WASHINGTON – A group of senators is asking White House officials to speed up plans to train and pay caregivers of wounded troops, noting that by law the first checks should have gone out to those families last month.

In a letter released this week, 17 senators – including the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee – wrote that “very seriously injured veterans and servicemembers should not be made to suffer by being denied care essential to daily living.” The caregivers benefits were passed by Congress last spring, but the Department of Veterans Affairs still has not provided a report, due last November, on implementation of the program.

“Among the critically needed benefits and services that are being withheld from family caregivers are instruction and training in the provision of care, respite care, technical assistance, counseling, and a living stipend for those who must give up their jobs or work limited hours to provide care to their loved one,” the letter said. “We are troubled by this apparent inaction.”

VA officials this week announced a new, toll-free telephone line for caregivers of any veterans, designed to provide basic training and emotional support as well as information on future caregiver benefits. That line – 855-260-3274 – will include some of the information already available at the VA’s caregiver web site.

But the lawmakers noted that such offerings are only a partial replacement for the formal training and financial support promised under the legislation passed last year. In a statement, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called the delay “simply unacceptable.” Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., called it “a disservice to veterans and their families.”

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