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Peters Bill to Improve VA Caregiver Program Signed into Law

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters’ (MI) bipartisan bill to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) caregiver program was signed into law by President Trump. The Transparency and Effective Accountability Measures for (TEAM) Veteran Caregivers Act, which Peters introduced with U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), will take a number of steps to strengthen transparency and communication for veterans and caregivers participating in the program.

“As our veterans transition back to civilian life, it is critical that they and their loved ones receive the quality care and support their service to our country has 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 legislation is now law, and will 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 need.”

“The men and women who fight to defend our country and our values deserve the best possible care. Caregivers serve a significant role in the lives of many veterans, and the TEAM Veteran Caregivers Act will improve the VA Caregiver Program,” said Senator Blackburn. “Now that this bipartisan legislation has become law, we can properly honor these unsung American heroes by ensuring their recognition in the veterans’ electronic health records, and addressing notification and discharge issues within the VA Caregiver Program.”

The VA provides stipends and support to caregivers for wounded veterans. Veterans must have sustained or aggravated a serious injury in the line of duty during an eligible time period and need sustained 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 advanced and 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 last year. He fought for and helped secure in the national defense bill that was enacted earlier this month, a measure to expand the Department of Veterans’ Affairs list of medical conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure to include Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism. Tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans suffer from these three conditions due to their military service but have continuously been denied the care and benefits they have earned and deserve. Peters has led numerous efforts to end the wait for over 34,000 veterans currently suffering from those illnesses, as a result of direct exposure, who have been denied benefits and care.

Last summer, 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.

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.