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Peters Bipartisan Bill to Improve VA Caregiver Program Advances in Senate

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Gary Peters’ (MI) bipartisan legislation to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) caregiver program advanced in the Senate today, passing in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. 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. Peters’ and Senator Marsha Blackburn’s (R-TN) 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.  

“Veterans and their families have sacrificed so much for our country, and we must ensure they have the support and quality care they deserve,” said Senator Peters, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve. “Caregivers often provide home health care for severely injured veterans every day, and issues with the VA’s program must be addressed so that caregivers can be involved in important decisions impacting the well-being and health of these veterans. I’m proud my bipartisan legislation advanced in the Senate and would ensure caregivers are treated fairly.”

“Strong communication between our veterans’ caregivers and their providers should be complemented by thorough information in their electronic health records to reflect caregiver participation,” said Senator Blackburn. “The Department of Veterans Affairs exists to serve those who served our country. It is vitally important we provide VA with clear guidance to ensure these veteran programs are no longer mismanaged. I am pleased that my colleagues on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee recognize the importance of addressing this issue, and it is my hope that this bill will receive bipartisan support on the Senate floor.”

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, 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.
  • Establishing 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 a termination letter is sent for cases where a veteran is deemed “no longer clinically eligible” 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 the VA’s goals of maintaining care for an extended period of time.

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 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.