MOAA joins the VA in celebrating the resilience, strength, and contributions of older veterans during Older Americans Month. This year’s national theme, “Aging Unbound,” emphasizes the diverse aging experience of older Americans and how their communities are supporting their health and well-being.
“Older adults play vital, positive roles in our communities,” reads a VA statement on Older Americans Month. “They are our family members, friends, mentors, volunteers, civic leaders, members of the workforce and more. This May, VA recognizes Older Americans Month as we celebrate the meaningful contributions of older adults and raise awareness of services available to support older veterans’ unique needs, wants and preferences.”
[TAKE ACTION: Urge Your Lawmakers to Support Services for Older Veterans]
A top MOAA health care priority this Congress is to secure funding, staff, and other resources to accelerate delivery of VA home and community-based services (HCBS), long-term care (LTC), and caregiver support while sustaining VA programs and services to meet current and future needs of veterans, their caregivers, and their families.
Like most Americans, veterans want to age in place at home in comfortable and familiar surroundings, rather than in a residential or institutional care setting like a nursing home where they can feel disconnected from life (and where care is more costly).
To support these wishes, congressional champions for veterans and their caregivers have reintroduced MOAA-backed legislation that failed in the 117th Congress. MOAA needs our members and veteran-caregiver advocates to join our push to get this legislation signed into law this year.
With bipartisan support in both chambers – introduced in the Senate by Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and in the House by Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), Bryan Steil (R-Wis.), David Trone (D-Md.), and Ann Kuster (D-N.H.) – this bill would allow VA to launch a pilot program to look at the effectiveness of paying for assisted living services. At present, VA is unable to pay room and board fees at these locations.
“MOAA is grateful to Senators Tester, Moran, Murray, and Rounds, and Representatives Slotkin, Steil, Trone, and Kuster for reintroducing the Expanding Veterans’ Options for Long Term Care Act,” said MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly, USAF (Ret). “This provides VA the critical flexibility for a pilot program to help provide essential care and support services to a rapidly growing population of aging or disabled veterans who are not able to live at home. VA has acknowledged the value of rebalancing its long-term care services, and this program will help give the department the authority to do so.”
[TAKE ACTION: Urge Your Legislators to Support S. 495 and H.R. 1815]
Elizabeth Dole Home and Community Based Services for Veterans and Caregivers Act (S. 141 | H.R. 542)
The Elizabeth Dole Home and Community Based Services for Veterans and Caregivers Act, also known as the Elizabeth Dole Home Care Act, is another bipartisan, bicameral bill reintroduced by Sens. Moran and Tester, alongside Reps. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) and Jack Bergman (R-Mich.). The bill would:
- Improve HCBS for veterans and their caregivers transitioning between VA caregiver support programs.
- Establish a needs assessment tool to determine the level of support needed to care for the veteran.
- Expand mental health and support services for caregivers.
- Enhance communication and coordination between veterans and their families and veterans service organizations like MOAA, among other improvements.
On April 26, Tester offered a Senate amendment to a bill, S. 326, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act — a bill that would direct the VA to carry out a study and clinical trials on the effects of cannabis use among veterans with chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The amendment struck out all the existing language in S. 326 and replaced it with:
- A new bill title, the Elizabeth Dole Veterans Programs Improvement Act.
- The bill text from S. 141, to include improvements to VA HCBS services and to the family caregiver program, care coordination and communication, and grants to cover mental health care for caregivers.
- The medicinal cannabis research study provisions from the original S. 326 bill which included research and veteran interviews to find out whether evidence warranted a clinical trial on the effects of cannabis on PTSD and chronic pain. It would also allow the VA Secretary to decide whether the department could conduct a clinical trial using cannabis (Note: The bill does not allow the VA to prescribe or distribute cannabis to veterans in a clinical trial unless the above conditions are met).
- Improvements for Native American veterans using VA home loans.
- Outreach and assistance grants for states to assist veterans and their spouses, children, and parents in applying for benefits and programs.
- Requirement for the VA to submit a plan to Congress on how it will obligate and expend funding under the Cost of War Toxic Exposures Fund established in the PACT Act last year.
The amendment was expected to pass by unanimous consent, but did not advance after last-minute opposition from senators, citing the cannabis provisions and concerns with procedural issues related to the amendment process.
It is unclear whether the amendment will come to the floor again, and, if it does, whether it will contain the medicinal cannabis research study. Meanwhile, MOAA and our stakeholder partners are working with the Senate to assess next steps on how to advance the HCBS and caregiver provisions from the original bill, S.141 (the Elizabeth Dole Home Care Act), and ensure they become law.
Additionally, MOAA will continue to work with the House to advance H.R. 542 to press both chambers to act on these life-saving provisions.
MOAA commends VA’s continued prioritization of age-friendly care (with emphasis on veterans aging in place) and attempts to bolster HCBS and LTC programs on its own. However, efforts continue to lag demand, and programs and services remain significantly limited across its health care system.
While the VA is clearly focused on supporting older and vulnerable veterans, it is essential for Congress to assist the department in accelerating and improving its efforts to expand HCBS, long-term care, and caregiving programs for continuity and consistency of care across the system.
Progress on these pieces of legislation is of the essence. Veterans are counting on Congress to get these bills across the finish line this year.
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