October 17, 2019

Kaine Cosponsors Bipartisan Bill To Improve Veterans’ Caregiver Program

WASHINGTON, D.C.  U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) cosponsored the Transparency and Effective Accountability Measures (TEAM) for Veteran Caregivers Act, a bill to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) caregiver program. The legislation was introduced by Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Gary Peters (D-MI).

“Caregivers play a vital role in the lives of veterans who are injured, disabled, or suffering from other chronic conditions. I’m proud to join this bipartisan effort to help ensure that our veterans are receiving the support they need after their service to our country and that their caregivers are also being supported for their important work,” Kaine said.

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. 

According to recent reports, caregivers and veterans have been arbitrarily discharged or downgraded from the VA’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program, with benefits subsequently revoked or reduced. The VA Office of the Inspector General reported in 2018 that VA failed to adequately manage the caregiver program and recommended improvements and reforms. This bipartisan effort would give caregivers and veterans an opportunity to appeal any downgrade or termination of benefits and ensure all caregivers are recognized as part of the clinical team attending to veterans. 

The VA provides stipends to support caregivers of veterans. Caregivers can include family members or other members of the veteran’s support group that regularly help veterans recovering from injuries. 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.