Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and U.S. Senator Mike Braun (R-Ind.) last week introduced their bipartisan Veterans Caregiver Application and Appeals Reform Act of 2023 (CARE Act of 2023) to improve operation and oversight of the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, also known as the Caregivers Program.
“VA has made solid progress in expanding access to the Caregivers Program, but we’ve got to keep moving the ball forward on getting more veterans and caregivers the support they earned and deserve,” said Tester. “Our bipartisan bill is key to this effort, and will increase oversight to help deliver a more user-friendly and transparent Program. This is one of my top priorities as Chairman, and I’ll keep working with VA and stakeholders to make sure the Program is accessible for veterans and caregivers in Montana and across the country.”
“Congress created the caregiver program to provide critical assistance to our veterans who have sacrificed so much for our country,” said Braun. “The CARE Act makes improvements to the program to ensure that veterans have access to the best care possible.”
VA’s Caregivers Program offers comprehensive support to caregivers of veterans who were injured in the line of duty. Veterans and caregivers have been reporting concerns with the application processes for the Program, including the lack of inclusion of medical specialists to evaluate veterans’ care needs, lack of proper notice of VA decisions, and the need for help from advocates to guide them through the complicated application and appeals processes. The Senators’ bill would provide a pathway to advocacy for Veterans Service Organizations and other accredited agents, require VA to use relevant medical specialists to evaluate applications, require VA to provide specific information in denial letters, and require VA to provide an annual report to Congress on the program.
“DAV’s advocacy efforts have long been at the forefront of establishing the VA family caregiver program and expanding it to veterans of all generations,” said Disabled American Veterans (DAV) National Legislative Director Joy Ilem. “It’s imperative, however, that the program is fine-tuned as necessary to better serve our nation’s severely-disabled veterans and their caregivers. We applaud the introduction of this legislation and appreciate Senators Tester, Braun, Cornyn, Baldwin, Rosen, and Peters for their leadership.”
“We are thrilled to see the CARE Act introduced following years of collaboration between the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and organizations like ours that represent the veteran caregiver community,” said CEO of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation Steve Schwab. “This legislation brings critical structure and transparency to the VA Caregiver Program by ensuring relevant medical specialists are part of the evaluation process for the Program of Comprehensive Support for Family Caregivers (PCAFC), requiring VA to provide specific information in PCAFC decision notification letters, allowing VSOs and other accredited organizations to support veterans with the application process to the program, and mandating VA to submit a comprehensive annual report to Congress on utilization of the Caregiver Program. We cannot thank Senator Tester and his team enough for their work on this bill and we look forward to its speedy passage so that caregivers nationwide can receive the support they deserve.”
“The Quality of Life Foundation (QoLF) is pleased with Senators Tester and Braun’s introduction of the CARE Act of 2023 which introduces key reforms to the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) for which QoLF has long advocated,” said Advocacy Director of the Wounded Veteran Family Care Program Andrea Sawyer. “The requirement to include input from relevant medical specialists and the data and reporting requirements—specifically those examining challenges in records sharing—will greatly enhance the operation and transparency of the program and lead to better outcomes for veterans and caregivers. Finally, given the size and complexities of the VA, we are also extremely thankful that the legislation answers QoLF’s call requiring the VA to establish a groundbreaking ‘Pathway to Advocacy.’ By mandating that the agency develop a process to train and recognize non-profit organizations to assist in the navigation of programs and services within the Veterans Health Administration, the legislation opens new avenues for collaboration between VA and outside organizations to better assist veterans.”