CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Monday, May 23, 2016, the House will consider H.R. 3989, as amended, the Support Our Military Caregivers Act, under suspension of the rules. The bill was introduced on November 5, 2015, by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and was referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, which ordered the bill reported, as amended, by voice vote on May 18, 2016.
H.R. 3989 amends title 38, United States Code, to reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Family Caregiver Program to help better support family members caring for seriously wounded veterans. Sepcifically, the bill would permit an individual to elect to have an independent contractor perform an external clinical review on certain eligibility requirements for the Family Caregiver Program. The legislation would stipulate that VA is required to take the external clinical review findings into account when determining eligibility, but authorizes VA to make a final decision contrary to such findings if VA includes clinically supported documentation for doing so along with the decision. H.R. 3989, as amended, would also require VA to issue directives outlining the policies, procedures, and operational requirements for the Family Caregiver Program and require the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress on VA’s processes for determining eligibility for the Family Caregiver Program, adjudicating appeals for the Family Caregiver Program, and periodically reevaluating eligibility for program participants and communicating any changes that result from such reevaluation to the veteran or caregiver in question.Finally, it would decrease the aggregate amount of awards and bonus paid to VA employees in each fiscal year 2017 through 2021 to $230 million, rather than the $360 million provided for under current law (Sec. 705, P.L. 113-146).
Family Caregivers provide crucial support in caring for veterans. The VA recognizes that family caregivers in a home environment can enhance the health and well-being of veterans under VA care. Veterans eligible for this program are those who sustained a serious injury-including traumatic brain injury, psychological trauma or other mental disorder-incurred or aggravated in the line of duty, on or after September 11, 2001. Veterans must also be in need of personal care services because of an inability to perform one or more activities of daily living and/or need supervision or protection based on symptoms or residuals of neurological impairment or injury. Additional assistance to primary family caregivers include monthly stipends, travel expenses, access to health care insurance coverage if needed, mental health services and counseling, comprehensive VA Caregiver training, and respite care.
The program is currently experiencing delays in approval of benefits due to higher-than-expected demand and understaffing. Caregivers who are denied eligibility for the program or who believe the veteran’s rating is not appropriate may appeal such decisions with the VA Medical Center (VAMC) with the assistance of VA Caregiver Support Coordinators. Veteran Affair officials originally estimated that approximately 3,000 family caregivers would be approved for the program. However, in fiscal year 2015 alone, 24,771 caregivers participated in the program and received at least one stipend payment. The unanticipated deluge has overwhelmed staff allocated for the program, causing backlog.
According to the bill’s sponsor, “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.”
 See “Caregiver Programs and Services”
 See “VA Family Caregiver Program”
 See Rep. Elise Stefanik Press Release, “Stefanik Introduces Support Our Military Caregivers Act” November 9, 2015.
A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) cost estimate is currently unavailable.
For questions or further information please contact Molly Newell with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 2-1374.