04.08.19

SCHUMER REVEALS: BROKEN VA CAREGIVER PROGRAM IS PREVENTING LOVED ONES FROM GIVING CNY VETS THE CARE THEY NEED & DESERVE; SENATOR DEMANDS IMMEDIATE ANSWERS FROM FEDS & TIMELINE TO FIX ISSUES ONCE & FOR ALL

VA Caregiver Program Supports Post 9/11 Vets With Qualifying Injuries; Recently, Caregivers In Syracuse & Across US Have Been Unexpectedly & Arbitrarily Purged From Program & Stripped Of Vital Stipends 

With Caregiver Program Set To Expand In October To Injured Korean & Vietnam War Vets, Schumer Demands VA Immediately Issue Plan To Fix The Broken Program

Schumer To VA: Syracuse Vets Deserve Home-Based Care From Those They Love Without Bureaucratic Red-Tape 

Standing with local caregivers and veterans at the Eastwood American Legion Post 1276, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to immediately make imperative and overdue improvements to the VA caregiver program, which provides comprehensive support services to caregivers and their families. Caregivers are loved ones who support the health, independence, and well-being of a veteran at home, often obviating the need for the veteran to be in an institutional care setting. Depending on the severity of the veteran’s health condition, this can often be a full-time job and prevent a caregiver from working and earning money in any other capacity. There have been numerous reports, including in Syracuse, of families being arbitrarily removed from the program, often without warning. Schumer also publicly held the VA accountable to ensure the expansion of the caregiver program to include eligible veterans of the Vietnam and Korean Wars is fully implemented by October 1, 2019—as directed by the recently-passed VA MISSION Act. Schumer said that last December, the VA suspended discharges and decreases of caregiver benefits because of continued concerns expressed by veterans, caregivers and advocates about inconsistent application of eligibility requirements by VA medical centers. Therefore, Schumer argued that it is clear that changes are needed to ensure the caregiver program gives Syracuse and Central New York veterans access to the care they need and deserve and demanded answers from the VA on its plan to fix it.

“The VA caregiver program is absolutely paramount in ensuring that our injured veterans, who risked their lives to protect our freedom in the wake of September 11th, have access to care from the people they are most comfortable with, their families and loved ones. However, since being established, the caregiver program has been riddled by problems, with veterans and their caregivers across the country, including many here in Syracuse, being unexpectedly and without warning purged from the program,” said Senator Schumer. “So today, I’m demanding answers from the VA on the exact fixes that will be made to the caregiver program and demanding them before the program is scheduled to expand in October to include veterans of earlier wars like Vietnam and Korea. The federal government has a sacred responsibility to the American veterans that sacrificed so much for this country in one of its darkest moments—arbitrarily taking aid away from the caregivers that support them and help them heal from devastating wounds is truly unthinkable.”

Schumer explained that the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) was founded in 2011 to ensure the best possible care and support of veterans who served in the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts. This essential program provides a monthly living stipend of anywhere between $660 to $2,600 to family members or loved ones of veterans who were injured in the line of duty, to provide treatment, care and services to their loved ones while at home that would otherwise be extremely expensive for the VA to fund. It also includes support services such as respite for the caregiver, instruction on how to provide care, eligibility for certain VA health care services for the caregiver, and soon financial and legal advising. Schumer explained that the PCAFC has been a lifeline for Americans who risked their lives in the aftermath of 9/11 to protect the United States, allowing them to receive care from their family and loved ones at home. In 2018, Schumer explained, Congress passed the VA MISSION Act, which, among other things, directed the VA to expand the PCAFC to include benefits for veterans of the Vietnam and Korean Wars by October 1st, 2019.

However, Schumer said, the PCAFC has been riddled by issues over the past few years. According to a 2018 NPR report, local VA medical centers across the nation have been purging veterans off their PCAFC registries, and stopped sending them the invaluable stipends for home-based care. Schumer explained that this problem has been present in Syracuse, saying that he’s heard stories from many local caregivers and veterans about veterans seeing their stipends ripped away, often times without any explanation as to why. Similarly, according to Schumer, there have been many complaints over the decision process to receive or get back on the PCAFC, with local veterans saying that it seems arbitrary and unexpected when a caregiver is eligible to receive a stipend and when they are not.  In addition, many PCAFC participants in Syracuse are concerned that the VA is not dedicating enough resources or staff to implement the program locally. Schumer stated that a veteran and their family’s livelihood should not depend on if they get lucky that a certain VA employee reviewed their file and approved them.

Schumer said that in December of last year, the VA went so far as to announce that it would stop discharging or downgrading veterans from the PCAFC, due to the widespread and prevalent issues with the program and concerns of veterans across the nation. This is the second time VA has had to order a halt to these actions. Schumer said this decision shows as clear as day that changes are needed to ensure the caregiver program gives Syracuse and Central New York veterans access to the care they need and deserve, and that the changes must be made before thousands of Vietnam and Korean War era veterans become eligible for the program next October under the VA MISSION Act.

Schumer was joined by local caregivers of veterans who explained some of the problems they’ve experienced with the VA caregiver program.

Because of these rampant issues with the VA caregiver program, Schumer called on the VA to issue a detailed report to Congress on its plans to fix the program, before the VA MISSION Act goes into effect this coming October. Specifically, Schumer called on the VA to:

  • Explain how many caregivers were downgraded or removed from the program inappropriately, how many of those have been retroactively paid their stipends, and its plan to make the rest of the caregivers whole.
  • Explain its plan to improve the decision process for program eligibility. As many of the local caregivers explained, these eligibility decisions are regularly arbitrary and convoluted. Schumer said this must change, and quickly.
  • Explain the changes that will be made to the discharge planning process for when veterans get better. Being a caregiver is complicated and hard work that takes planning and support. Schumer echoed the comments of local veterans who said that when they were kicked off the program they felt unsure about how to move forward. Schumer said this is unacceptable, and said the VA must improve its discharge planning process, including to better help walk families through step-by-step what they should do when leaving the program or receiving a smaller stipend as the veteran’s health improves.
  • Issue precise data on the number of Caregiver Support Coordinators by locality, the number of currently-vacant positions and where additional positions will be added. Schumer said that he has heard from constituents and caregivers that Caregiver Support Coordinators are already overwhelmed, as are the administrative staff essential to running the program. Schumer also called on the VA to ensure sufficient staff are in place to handle the high workload and prepare for the program’s expansions.
  • Release a timeline on when these sorely-lacking improvements will be made as quickly as possible.

Schumer explained that once these changes are made, the VA caregiver program will be much better equipped to give the best possible support to the veterans that are already on the program, and the thousands more that will be signing up for it come October.

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