11.18.20

Peters Bipartisan Bill to Improve VA Caregiver Program Passes Senate

Peters Passes 11th Bill Since 2019, Most by Any Senator This Congress

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Senate passed bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Gary Peters (MI) to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) caregiver program. This marks Peters’ 11th bill that he has passed through the Senate since 2019, the most of any Senator from either party. 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 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.”

“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.”

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.
  • 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.

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.

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