needed improvements to VA’s home and community-based services, including several that target our concerns about current program shortfalls…this important bill addresses several major concerns for catastrophically disabled veterans, and we urge Congress to pass the Elizabeth Dole Act this year. – Morgan Brown, National Legislative Director, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA)
During this panel, Brownley asked PVA to further explain the impact of the bill and to estimate how many veterans the non-institutional cap currently impacts. PVA emphasized that the families are required to take on any financial burden when they reach their limit and that this is impacting several hundred veterans across the nation. PVA, along with The American Legion and DAV, agreed with Brownley’s statement that lauded the creation of a centralized webpage for VA resources.
The Elizabeth Dole Act has been introduced in both the House and the Senate. The House version, HR 542, was discussed in the aforementioned hearing and is working its way to be passed out of HVAC. The Senate version, S. 141, passed out of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs in February and is on track to be passed out of the full Senate. Currently, we are working on a large push with other advocacy groups to recalculate the CBO score and get a better understanding of the cost.
VA Budget Hearing
On Wednesday, March 23rd, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs held a hearing to discuss VA’s Fiscal Year budget for 2024-2025. During this hearing, Secretary McDonough testified on behalf of the VA and discussed VA hospital maintenance and infrastructure, backlogs, mental health, community care, and veteran homelessness. The committee also focused on the cost of IT modernization and the electronic health record modernization program.
Watch the hearing here.
The Elizabeth Dole Act was discussed during an HVAC hearing this week. EDF submitted a statement for the record and we expect the bill to move quickly. Our community’s advocacy on this is critical, so please continue to discuss with members and staff using this one-pager.
In briefings this week, VA leadership discussed PACT Act rollout and swatted down means testing for disability evaluation for veterans. If you have had trouble filing a PACT Act claim or thoughts about means testing, please share your thoughts with us by emailing [email protected]elizabethdolefoundation.org.
Coming Up Next Week
Both the House and Senate will be in recess April 3 – April 14 and during this time Members of Congress will return to their home districts. Both chambers will be back in session on April 17. There will be no hearings and votes for the next two weeks.