In-Depth: Sponsoring Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced this legislation to improve the Dept. of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) caregiver program, ensure that caregivers and veterans have the opportunity to appeal any downgrade or termination of benefits, and recognize caregivers’ role as part of veterans’ clinical teams:
“Veterans and their families have sacrificed so much for our country, and we must ensure they have the quality care and support they deserve. 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 to lead this bipartisan effort to ensure caregivers are treated fairly and make sure the VA is held accountable.”
After this bill’s Senate passage on November 18, 2020, Sen. Peters said:
“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. 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.”
Lead Republican cosponsor Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) added:
“Strong communication between our veterans’ caregivers and their providers should be complemented by thorough information in their medical records that reflects caregiver participation. The Department of Veterans Affairs exists to serve those who served our country. It is vitally important we give it the much-needed tools to be successful in that aim.”
Joy Ilem, National Legislative Director at Disabled American Veterans, expressed her organization’s support for this legislation:
“In far too many instances, policies and procedures of the VA Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers has resulted in the untimely disruption or termination of needed benefits for our nation’s veterans and their caregivers. DAV has long advocated for improvements to this program, and is proud to support the TEAM Veteran Caregivers Act in order to provide clear standards of communicating VA’s decisions, provide smoother transitions along the program’s continuum of care for beneficiaries, and fully incorporate family caregivers within the veteran’s care team. We are grateful to the bill’s cosponsors for their commitment to disabled veterans and to the nation’s unsung heroes, their family caregivers.”
This legislation unanimously passed the Senate with the support of 18 bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including 10 Democrats and eight Republicans. Its House companion, sponsored by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), has 12 bipartisan House cosponsors (eight Republicans and four Democrats) and has not yet received a committee vote.
This legislation is endorsed by a number of veterans’ advocacy organizations, including Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America.
Of Note: The VA provides stipends and support to caregivers of wounded veterans who sustained or aggravated serious injuries in the line of duty on or after September 11, 2001. Caregivers can include family members of other members of a veteran’s support group that regularly helps them recover from their injuries.
Currently, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides caregiver benefits for 90 days after a veteran is discharged from the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers due to becoming ineligible, dying, or being permanently institutionalized. As a result of this existing practice, this legislation would generally codify the VA’s existing practice.
In April 2017, the VA Secretary ordered an internal review after Congress and the media reported that veterans and their caregivers were being inappropriately discharged from the Family Caregiver Program. In 2018, the VA Office of the Inspector General released a report in which it found that the VA had indeed failed to adequately manage the program, and that better communication and improved discharge processes were needed.
In light of the problems it identified, the VA OIG recommended the establishment of politics and procedures to improve the operation of the Family Caregiver Program. Among the OIG’s recommendations were:
- Establishing a governance environment for the program;
- Ensuring that all veteran eligibility determinations are accurate;
- Establishing the need for care assessment guidelines;
- Designating program leads at the Veterans Integrated Service Network level, and
- Assessing current program staffing levels.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / pixelseffect)