The Post Star
April 8, 2016
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, introduced to expedite the process of getting federal assistance for families that care for veterans wounded during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We have a significant backlog,” Stefanik said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “So in many cases, the caregiver is not getting a response from the VA, and the VA is not responding to the appeals process when they are denied.”
The legislation — HR 3989 — passed Monday evening by a voice vote, with no opposition.
Stefanik collaborated with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation to introduce the legislation in November, and it gained 19 co-sponsors — 16 Republicans and three Democrats.
Stefanik said she started researching the issue after a constituent who is a caregiver from Alexandria Bay, in Jefferson County, spoke with her.
“My best ideas come from listening to constituents,” she said.
The legislation directs the federal Department of Veterans Affairs to use independent contractors to handle a backlog of applications for the VA Family Caregiver program. The program assists families that care for veterans seriously wounded during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Legislation in 2010 established the program, which began in 2011.
The VA initially estimated about 4,000 caregivers would be approved for benefits by this point, but more than three times that amount have been approved, with a backlog of about 14,800 pending applications, Stefanik said.
At the same time, the VA is starting to process appeals from applicants who were denied.
The legislation does not yet have a Senate companion bill.
“We are working with a few Senate offices to share the language and encourage them to introduce a Senate companion bill. We hope that will happen before the end of this session,” Stefanik said.
Stefanik is running for re-election in November against Democrat Mike Derrrick, a retired Army colonel from Peru, in Clinton County, and Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello, a bread company owner and political activist from Hudson Falls.