Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez mirrors Murray’s ‘Helping Heroes Act,’ which aims to support veterans’ caretakers


In August 2022, 4.9 million veterans, or 27 percent of all veterans, had a service-connected disability, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Labor. 

The Department of Education says that means there are 2.3 million children who live in a household with a disabled veteran.

A bill introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday by Rep.Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, a Democrat from Southwest Washington, and U.S. Rep. John James, a Republican from Michigan, aims to support those veterans’ families, who often serve as caretakers for their parents, the lawmakers said.

The “Helping Heroes Act” has a companion in the Senate from Washington’s Patty Murray, D-Bothell, and John Boozman, a Republican Senator from Arizona. Murray first brought the legislation to the Senate in 2022, and reintroduced it in March.

The act “seeks to support veteran families’ access to mental health care, peer support and other resources that can help them lead healthier lives,” stated a news release from Gluesenkamp Perez’s office on Friday morning.

It’s an effort to relieve children and family members of some of the “unique challenges” faced by children who often act as caregivers by providing supportive services, according to language in the bill, and increase family coordinator positions at Veterans Affairs (VA) clinics across the country. 

“Our nation’s heroes make tremendous sacrifices to protect our freedoms, so it’s our responsibility to ensure they can access high-quality care after returning home. This doesn’t only mean medical care, but also the family, mental health, and peer support necessary to live healthy, fulfilling lives,” Gluesenkamp Perez said in the news release. “The Helping Heroes Act would ensure veteran families and children of disabled veterans have the resources they need and deserve.”

The legislation would force VA centers to assess the needs of veteran families in their regions and refer them to available local, state and federal resources; establish family support programs for eligible family members of disabled veterans; and provide transition assistance curriculum for children in veteran families that are adjusting from active duty to veteran status.

The act would also require the VA to collect data on the experiences of disabled veteran families to better identify and understand their needs. 

The Southwest Washington Congresswoman was criticized for voting against the House’s VA funding plan earlier this year, though, she’s previously countered in a Packwood town hall meeting that the legislation included $168 billion less than the “agreed upon” amount.

Introduction of the Helping Heroes Act to the House is not the first time since her January 2023 swearing in that Gluesenkamp Perez has called for the VA to provide more robust data on each clinic’s service areas. 

She recently tried picking up where her predecessor, Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, left off in criticizing the VA’s closure of a Chehalis clinic and calling for more services in Lewis County. That’s so far meant meeting with the Veterans Memorial Museum in Chehalis, which runs a variety of veteran health care and peer support programs and hosts the VA’s mobile medical unit on Wednesdays.

According to a House floor recording forwarded to The Chronicle by Randle resident and veteran advocate Kathy Heimbigner, Glusenkamp Perez also introduced two amendments to the VA and Military Construction budgets that would require the VA to submit a report to Congress on its efforts to ensure access to health care for veterans residing in geographic proximity to a community-based outpatient clinic subject to closure.

According to Friday’s news release, the Helping Heroes act has support from the following organizations: Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, The American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Blinded Veterans Association, and American Veterans.

“When our wounded service members return home from fighting for our freedoms, oftentimes they are left without a caregiver,” James, the bill’s co-sponsor, said in the news release. “For those with families, children and spouses must sacrifice to care for their veteran family members — many of them without assistance from their local VA. This legislation would both equip local VA medical centers to help families with a disabled veteran meet their needs. I am proud to join a bipartisan, bicameral coalition to support this legislation.”