Tester, Takano Raise Concerns Over Last Minute Dash to Roll Out VA Caregivers Program

In letter to VA Secretary Wilkie, Veterans’ Affairs Committee leaders cite concerns over VA’s readiness to launch significant program expansion to Pre-9/11 veterans

(U.S. Senate) – Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) are expressing serious concerns to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) over whether the Department is fully prepared to launch the significant expansion of the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers Program (PCAFC) that was announced yesterday—a move that will allow Pre-9/11 veterans to apply for the program but substantially tightens eligibility requirements for current and future participants, potentially leading to removal of current users of the program.

“Specifically, we worry VA’s new Caregiver Record Management Application (CARMA)—the new information technology (IT) system that was developed to help administer the expanded program—may not be ready to go live and fully serve veterans and their caregivers,” the members wrote in a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “In addition, we are disappointed that when VA finalized the regulations for the PCAFC expansion in July 2020, which go into effect today, the Department ignored input from key stakeholders and organizations that support veterans, caregivers, and their families and chose to tighten eligibility in a manner not intended by Congress.”

The newly expanded program has the potential to vastly improve the lives of veterans and their caregivers, many of whom have waited years to receive the same stipends, training, and mental health services that have been available to post-9/11 veterans and their caregivers.

In their letter, Tester and Takano cited several areas of concern with the program’s operational readiness to provide these benefits and services to deserving veterans and their caregivers, including questions about VA’s IT readiness. On Wednesday, VA informed congressional staff at the eleventh hour that it had already identified “30 system issues” that will need to be addressed in the near future, but nevertheless the system was certified the next day without VA disclosing to Congress the complete nature and impact of the issues.

They continued, “Furthermore, we have serious concerns about the implementing regulations for PCAFC expansion. Modifications that tighten eligibility for the current and expanded Program are not MISSION Act-driven and were undertaken solely by the Administration in an effort to limit eligibility for this Program.” 

In a public comment earlier this year, Tester led his colleagues in highlighting several areas of concern where VA should make substantive changes to provide caregivers with the assistance they need to care for their veterans—including the elimination of proposed regulations that would limit eligibility to veterans rated as 70 percent service-connected, tighten requirements around how much assistance disabled veterans require, and lead to lower stipends for some current and future participants. Tester and Takano’s letter mirrored many of the same issues brought to the Administration’s attention during the public comment period.

A copy of the members’ letter can be found HERE.