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Tuesday, January 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Sen. Patty Murray: Bill helps caregivers of our soldiers

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray

Seven months into her husband’s deployment to Afghanistan, Jessica Klein received the call every military spouse dreads. Her husband, Army Capt. Edward “Flip” Klein, had stepped on an IED. He lost both legs and his right arm.

At that very moment, Jessica decided she would give up her career in mechanical engineering in Washington state, relocate to Walter Reed hospital outside Washington, D.C., and become her husband’s full-time caregiver. Jessica says she doesn’t regret her decision, but it’s clear that she has made tremendous sacrifices for her family and her country.

 Jessica’s husband now relies on her for everything from day-to-day support to concerns with the extreme costs of rehabilitation – financial, emotional and physical.

 Thankfully, the Kleins received strong support from charitable organizations, but all the incredible contributions from people and community groups can never take away the government’s responsibility to help our injured service members.

 That’s why I introduced the Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act. It’s stories like the Kleins’, and the sacrifices of millions of veterans and their caregivers all across the country, that inspire me to keep fighting.

 Caregivers are doing some of the most important work for veterans in Spokane and across the country. We owe it to them to make sure they have the resources and support they need.

 My bill, which has the support of Democrats and Republicans, recognizes the sacrifices of our nation’s military caregivers and says to them: You don’t have to go it alone.

 It would expand the current military caregiver program to help more veterans, from all eras, and recognize a wider array of needs of the 5.5 million caregivers nationwide who may require help.

It offers support such as child care, financial advice and legal counseling – things that help ease the burden for our military families as they figure out long-term solutions to life-changing injuries sustained during military service.

 My bill would also place greater emphasis on mental health and traumatic brain injury recovery, and improve access to the program by expanding who is eligible to become a caregiver.

 A Rand report published last year – the largest of its kind – also found military caregivers often give so much of themselves, they experience higher rates of depression, divorce and financial difficulty. And my bill would help address that.

I introduced this bill because I believe that when we ask members of our armed forces to go to war, we have a duty to care for them when they return. Our military members and their families need to know that the promises we make, we will keep – no matter what.

 And just as important – introducing this bipartisan bill raises awareness of caregiver support programs that are expanded by this legislation.  As Jessica told me, so many military families have no idea where to turn when a loved one experiences a life-changing injury. So it is so important that we make these resources more widely known.

This is just one part of fulfilling our promise to men and women who serve our country, but it’s an important one.

I am also fighting to make sure Spokane veterans have high-quality health care right here in the local community, which is why I am going to keep pushing the Department of Veterans Affairs on reopening the Spokane VA medical center emergency room for 24-hour service, fully staffing facilities, improving mental health programs and improving accessibility to health care for veterans here in Spokane and across the state.

The responsibility we have as a country to care for our service members and veterans when they return home isn’t just another issue to me – it’s personal.

 My father was a World War II veteran who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He could no longer work. My mother had to care for him and their seven children – and I know it wasn’t easy.

 Knowing firsthand the hardships my parents endured, I won’t stop fighting to make sure caregivers and veterans across the country get the support they deserve.

 And when Jessica and Flip Klein return to Washington state after rehabilitation, they should know that their government, and their country, has their back. Because the reality is military service doesn’t end when someone comes home from battle. And military service doesn’t just affect one person. It affects entire families.

As Jessica told me, this isn’t a “fix it and forget it” kind of thing. Congress needs to fulfill the promise we make to our veterans, and I will keep fighting to pass the Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
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