(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) led their colleagues in support of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) recent efforts to cover veterans of all eras under the Caregivers Program and expand eligibility to individuals with service-connected illnesses. The Senators weighed in as a part of VA's public comment period that solicited feedback on how to strengthen and improve caregiver support services for those who care for wounded and disabled veterans.
“While expanding the Caregivers Program to veterans of all eras and making veterans with service-connected illnesses eligible are significant, and highly supported, provisions in the proposed rule, we have concerns related to narrowed veteran eligibility for the Caregivers Program and planned modification for how caregivers’ stipends are paid,” wrote the Senators.
The Senators additionally highlighted several areas of concern where VA should make substantive changes to provide caregivers with the assistance they need to care for their veterans:
- Eligibility for caregiver support services should continue to be grounded in the veteran's need for personal care. VA should eliminate its proposal that would limit eligibility for veterans rated as 70 percent service-connected. Congress and early proponents of the Caregivers Program never intended that VA define a specific rating to establish a baseline eligibility for the Program.
- The Caregiver Program was created to ensure that it fairly treats all veterans needing assistance. VA should remove proposed requirements that would limit eligibility to veterans who require assistance with at least one Activity of Daily Living (ADL) each time it is performed when many veterans might need help with several ADLs most of the time.
- VA should reevaluate its proposed regulation that will lead to lower stipends for some current and future participants in the Caregiver Program due to changes in how VA will review a veteran’s need for assistance.
They continued, “We support the expansion of the Caregivers Program to veterans of all eras and the Administration’s proposal that would finally make veterans suffering from service-connected illnesses eligible for the Program. However… we fear that some of the proposals, in particular the 70 percent rating requirement and the one ADL needing to be performed independently each time it is performed, will leave many veterans and caregivers needing assistance out of the Caregivers Program. We urge you to re-evaluate these facets of the proposed regulation.”
Tester and Murray led the fight in Congress to expand the VA Caregiver Support Program to veterans of all eras. They successfully included their language in the bipartisan VA MISSION Act to expand the program to include veterans who served before September 11, 2001. President Trump signed their bill into law in June 2018.
Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) also signed the comment.
A copy of the comment can be found HERE.