By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
May 5, 2010 - President Barack Obama signed legislation today to improve health care for veterans and to recognize the important role that family caregivers play in the recovery of wounded personnel. Obama recognized retired Army Sgt. Ted Wade and his wife, Sarah, during his remarks before signing the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act during a White House ceremony.
A roadside bomb wounded Wade when he served in Iraq in 2004, and his wife was an important reason why the sergeant made it through, Obama said.
The legislation expands mental health counseling and services for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, including reserve-component servicemembers.
"We're authorizing the [Veterans Affairs Department] to utilize hospitals and clinics outside the VA system to serve more wounded warriors ... with traumatic brain injury," the president said before signing the bill.
The new law also increases support for veterans in rural areas with the transportation and housing needed to reach VA hospitals and clinics. It also expands health care for women veterans to meet their unique needs, including maternity care for newborn children, and it allows VA to launch a pilot program to provide child care for veterans receiving intensive medical care.
The legislation also eliminates co-payments for veterans who are catastrophically disabled, and it helps veterans who are homeless.
"We're expanding support to homeless veterans, because in the United States of America, no one who has served this nation in uniform should ever be living on the streets," Obama said.
The president said the legislation marks a major step forward in America's commitment to families and caregivers who tend wounded warriors every day.
"They're spouses like Sarah," he said. "They're parents, once again caring for their sons and daughters. Sometimes they're children helping to take care of their mom or dad.
"These caregivers put their own lives on hold, their own careers and dreams aside, to care for a loved one," he continued. "They do it every day, often around the clock. As Sarah can tell you, it's hard physically and it's hard emotionally. It's certainly hard financially. And these tireless caregivers shouldn't have to do it alone."
The law gives caregivers a stipend to care for a severely injured veteran from Afghanistan or Iraq. They also will receive lodging allowances and get the training they need to care for their loved ones.
"If you need counseling, you'll receive it," Obama said. "If you don't have health insurance, it will be provided. And if you need a break, it will be arranged – up to 30 days of respite care each year."
The president said the new law recognizes the obligation Americans have for those who served.
"Just as we have a responsibility to train and equip them when we send them into harm's way," he said, "we have a responsibility to take care of them when they come home."
The president said his administration has dramatically increased funding for veterans' health care, especially for those with the signature wounds of today's wars: post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. He also mentioned that VA has received its largest budget increase in history last year.