WASHINGTON, DC -- Recognizing that military service is often a family affair that requires sacrifice from family members as well as service members, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) is renewing his push to pass the Helping Heroes Act of 2023, legislation to support the families of wounded, ill, and disabled service members and veterans, including children who take on caregiving roles.   The legislation seeks to enhance access to mental health care, peer support, recreational opportunities, and other experiences to improve the well-being of children who take on military and veteran caregiver roles.

Reed, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is joining forces on the bipartisan legislation with U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and John Boozman (R-AR), who are both senior members of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies.

Today, approximately 2.3 million children under the age of 18 are living in a household with a disabled veteran.  These “Hidden Helpers” are the children, youth, and young adults who support the care of a wounded, ill, or injured veteran.  In doing so, they face unique challenges and often take on responsibilities that their peers do not carry.

The Helping Heroes Act seeks to provide critical support and assistance to these children in accessing local, state, and federal resources.

In 2021, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation commissioned a report from research firm Mathematica on supporting the healthy development of children from military and veteran caregiving homes.  The report found that military caregiver kids and young adults struggle with feelings of stigmatization and being misunderstood in social and healthcare settings, and experience significant disruption in their lives, leading to elevated levels of distress. Experts believe this distress can severely impact their emotional and psychological development, long-term well-being, as well as learning in school.

“We have a duty to support the families and loved ones of those who selflessly serve and sacrifice to defend of our nation.  The Hidden Heroes Act is part of keeping that commitment.  It would provide a big boost to young people who take on caregiving roles for a parent who has been wounded serving our country,” said Senator Reed.  “I salute Americans across the country who step up to serve as military and veteran caregivers to injured, sick, or wounded warriors.  These unsung heroes shouldn’t be hidden, they should be recognized, supported, and connected to the resources they need to care for their family member in need.”

“Our country has a serious obligation to support all of our veteran families, and that means making sure those who’ve stepped up as caregivers for their family—including our kids—aren’t shouldering that responsibility alone,” said Senator Murray. “I’m reintroducing this bipartisan legislation to make sure VA delivers much-needed care and support for our disabled veterans and their youngest caregivers.”

“This legislation is an investment in the families of our veterans,” said Senator Boozman. “Expanding the VA’s resources to better support the education, health and other needs of young caregivers is a critical part of our commitment to those who have served and sacrificed for our country and their loved ones.”

In addition to Murray, Boozman, and Reed, the Hidden Heroes Act is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) currently has limited authority to support veteran families with healthy development, especially when it comes to children who take on these caregiving roles.

The Helping Heroes Act of 2023 would help meet the unmet needs of these children and would:

  • Require a full-time Family Coordinator at each VA medical center to assess the needs of veteran families in their catchment area and refer them to available local, state, and federal resources;
  • Establish a Family Support Program to provide supportive services to eligible family members of disabled veterans;
  • Ensure transition assistance curriculum includes information on services for children in veteran families adjusting from Active Duty to veteran status; and
  • Require VA to collect data on the experiences of disabled veteran families to better identify and understand their needs.

The Helping Heroes Act is supported by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), The American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Blinded Veterans Association (BVA), American Veterans (AMVETS), and other organizations.

Senator Reed has helped pass legislation to strengthen support for veteran caregivers through the VA MISSION Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-182).  That legislation helped streamline veterans' access to non-VA community care when clinically appropriate and included provisions of expanded caregiver benefits, including a monthly stipend, health insurance, respite care and training, to all generations of veterans.