Tester on Addressing Challenges with VA Caregivers Program: ‘We need to work together’

At oversight hearing, Chairman pressed Department officials on restructuring of VA Caregivers Program

Chairman Jon Tester today led a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee oversight hearing to evaluate the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (Caregivers Program), where members heard directly from VA officials, Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), and caregivers. The hearing comes on the heels of the Department’s move to restructure the Caregivers Program to better support veterans and caregivers nationwide.

During the hearing, Tester pressed VA officials on the Department’s decision to immediately halt the discharge of legacy participants from the Program.

“The number of Post-9/11 veterans who were poised to be dropped from the Program in October-not to mention all of the veterans denied entry into the Program in the first place-is concerning to all of us,” said Tester. “For those notified they would be removed from the Program in October, is there anything they need to do now?”

“No sir, there will be additional communications coming out to the veterans and caregivers notifying them of the announcement yesterday and the impact that that will have…those details will be coming out imminently,” replied Dr. Beth Taylor, VA’s Assistant Under Secretary for Health for Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer.

Tester went on to question advocates and caregivers during the second panel about their personal struggles with the Caregivers Program, VA’s recent announcement and the challenges at-hand.

“The truth is, this is everybody’s problem that we need to work together to solve. And if we don’t do it this way, it won’t get solved,” Tester continued. “…If we were going to have a timeline to fix this program, what do you think a reasonable timeline would be?”

“This program needs to be fixed immediately,” replied Sarah Verardo, advocate and caregiver.

Tester has led the fight for years to ensure veterans and caregivers receive the assistance they need-successfully including language in the bipartisan VA MISSION Act of 2018 to expand the Caregivers Program to veterans of all eras. Under the Trump Administration, VA defied Congress and the concerns of veterans and caregivers by enacting regulations that narrowed the Program’s eligibility to veterans with a 70 percent or higher service-connected disability rating, and those with an inability to perform an activity of daily living without assistance each and every time the activity occurs.

Since implementation of the Trump Administration’s restrictive regulations, Tester has continuously raised concerns and called on VA Secretary Denis McDonough last year to reconsider the Department’s tightened eligibility and delayed roll-out of the Caregivers Program. The Senator underscored these concerns with the Caregivers Program publically at a hearing earlier this month with veteran stakeholders.

Tester’s Q&A can be found HERE.