Senator Chuck Schumer is calling on the VA to answer for growing dysfunction in a program aimed to help veterans receive care at home. Iraq War veteran Tricia Smith was discharged after a back injury and has developed Parkinson’s since coming home.
Her caregiver’s funding was slashed by over 60% which she says puts her in danger of losing her home.
“I’m in a situation where I’m facing brain surgery for Parkinson’s and back surgery for the injury that initially got me discharged. I have to put all that on hold, and fight the mortgage company.”
The Family Caregivers program provides up to $2,600 a month to caregivers of wounded veterans. But Schumer says the VA has been cutting veterans’ funding or dropping them from the program entirely, often without warning. Darla Chase was one of those caregivers who lost benefits.
“If you’re dropping us from the program, who will come to my home and help my veteran? Because I no longer will be able to do that.”
Darla Chase cares for a first generation immigrant who served the country for 34 years. She was dropped from the Family Caregivers program after the VA cited that her veteran was no longer meeting his goals. After reaching out to Senator Schumer and the VA, Chase won her appeal.
Schumer says the VA needs to identify how many have been downgraded or cut off and fix the discharge process as part of the program’s reform.
“The VA needs to explain its plan to improve the decision process for eligibility. Why are some people told not to be eligible, when someone in the exact same position down the road is told they’re ok?”
The Caregivers’ Program currently only applies to post 9/11 veterans, but is set to expand to include Korean and Vietnam War vets later this year.
Senator Schumer calls on VA to take several steps before the VA Mission Act goes into effect this October
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Release a timeline on when these sorely-lacking improvements will be made as quickly as possible.