July 02, 2020

Senator Hassan Cosponsors Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Veteran Caregiver Program

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) cosponsored legislation introduced by Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) caregiver program. According to reports, caregivers and veterans have been arbitrarily discharged or downgraded from the program, with benefits subsequently revoked or reduced. The Senators’ bipartisan legislation would take a number of steps to give caregivers and veterans an opportunity to appeal any downgrade or termination of benefits and ensure that all caregivers are recognized as part of the clinical team attending to veterans.

 

“This bipartisan bill takes much-needed steps so that veterans who have put their lives on the line for our country can receive necessary support from caregivers,” said Senator Hassan. “As the mother of a son with complex medical needs who has received truly invaluable support from caregivers, I know first-hand the essential role that caregivers play in people’s lives. This bipartisan bill will strengthen the VA caregiver program so that veterans can count on receiving the support that they deserve and have earned.”

 

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 additional context and 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 for at least 90 days 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.

 

This bipartisan bill is part of Senator Hassan’s ongoing efforts to support veterans in New Hampshire and across the country. Earlier this month, Senator Hassan joined a bipartisan group of her colleagues in introducing legislation to give the VA greater flexibility in caring for and meeting the needs of homeless veterans in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Hassan also recently introduced legislation to ensure that veterans and their representatives have 48 hours to review and dispute disability claims before they are finalized to make sure that veterans don’t lose out on the benefits that they have earned and deserve. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Hassan urged the VA to strengthen New Hampshire veterans’ access to telehealth. The CARES Act that Senator Hassan worked to pass into law included $2.15 billion in funding to the VA to enhance its ability to provide telehealth services to veterans.

 

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