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Senators Hassan, Murray Lead Bipartisan Call to Improve VA Caregivers Program for Veterans and Their Families

88 Percent of Veterans Who Applied to the VA Caregiver Program Were Rejected and Denied Benefits

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Patty Murray (D-WA) led a bipartisan group of their colleagues in calling for changes to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Caregivers Program after hearing concerns from Granite Staters. The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, on which Senator Hassan serves, found that the VA denied 88 percent of applications to the program between October 2020 and August 2021. The VA Caregivers Program offers support and services for eligible veterans and their caregivers, including caregiver education and training, mental health counseling, respite care, and a monthly stipend.

 

“We write to express concern regarding the number of applications to the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (Caregivers Program) denied by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the need for better guidance from VA to the veteran community on how to navigate the Caregivers appeals process,” The Senators wrote. “As you consider regulatory changes to bring the Caregivers Program into line with Congressional intent, the Department must also provide clear guidance for veterans, caregivers, and advocates.”

 

The Senators’ push is particularly important given that the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims ruled last year that veterans should have the opportunity to appeal a denied application to the VA Caregivers Program – and now thousands of veterans are expected to appeal their cases to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. The Senators cite in their letter, “In December 2021, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals estimated 40,368 Caregivers Program cases will be appealed to the Board in fiscal year 2022, and 52,043 cases in fiscal year 2023.”

 

The Senators also discuss the previous administration’s decision to narrow eligibility for the program and urge the Biden administration to reverse the change. The Senators write, “As a nation, we must ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of our veterans, their families, and their caregivers is at the forefront. Because of this, we also continue to urge VA to reverse the previous administration’s regulation limiting eligibility, such as the activity of daily living (ADL) and the 70 percent requirements to ensure that veterans and their caregivers may receive the support that they deserve.”

 

The Senators are specifically calling for the VA to ensure that it has enough Caregiver Support Coordinators to effectively manage the workload and deliver quality, focused assistance to veterans and their caregivers, as well as provide congressional offices and Veteran Service Organizations with uniform guidance on how to best serve veterans as they navigate the appeals process.

 

This letter builds on Senator Hassan’s efforts to ensure that veterans receive the benefits that they have earned and deserve. The Senate recently passed a bipartisan bill Senator Hassan helped introduce as a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to strengthen health care for veterans who served after September 11, 2001, including those who were exposed to toxic substances during their service. 

 

Additionally, last February, Senator Hassan urged the National Personnel Records Center to immediately use the $50 million she helped secure in the December COVID-19 relief and government funding package to address its backlog of veterans’ record requests. Following these efforts, Senator Hassan introduced a bipartisan bill with Thom Tillis (R-NC) to improve oversight of the VA and reduce the backlog of requests from veterans for medical and other VA military records. The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs also passed Senator Hassan’s bipartisan bill – the Solid Start Act -- that would improve upon an existing VA program, the Solid Start program, to ensure that the VA is reaching out to newly-separated veterans.

 

To read the Senators’ letter to the VA, click here or see below.

 

Dear Secretary McDonough:

 

We write to express concern regarding the number of applications to the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (Caregivers Program) denied by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the need for better guidance from VA to the veteran community on how to navigate the Caregivers appeals process. As you consider regulatory changes to bring the Caregivers Program into line with Congressional intent, the Department must also provide clear guidance for veterans, caregivers, and advocates.

 

Between October 1, 2020, and August 1, 2021, VA received approximately 97,100 Caregivers applications. The total rate of denied applications for this period is 88 percent, according to your August 2021 letter in response to Chairman Tester and Senator Murray’s inquiry.

 

While we believe VA needs to take all measures to ensure that decisions are made correctly the first time and are in the veteran’s best interest, thousands of veterans will appeal their denied Caregivers Program application in fiscal year 2022 and 2023. In December 2021, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals estimated that 40,368 Caregivers Program cases will be appealed to the Board in fiscal year 2022, and 52,043 cases in fiscal year 2023. If these estimates hold, the Board would not have the resources to process these appeals.

 

Veterans in our communities and across the country are receiving letters notifying them of their denial and the option to appeal their Caregivers Program application. However, congressional offices and Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) do not have clear and uniform guidance on how to best serve veterans as they navigate the appeals process. For that reason, we ask VA to conduct outreach and provide information to both congressional offices and VSOs, so we can best assist our veterans.

 

We have also heard from our constituents that VA’s Patient Advocates are not able to provide guidance on navigating the appeals process. We ask that you ensure that there are enough Caregiver Support Coordinators, equipped with all necessary resources, to effectively manage the workload and be able to deliver quality, focused assistance to veterans and their caregivers. VA care like the VA Caregivers Program should not require hurdles and exclusive access on best practices for applying and appealing.

 

As a nation, we must ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of our veterans, their families, and their caregivers is at the forefront. Because of this, we also continue to urge VA to reverse the previous administration’s regulation limiting eligibility, such as the activity of daily living (ADL) and the 70 percent requirements to ensure that veterans and their caregivers may receive the support that they deserve. Finally, we ask that VA take a holistic approach to how it proceeds with the VA Caregivers Program, including allowing for consideration of how the current backlog in disability ratings decisions and appeals due to COVID-19 have likely led to claims-related obstacles for entry into the Caregivers Program.

 

The VA serves as a cornerstone of our nation’s system to provide care for veterans. We thank you for your committed leadership to veterans and look forward to the update VA can provide on the VA Caregivers Program.

 

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