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JOHNSON: Recognize the unsung heroes of our nation

Every day across South Dakota and the United States, caregivers assist our nation’s disabled veterans with the tasks of daily living. From helping with medication, personal hygiene, transportation or any number of other duties, caregivers are tasked with important and challenging responsibilities. Unfortunately, too often their sacrifices and hardships are overlooked. The Senate recently declared April Military and Veterans Caregiver Month, and I hope you will join me this month in recognizing these unsung heroes.

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There are as many as one million individuals acting as family caregivers to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, and many more serving veterans of previous confl icts. One such caregiver is Melissa Johnson of Aberdeen. In 2006, Melissa’s husband, Sean, was blinded by a mortar blast in Iraq.

She resigned as an elementary school teacher to become a fulltime certifi ed caregiver, helping Sean in his rehabilitation and recovery. Melissa also finds time to support other caregivers and veterans by volunteering with the Family of a Vet organization and Blinded Veterans Association, and was recently selected as a Caregiver Fellow by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation.

I recognize the important service provided by caregivers and was proud to cosponsor the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010. This law created the Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregiver Program and established new benefits and services for veterans’ caregivers.

This legislation was a step in the right direction, but there are many more caregivers that could benefit if the program expanded eligibility.

As chairman of the Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, I’ll continue to advocate for adequate funding for the Family Caregiver Program in order to improve respite care and mental health services, and make sure that caregivers receive proper training, funds for travel expenses, and a monthly stipend.

While we have made great strides in improving the care and benefits provided to our veterans and their families, our work is far from done.

We must not fail to keep our promises to those who have made sacrifices in defense of our nation, and I remain committed to ensuring our veterans receive the support and benefits they have earned and deserve.

Whether it’s helping with a temporary injury or a life-long disability, military and veterans’ caregivers provide important and necessary assistance. This April we honor the selfless dedication that caregivers, like Melissa, give every day to help improve the lives of our nation’s wounded warriors.

— Tim Johnson, a Democrat, is one of South Dakota’s U.S. senators.