With less than four weeks left in session for the 117th Congress, lawmakers are running out of time to fund essential legislation – including long-term and extended care services for a growing population of aging and disabled veterans who rely on lifesaving nursing home care and community-based services.
While lawmakers were able to come together hours before the Sept. 30 deadline to pass a continuing resolution and prevent a government shutdown, Congress left for the midterms with a lengthy list of unfinished business to deal with on its return, including the National Defense Authorization Act and emergent issues like passing a significant disaster relief package to aid Hurricane Ian-ravaged communities.
While these unaddressed priorities make headlines, legislation designed to support veterans, their caregivers, and family members also remains in limbo. This remains a top health care priority for MOAA: Congressional support in funding, resources, and staffing is needed for the VA to accelerate access to essential caregiving and long-term and extended care programs and services.
Why should this issue – and especially these three key pieces of legislation – find a spot on the lame-duck session’s to-do list this November? Demographics, for one: While the VA projects an overall decrease in enrolled veterans across all age groups in its health care system, there are certain groups growing at alarming rates who will require care and services.
Veterans 65 years and older make up almost half of the population enrolled in VA health care. More than 61,000 veterans are over the age of 85, and they are the fastest growing population in VA’s health care system. This group is expected to increase to 387,000 in the next 20 years; the population of enrolled women veterans 85 years and older enrolled is also expected to jump 278% in the same period.
[FROM MILITARY TIMES: VA Caregiver Benefits Expand to All Vets]
MOAA commends VA’s continued prioritization of providing age-friendly care and the department’s emphasis on aging in place for veterans. However, current expansion efforts continue to lag behind demand, and programs and services vary significantly across the system.
The VA started its large five-year expansion plan in June to increase evidenced-based home and community-based care services (HCBS). The expansion includes 203 HCBS programs with veteran-directed care and medical foster home care to be available across all VA medical centers by FY 2026.
The following bills vary in scope, but in the aggregate, they would allow the VA to provide a wider range of programs and services and increase access so veterans can get the care they need:
- Elizabeth Dole Home and Community Based Services for Veterans and Caregivers Act (H.R. 6823/S. 3854). Also known as the Elizabeth Dole Home Care Act, the bill will improve HCBS for veterans and their caregivers transitioning between VA caregiver support programs; establish a needs assessment tool; expand mental health and support services for caregivers; and enhance communication and coordination with veterans and their families and veteran service organizations like MOAA, among other improvements.
- Expanding Veterans’ Options for Long-Term Care Act (S. 4169). This bill will require the VA to carry out a pilot program to provide assisted living services to eligible veterans to live more independently and at lower costs to taxpayers. The VA is unable to pay room and board fees at assisted living facilities at present; the department would assess the pilot’s effectiveness of paying for assisted living services and veterans’ satisfaction with this long-term care option.
- Long-Term Care Veterans Choice Act (H.R. 7158/S. 2852). Medical foster home care allows veterans to live independently in a group setting with other veterans. This long-term care bill will allow the VA to contract and pay for care currently authorized in law. The measure allows up to 900 veterans with severe service-connected disabilities to live in medical foster homes for a period of five years providing an alternative option to nursing home care.
Time is of the essence – progress made on these pieces of legislation would be lost if the 117th Congress adjourns without taking action. Please reach out to your lawmakers today and ask them to support the Elizabeth Dole Home Care Act; the Expanding Veterans’ Options for Long-Term Care Act; and the Long-Term Care Veterans Choice Act.
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