Senate committees weigh efforts to better support caregivers for veterans

Peter Townsend is an Army veteran living in northeastern Pennsylvania with his wife Lisa, who is also his caregiver. Townsend has multiple sclerosis (MS) and often relies on a wheelchair to get around.

“I’m not able to live independently,” Townsend told our Washington News Bureau.

Townsend said they applied for benefits through the VA Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC). But they were surprised to learn their application was turned down.

“We were denied because I did not require assistance with certain activities of daily living each and every time,” said Townsend.  “With conditions like MS, the symptoms tend to wax and wane. They’re not always the same every single day… Many veterans like myself are excluded from what would otherwise be a very valuable program.”

Those barriers to veteran caregiver support were the focus of a joint hearing with the Senate Special Committee on Aging and the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Wednesday. Townsend testified about his experience.

“Although most days are good days where I can function fairly independently, when I have a flare or exacerbation, I can become temporarily incapacitated. During these times, I rely very heavily on Lisa,” Townsend testified.

Lawmakers said in recent years, eligibility for PCAFC tightened, limiting veterans and caregivers from getting the resources they need.

Lawmakers from both parties are working on legislation to try and close gaps in the system.

“We must provide care for those who return home from service with injuries both mental and physical and for those who face disease or illness later in life,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA). “Too many veterans and their caregivers have been denied benefits.”

“Our veterans showed up for our nation and sacrificed so much,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL). “It’s so important that we show up and support them after their service and make sure they have every resource they need.”

The bipartisan CARE Act pushes back on the VA while improving oversight of the Caregivers Program. The bipartisan Elizabeth Dole Home Care Act improves and expands home and community-based services for disabled and elderly veterans.

Townsend said changes to better support veterans and their caregivers are urgently needed.

“The caregivers require as much support as the person they’re caring for,” said Townsend.

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