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Peters Bill to Improve VA Caregiver Program Heading to President’s Desk to be Signed into Law

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) today applauded House passage of his bipartisan bill to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) caregiver program. The Transparency and Effective Accountability Measures for (TEAM) Veteran Caregivers Act, which Peters introduced with U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), now goes to the President’s desk to be signed into law. The legislation would take a number of steps to strengthen transparency and communication for veterans and caregivers participating in the program.

“When our veterans return home from the frontlines, it is critical that they and their loved ones receive the quality care and support their sacrifices for our nation have earned. Caregivers are on the frontline of home health care every day, and we must ensure that the VA Caregiver Program provides them the resources needed to care for veterans,” said Senator Peters, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve. “I am proud that this bipartisan bill is headed to the President’s desk and would help address problems with the VA Caregiver Program by making sure veterans are treated fairly and that our severely injured veterans receive the services they have rightfully earned.”

“Veteran caregivers are often forced to put their lives on hold to take care of their loved ones,” said Senator Blackburn. “Many veterans who called my office for assistance stated that the VA wrongly evicted them and their caregivers from the program without justification or notice. Once signed by President Trump, this legislation will put the necessary guidelines into law to prevent this from occurring.” 

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 and need personal care services for supervision and protection to help them with daily living activities. Caregivers can include family members or other members of the veteran’s support group that regularly help veterans recovering from injuries.

Unfortunately, according to reports, caregivers and veterans were arbitrarily discharged or downgraded from the program, with benefits subsequently revoked or reduced – often with little explanation or time to appeal the decision. The VA Office of the Inspector General reported in 2018 that VA failed to adequately manage the caregiver program and recommended improvements and reforms.

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 of 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 shortly after receiving a termination letter without adequate 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.

Peters has long supported efforts in the Senate to expand veterans’ services and support servicemembers. Peters’ bipartisan provision was signed into law to help veterans who may have erroneously given a less than honorable discharge from the military due to negative behavior resulting from mental traumas such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). His bipartisan legislation to expand apprenticeship opportunities for veterans and allow them to use their GI bill benefits toward securing a registered apprenticeship was signed into law earlier this year. Recently, Peters announced a bipartisan effort to support veteran workforce development during the COVID-19 pandemic. He introduced bipartisan legislation to extend GI Bill benefits for veterans whose registered apprenticeships were cut short or ended due to COVID-19. He also called on Congressional leadership to ensure the next Coronavirus relief package supports veterans during this pandemic.

In addition, Peters helped introduce a bipartisan bill requiring servicemembers be assessed for exposure to toxic burn pits as part of their routine health exams and helped introduce the bipartisan Veterans Assistance Helpline Act to establish a three-digit hotline for veterans to gain assistance related to their Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits and other services. Peters also introduced and advanced in September in the Senate bipartisan legislation to upgrade the VA’s reimbursement for the costs of a veteran’s funeral to provide critical relief to surviving families suffering a loss. He has pressed for this legislation to be included in Coronavirus relief legislation.