Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21) has introduced H.R. 3989, the Support Our Military Caregivers Act – legislation to reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Family Caregiver Program to help better support family members caring for seriously wounded veterans.

“Those who are hurt while protecting our nation deserve the best care we can provide, and this important legislation will help our Military Caregivers receive the benefits they need to take care of our heroes,” said Congresswoman Stefanik. “Our district is home to more veterans than any district in New York, and it is important that we do what we can to take care of our wounded warriors, and to take care of those who give them care. I am proud to introduce this commonsense legislation that will make reforms to the Family Caregiver Program to give Military Caregivers the benefits they deserve.”

The Family Caregiver Program, mandated by Congress in 2010, was designed to help support family members caring for seriously-wounded veterans in the post-9/11 era.  Major features of the program include providing medical support for caregivers, who often suffer from health problems as they focus on the veteran's well-being, and providing stipends to compensate caregivers' time.

This program is currently experiencing delays in approval of benefits. Caregivers who are denied eligibility for the program or believe the Veteran's rating is not appropriate may appeal such decisions with the VA Medical Centers (VAMC) with the assistance of VA Caregiver Support Coordinators.

VA officials originally estimated that approximately 4,000 family caregivers would be approved for the program by this time.  However, there were 15,600 approved with another 14,800 applications remaining. This unanticipated deluge has overwhelmed staff allocated for the program, causing a backlog.

For example, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that some VA facilities were not returning caregiver phone calls. To further complicate the problem, family caregivers who have been denied program benefits are now filing appeals, leaving the VA with two issues:

  • The inability to process the flood of caregiver applications; and
  • An expanding backlog of appeals filed by frustrated caregivers

Whether the decisions received by appealing veterans are favorable or not, they should be timely, fair, impartial and accurate. While proposals by the VA Department will help, it appears that a substantial transformation of processes and clinical reviews are still needed to significantly reduce the amount of time veterans wait for decisions on their appeals.  Immediate and effective relief is required as continued delays will only increase as the number of mounting appeals.

Congresswoman Stefanik’s bill, the Support Our Military Caregivers Act, would ensure that new or modified processes and systems are veteran-centric, outcomes-based and continually improved through the use of best practices. This would be done by directing the Department of Veterans Affairs to contract with a third party in order to streamline claims and reduce the Caregiver backlog. 

For text of the bill, click here.