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Schumer: Fix 'broken' VA caregiver program

Ellen Abbott
WRVO Public Media
Sen. Charles Schumer with Tricia Smith (center).

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) wants to get to the bottom of a broken Veterans Affairs program, that’s meant to provide support to caregivers of vets and their families.

Tricia Smith served in the Iraq War. She was discharged after a back injury and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when she got home. The VA caregiver program, which allows family and friends to be caregivers and receive a stipend, was a big help, initially.

"When it first started it was fabulous,” Smith said. “We had a nurse who came out quarterly, checked that we were doing okay, that our caregivers were doing okay.”

But then in 2017, stories of families being arbitrarily removed from programs or downgraded, started coming out. There were complaints about the VA oversight. Smith’s caregiver’s stipend was suddenly slashed, and now Smith is on the verge of losing her home.

"We’re fighting the good fight, but we really shouldn’t have to,” Smith said. “I’m in a situation where I’m facing brain surgery for the Parkinson’s, and back surgery for the injury that got me discharged. I had to put that all on hold to fight the mortgage company.”

Its stories like this that led Schumer to Syracuse to announce several steps he’s taking to get the program back on track.

“Something’s going on,” Schumer said. “Someone high up said, let’s cut this program out, or make it unfunctional, or let’s cut the money out. And it leads to these irrational, helter-skelter decisions that end up hurting our veterans and caregivers. So that’s got to stop.” 

He’s calling on the VA to issue a detailed report to Congress on plans to fix the program.

"And the fact that this program worked well the first couple of years, is a great example that it can work if it gets the support it needs and that’s what I aim to do,” Schumer said. “Get the support you need and get it back to the way it used to be."

Schumer said it’s important to get the program fixed now, before it expands in the fall to include pre-9/11 vets.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.