Tester Raises Concerns with VA Caregivers Program During Veterans Service Organizations Hearing

In his opening remarks, Chairman gave special recognition to Billings veteran Ben Steele on the 80th anniversary of the Bataan Death March

At a joint Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees hearing with the nation’s leading Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester raised concerns with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (Caregivers Program).

“VA recently narrowed eligibility for the Caregivers Program…I am disturbed by reports that veterans and caregivers in Montana are being rejected at very, very high rates—including caregivers who have been a part of the program for years and years,” said Chairman Tester during The American Legion’s legislative presentation. “What’s your membership experiencing with the Caregivers Program and the application and appeals process?”

“We’re very disturbed because of the hardship it puts on our caregivers,” replied Paul E. Dillard, The American Legion’s National Commander.

“We’re finding out that the caregivers applying for those claims are being rejected at an 86 to 87 percent, and we don’t know why those caregivers cannot appeal those claims through the VA system,” continued Ralph Bozella, The American Legion’s Chairman of the Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission. “That needs to be fixed. We have to care for those who care for our veterans.”

During the first panel, Commander Dillard also outlined the organization’s support for expanding VA mental health care and services, bolstering veteran suicide prevention efforts and peer support programs, and passing comprehensive toxic exposure reforms.

Tester also gave special recognition to Ben Steele of Billings, Montana and the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society on the 80th anniversary of the Bataan Death March. Steele was a survivor of the Bataan Death March, who turned to art to cope with the unseen wounds of war and spent his adult life teaching art at Eastern Montana College.

The second panel included presentations from Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Student Veterans of America (SVA), Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), Gold Star Wives of America (GSW), National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS), Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), and Modern Military Association of America (MMAA).

Tester led the fight last Congress to expand the VA Caregivers Program to veterans of all eras, successfully including language in the bipartisan VA MISSION Act. Since the law’s implementation, Tester has continuously raised concerns over the Department’s tightened eligibility and delayed roll-out of the Caregivers Program. Last year, he urged VA Secretary Denis McDonough to reconsider the program’s activity of daily living and 70-percent service connection requirements, which VA data shows accounts for the highest percentage of denials. Tester will lead a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee oversight hearing on the Caregivers Program on March 23, continuing his push to ensure veterans and caregivers are given the assistance they need.

As Chairman, Tester is leading the push this Congress to bolster critical mental health resources for veterans in crisis through his bipartisan Revising and Expediting Actions for the Crisis Hotline (REACH) for Veterans Act and Post-9/11 Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. He also remains dedicated to identifying a path forward for outstanding toxic exposure issues, and continues to spearhead bipartisan legislation and additional measures in the Senate to deliver all generations of toxic-exposed veterans their needed benefits and care.

Tester’s opening can be found HERE.

Tester’s Q&A can be found HERE.