Lawmakers Champion Bill to Strengthen VA Caregiver Support

Lawmakers Champion Bill to Strengthen VA Caregiver Support
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Two lawmakers backed legislation to require more transparency in how the VA administers its caregiver programs — allowing caregivers to assume a larger role in caring for their veteran.

Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) cosponsored a bipartisan bill,
S. 2216, the Transparency and Effective Accountability Measures (TEAM) for Veteran Caregivers Act.

“MOAA members and veterans and their caregivers care passionately about VA health care and understand the importance of the multitude of programs and services needed to help veterans lead full and productive lives,” said Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret), president and CEO of the Military Officers Association of America.

“The provisions in the TEAM for Veteran Caregivers Act are long overdue and needed to help rebuild trust and confidence between those most vulnerable and in need of health care services and the VA health care system charged with meeting their needs. We are confident they will provide much-needed peace of mind to veterans and their family caregivers.”

MOAA urges members and readers to support the bill by clicking here to send a letter to your lawmakers urging them to sign on as cosponsors.

“Veterans and their families have sacrificed so much for our country, and we must ensure they have the quality care and support they deserve,” said Peters, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and former lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve.

“Caregivers often provide home health care for severely injured veterans every day, and issues with the VA’s program must be addressed so that caregivers can be involved in important decisions impacting the well-being and health of these veterans. I’m proud to lead this bipartisan effort to ensure caregivers are treated fairly and make sure the VA is held accountable.”

[RELATED: MOAA's Caregiver Resource Page]

MOAA has worked hard for almost a decade with other veteran and military advocates to help the VA improve its caregiver programs and communication with those in need of these important services. The association and our partners in The Military Coalition worked alongside Congress, the administration and other stakeholders in 2010 to enact one of most inclusive pieces of legislation for caregivers, resulting in the establishment of VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) — the only health system in the country to provide extensive wrap-around medical care and support services, such as a monthly stipend, travel expenses, health insurance, mental health services, and respite care specifically for caregivers.

The VA has done an exceptional job implementing and fine-tuning the PCAFC, and thousands of post-9/11 veterans and their caregivers have benefited by receiving comprehensive services in a home environment to help facilitate their health and well-being. However, the VA continues to struggle in how it administers and delivers program across its health care system.

Last year, MOAA and its partners were successful in getting the VA MISSION Act signed into law. That act expands the PCAFC to veterans of all eras and seeks, once fully implemented, to simplify and standardize the program across the department. The massive bill will be phased in over a number of years, once the VA has certified its technology management tracking system (by October 2019).

However, MOAA’s position — shared by a number of lawmakers and veterans service organizations — is that the legislation doesn’t go far enough toward providing the level of transparency and communication between the VA and veterans and their caregivers that is required to prevent wrongful downgrades and terminations, such as those covered in the media in 2018.

“Strong communication between our veterans’ caregivers and their providers should be complemented by thorough information in their medical records that reflects caregiver participation,” Blackburn said. “The Department of Veterans Affairs exists to serve those who served our country. It is vitally important we give it the much-needed tools to be successful in that aim.”

[RELATED: Falling Enrollment in VA’s Caregiver Program Raises Concerns]

The TEAM for Veteran Caregivers Act would ensure caregivers are recognized and acknowledged as an integral part of a veteran’s health care team by documenting that information in a veteran’s medical record. Requiring the VA to provide more detailed information when denying, downgrading, or terminating veterans and their caregivers from PCAFC also will help them better understand the factors and criteria considered by the VA and go a long way toward improving communications and transparency in program delivery.

Finally, codifying the requirement to extend benefits for 90 days once a veteran and family caregiver receive a letter of termination from the PCAFC (except in cases of fraud or where the veteran dies) will provide critically important time for veterans and caregivers to appeal the decision or make necessary arrangements to transition from the program.

Click here to support to this bill by asking your members of Congress to cosponsor the TEAM for Veteran Caregivers Act so it is enacted into law.

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About the Author

Cmdr. René Campos, USN (Ret)
Cmdr. René Campos, USN (Ret)

Campos currently serves as MOAA's Senior Director of Government Relations, managing matters related to military and veterans’ health care, wounded, ill and injured, and caregiver policy.