VA cut caregivers from program despite expansion plans; this bill aims to help

Abbie Bennett
July 25, 2019 - 2:53 pm

. (Photo by Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/MCT/Sipa USA)

The Department of Veterans Affairs has failed to adequately manage its caregiver program, including arbitrarily cutting veteran caregivers from the program entirely, despite plans to expand, according to Inspector General reports. 

Senators Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., introduced legislation this week that intends to help. 

The program, which began in 2011, provides stipends and support for the caregivers of wounded veterans. Veterans must have been injured or aggravated an injury in the line of duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001 and need personal care for daily living to be eligible for the VA program.

The Inspector General late last year found that "most veterans were made to wait too long" to be approved for the program.

VA also made $4.8 million in improper payments to caregivers of veterans not eligible for the program, dropped veterans from the program with little explanation and failed to monitor their health and wellbeing afterward. 

The program is part of the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010. The MISSION Act expanded the program from post 9/11 veterans to those of all eras. Considering the expected growth of the program, the Inspector General report said it was imperative that VA operated the program properly. Blackburn and Peters' bill would allow caregivers and veterans the chance to appeal downgrades or termination of benefits. 

Blackburn and Peters' bill, the Transparency and Effective Accountability Measures (TEAM)  for Veteran Caregivers Act would: 

  • Direct VA to include all caregivers in their veterans' medical records to make sure they're recognized by VA;
  • Establish a minimum standard of information in letters VA sends to caregivers downgraded or dropped from the program, including information necessary for potential appeals;
  • Extend benefits for at least 90 days after termination letters are sent for cases where a veteran is no longer eligible for the program. 

The legislation has support from Disabled American Veterans, the Military Officers Association and Paralyzed Veterans of America. 

“Family caregivers are the unsung heroes for thousands of severely injured veterans, but mismanagement of the (caregiver program) has, in far too many instances, caused the improper disruption or termination of needed benefits," said Joy Ilem, DAV national legislative director. 

"The provisions in this bipartisan bill ... are long overdue and necessary to help rebuild trust and confidence between those most vulnerable and in need of health care services and the VA health care system charged with meeting their needs. We are confident they will provide much-needed peace of mind to veterans and their family caregivers," said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, president and CEO of MOAA. 

“As VA prepares to roll-out the expansion of the program to veterans of all eras, this bill will help ensure that adequate controls are in place to govern what VA must consider before downgrading or terminating a veteran’s participation in the program," said Heather Ansley, associate executive director for government relations at PVA. 

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