November 19, 2020

Senate Passes Bipartisan Bill Cosponsored by Senator Hassan to Improve VA Caregiver Program

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate passed bipartisan legislation cosponsored by U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) caregiver program following reports that caregivers and veterans were arbitrarily discharged or downgraded from the program. The bipartisan Transparency and Effective Accountability Measures for (TEAM) Veteran Caregivers Act, introduced by Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), would strengthen transparency and communication for veterans and caregivers participating in the program.

 

“Caregivers – who are often loved ones – are essential to helping wounded veterans complete day-to-day tasks and stay healthy,” Senator Hassan said. “It is unacceptable that the VA is arbitrarily discharging veterans from the caregiver program, which provides them with the high-quality care that they need. This important, bipartisan bill will help strengthen the VA caregiver program, and I will continue working across the aisle to support veterans, service members, and their families.”  

 

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.

 

Senator Hassan is working across the aisle to support veterans, including by strengthening programs at the VA. The Senator cosponsored bipartisan legislation, which is now law, to improve veterans’ access to mental health care in New Hampshire and across the country. Senator Hassan also recently introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen and codify the Solid Start program, created by the VA last year, to contact every veteran multiple times by phone in the first year after they leave active duty to check in and help connect them to VA programs and benefits. Additionally, the Senator is working to stop delays for veterans receiving VA benefits by urging the National Personnel Record Center (NPRC) to speed up the processing of veterans’ records requests. Senator Hassan is also pushing for the VA to strengthen veterans’ access to telehealth programs. Furthermore, the Senator cosponsored bipartisan legislation to help improve the mental wellness of veterans by designating a “Buddy Check Week” once a year to educate veterans on conducting peer wellness checks.

 

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