Bipartisan Bill Improving Veterans Care Passes the Senate
The U.S. Senate passed bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R--Tenn.) and Gary Peters (D--Mich) to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) caregiver program. According to reports, caregivers and veterans were arbitrarily discharged or downgraded from the program, with benefits subsequently revoked or reduced. The VA Office of the Inspector General reported in 2018 that VA failed to adequately manage the caregiver program and recommended improvements and reforms. Blackburn and Peters' bipartisan Transparency and Effective Accountability Measures for (TEAM) Veteran Caregivers Act would take a number of steps to strengthen transparency and communication for veterans and caregivers participating in the program.
"Veteran caregivers sacrifice so much of themselves in order to give our veterans the highest quality of life possible. Many are unaware of the role that caregivers play in a veteran's life and the unique obstacles they face," said Senator Blackburn. "It's time we thank and honor these unsung American heroes properly by ensuring their recognition in the veterans' electronic health records, and addressing notification and discharge issues within the VA Caregiver Program."
"Veterans and their families have given so much for our country, and we must make sure they have the quality care and support they deserve. Caregivers are on the frontline of home health care every day for our veterans and there's no question we can take steps to improve the VA Caregiver Program," said Senator Peters, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve. "This bipartisan bill would help address problems with the VA Caregiver Program by making sure caregivers are treated fairly and that our severely injured veterans receive the services they have rightfully earned. Now that my bipartisan legislation passed the Senate, I look forward to ensuring it is enacted into law."
"As committed advocates for caregivers, we know that for our nation's veterans to thrive, we need to invest in their caregivers and entire family. Caring for a veteran is among the toughest of jobs, and it does not come with an instruction manual. Reducing the hardships that caregivers face is the least we can do to convey our appreciation," said K. Conwell Smith, Director of Operation Family Caregiver & Military Programs at the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving. "It is incredibly gratifying to see a bipartisan commitment to improving a program that already does so much for so many caregivers but that can do more. With more than 53 million family caregivers in the United States, we need strong policies to support them all."
The VA provides stipends and support to caregivers for wounded veterans. To be eligible for the program, veterans must have sustained or aggravated a serious injury in the line of duty on or after September 11, 2001, or on or before May 7, 1975, and need personal care services for supervision and protection to help them with daily living activities1. Caregivers can include family members or other members of the veteran's support group that regularly help veterans recovering from injuries. Unfortunately, caregivers and veterans have reported being dropped from the program -- often with little explanation or time to appeal the decision.
The Transparency and Effective Accountability Measures for (TEAM) Veteran Caregivers Act takes a number of steps to improve the program, including:
Ensuring all caregivers are included in the veterans' medical records. Currently, only certain caregivers participating in the Caregiver Support Program are included in veterans' medical records. Including all caregivers in medical records strengthens communication between VA and caregivers and recognizes them as part of the clinical team.
Requiring a minimum standard of information in downgrade notification letters. This bill would require VA to provide an explanation leading to downgrade or termination decisions. Caregivers have reported that their decision letters are sometimes missing important information that would be necessary to file an appeal.
Extending benefits after certain veterans are deemed ineligible for the program. Caregivers have reported being dropped within a couple weeks of receiving a termination letter and have no time to appeal or make new accommodations. This codifies a goal of maintaining care for an extended period of 150 days in certain cases where a veteran is terminated from the program.
1 The MISSION Act of 2018 expands the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to veterans of all eras, whereas eligibility was previously limited to post-9/11 veterans. The expansion rolls out in two phases. Effective Oct. 1, 2020 the first phase includes eligible veterans who incurred or aggravated a serious injury in the line of duty on or before May 7, 1975. Effective Oct. 1, 2022, the second phase will include eligible veterans who incurred or aggravated a serious injury in the line of duty between May 7, 1975 and Sept. 11, 2001.