WASHINGTON (CNN) – Families of wounded war veterans and politicians met on Capitol Hill Tuesday to urge Congress to pass bipartisan legislation that would provide services to caregivers of injured American soldiers.
Supporters and members of the Wounded Warrior Project - which raises awareness of injured soldiers' needs and provides services to them - stressed in a news conference that not enough is being done to support the people who have made significant financial sacrifices to care for injured soldiers.
"As nation, we're failing these families by not providing them the basic support they need to continue to care for their loved ones," said Wounded Warrior Executive Director Steve Nardizzi in support of the Caregiver Assistance and Resource Enhancement Act.
He also was critical of the Department of Veterans Affairs, saying it needs to "acknowledge its obligation" to families and help provide them compensation, respite care, health-care coverage, and mental health support.
"It is the mission and the obligation of the VA to support not only the wounded warriors, but their families, because without that support these wounded warriors would not be able to live and thrive and lead successful lives," Nardizzi said.
The department released a statement to CNN saying, "Not all health care and rehabilitation occur in a hospital or clinic. VA is grateful for the important, caring work performed by countless caregivers on behalf of our nation's veterans. We know that all who support our service members also serve when their loved ones put on a uniform."
The department, it said, "will continue to look for ways to appropriately support these compassionate providers as they help our veteran heroes regain and maintain their health."
Cindy Parsons, a single mother and former emergency room nurse, is among the caregivers struggling financially. She left her job in 2006 to care for her son, who returned from Iraq with a traumatic brain injury and a bilateral above-knee amputation. He is unable to read, write, or perform other basic functions.
She no longer has any income or medical benefits, she said, and she suffers from secondary post traumatic stress disorder.
"If something happens to me, what will happen to my son?" Parsons asked. "We need to address these issues."
It is not uncommon for caregivers in situations similar to Parsons' to give up their jobs to provide for debilitated vets, who are most often spouses or family members. With no source of income and consequentially no health insurance, the bills add up.
"These families are being stretched to the breaking point, and we need to take action immediately," Nardizzi urged.
Virginia Reps. Tom Perriello, a Democrat, and Rob Wittman, a Republican, also attended the news conference and pledged their support for the Caregiver Assistance and Resource Enhancement Act.
"In the same way that their family members took their marching orders from their generals and their commanders, we're trying to take marching orders from our military families, who let us know what it's like, what the needs are," Perriello said.
The act, introduced in the House this month, is targeted at veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.