Blackburn Bill to Improve VA Caregiver Program Heading to President’s Desk to be Signed into Law

December 18, 2020

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R—Tenn.) and Gary Peters (D—MI) applauded the House passage of their bipartisan bill to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) caregiver program. The Transparency and Effective Accountability Measures for (TEAM) Veteran Caregivers Act, now goes to the President’s desk to be signed into law. The legislation would take a number of steps to strengthen transparency and communication for veterans and caregivers participating in the program.

“Veteran caregivers are often forced to put their lives on hold to take care of their loved ones,” said Senator Blackburn. “Many veterans who called my office for assistance stated that the VA wrongly evicted them and their caregivers from the program without justification or notice. Once signed by President Trump, this legislation will put the necessary guidelines into law to prevent this from occurring.  As a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I will continue to fight for our veterans and conduct oversight on the VA Caregiver Program, put in place for severely disabled veterans with visible and invisible wounds.”

“When our veterans return home from the frontlines, it is critical that they and their loved ones receive the quality care and support their sacrifices for our nation have earned. Caregivers are on the frontline of home health care every day, and we must ensure that the VA Caregiver Program provides them the resources needed to care for veterans,” said Senator Peters, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve. “I am proud that this bipartisan bill is headed to the President’s desk and would help address problems with the VA Caregiver Program by making sure veterans are treated fairly and that our severely injured veterans receive the services they have rightfully 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, or on or before May 7, 1975, 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.1

Unfortunately, according to reports, caregivers and veterans were arbitrarily discharged or downgraded from the program, with benefits subsequently revoked or reduced – often with little explanation or time to appeal the decision. The VA Office of the Inspector General reported in 2018 that VA failed to adequately manage the caregiver program and recommended improvements and reforms.

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 of 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 shortly after receiving a termination letter without adequate 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 no longer eligible for the program.

1The MISSION Act of 2018 expands the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to veterans of all eras, whereas eligibility was previously limited to post-9/11 veterans. The expansion rolls out in two phases. Effective Oct. 1, 2020 the first phase includes eligible veterans who incurred or aggravated a serious injury in the line of duty on or before May 7, 1975. Effective Oct. 1, 2022, the second phase will include eligible veterans who incurred or aggravated a serious injury in the line of duty between May 7, 1975 and Sept. 11, 2001.