U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Gary Peters’ (D- MI) bipartisan bill to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) caregiver program was signed into law by President Donald Trump.

The Transparency and Effective Accountability Measures for (TEAM) Veteran Caregivers Act will take a number of steps to strengthen transparency and communication for veterans and caregivers participating in the program.

Sen. Blackburn said, “The men and women who fight to defend our country and our values deserve the best possible care. Caregivers serve a significant role in the lives of many veterans, and the TEAM Veteran Caregivers Act will improve the VA Caregiver Program.

“Now that this bipartisan legislation has become law, we can properly honor these unsung American heroes by ensuring their recognition in the veterans’ electronic health records, and addressing notification and discharge issues within the VA Caregiver Program.”

Sen. Peters, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and former Lt. Commander in U.S. Navy Reserve, added, “As our veterans transition back to civilian life, it is critical that they and their loved ones receive the quality care and support their service to our country has earned. Caregivers are on the frontline of home health care every day, and we must ensure that the VA Caregiver Program provides them the resources needed to care for veterans.

“I am proud that this bipartisan legislation is now law, and will help address problems with the VA Caregiver Program by making sure veterans are treated fairly and that our severely injured veterans receive the services they need.”

The VA provides stipends and support to caregivers for wounded veterans who have sustained or aggravated a serious injury in the line of duty during an eligible time period and need sustained personal care services for supervision and protection to help them with daily living activities. Caregivers can include family members or other members of the veteran’s support group that regularly help veterans recovering from injuries.

Unfortunately, according to reports, caregivers and veterans were arbitrarily discharged or downgraded from the program, with benefits subsequently revoked or reduced, often with little explanation or time to appeal the decision. The VA Office of the Inspector General reported in 2018 that VA failed to adequately manage the caregiver program and recommended improvements and reforms.

The Transparency and Effective Accountability Measures for (TEAM) Veteran Caregivers Act takes a number of steps to improve the program, including the following:

•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.

•Requiring a minimum standard of information in downgrade notification letters. This bill would require VA to provide an explanation of 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 after certain veterans are deemed ineligible for the program. Caregivers have reported being dropped shortly after receiving a termination letter without adequate time to appeal or make new accommodations. This codifies a goal of maintaining care for an extended period of 150 days in certain cases where a veteran is terminated from the program.