LEWISTON — The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation Monday afternoon that would provide additional support for veterans receiving home health care. One measure, sponsored by Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat representing Maine’s 2nd District, seeks to ease the burden on people who give up their jobs or put off their education to take care of a wounded or disabled veteran family member.

Michaud, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Health Subcommittee, said the issue was brought to his attention by veterans’ organizations he regularly works with.

“Hearing some of the financial problems that they have to deal with really concerned me,” he said in an interview.

One woman from Virginia told the story of how she used to call her husband, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, constantly because she feared he was going to commit suicide, Michaud said. Ultimately she left her job in order to monitor him full time.

“I put forward this legislation to address those needs,” he said.

The bill is estimated to cost $193 million total over the next four years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“When you look at the price tag for that time frame, I think it’s a very small long-term cost and I also think it’s going to save money,” Michaud said. “Any time you can take care of them at home versus the VA or local health care provider, you can save.”

The legislation calls for education and outreach to veteran family caregivers, as well as medical care, monthly financial stipends, lodging and subsistence payments for primary family caregivers, according to the congressman.

Because there are no current statistics regarding veteran family caregivers, the measure also calls for surveys at least once every three years to track the services.

The CBO estimates about 180 caregivers for severely disabled or wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans would receive stipends by 2012 and more than 17,000 caregivers for veterans of all wars would benefit from other support services by 2014.

Similar legislation is slated to be taken up by the U.S. Senate.

Michaud said the government has vastly improved veteran care in recent years, due mostly to more funding and expanding access to health care, particularly in rural states like Maine.

“The problem is catch up; the previous administration did not adequately fund the Department of Veterans Affairs, particularly in treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and head injuries,” he said.

But he said the VA can’t provide all the support veterans need alone and he is encouraging partnerships with local health providers.

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