WASHINGTON, DC: Today, Congresswoman Jen Kiggans (VA-02) announced she has introduced the Caregiver Outreach and Program Enhancement (COPE) Act alongside fellow veteran Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan (PA-06). Kiggans’ bipartisan legislation would increase mental health resources available to caregivers of America’s veteran population. By establishing Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) grant programs for entities that support caregiver mental health and well-being, this bill also positively impacts care for veterans themselves.
“In Virginia and across the country, caregivers play critical roles in the lives of our veterans,” said Congresswoman Kiggans. “As a geriatric nurse practitioner, I know this genuinely rewarding role comes with immense emotional challenges. That’s why I introduced the COPE Act to enhance mental health resources for veteran caregivers. By ensuring these men and women can properly take care of themselves, this bill will improve the lives of our nation’s heroes and solidify the support system they need to age with dignity. I’m proud to have my fellow veteran and colleague from the other side of the aisle, Congresswoman Houlahan, join me in this important effort and look forward to getting it across the finish line.”
“Family caregivers are key to supporting the health and wellness of our veterans, particularly in rural and underserved areas that are not equipped with the same level of VA access that urban and suburban communities have. These caregivers often require support of their own to perform what can be a physically, emotionally, and mentally taxing job of veteran caregiving,” said Congersswoman Houlahan. “I am proud to lead on this bipartisan bill that establishes a grant program to expand access and availability of mental health resources for caregivers. The program will provide counseling, treatment, and support to family caregivers, which not only benefits Pennsylvania veterans but also our nation’s veterans and their families.”
The VA maintains several programs that provide certifications and resources to veterans’ caregivers, including the Program of General Caregiver Support Services (PGCSS) and the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC). Under PGCSS, “general caregivers” are defined as any person who provides personal care services to a veteran enrolled in VA healthcare who:
- needs assistance with one or more activities of daily living;
- needs supervision or protection based on symptoms or residuals of neurological impairment or other impairment or injury.
“General caregivers” have access to:
- training and support through online, in-person, and telehealth sessions;
- skills training focused on caregiving for a veteran’s unique needs;
- individual counseling related to the care of the veteran;
- respite care, giving caregivers short breaks.
The PFCAC is a more robust program specifically targeted toward family members or close friends who decide to take on caregiver responsibility for veterans. While its requirements are more stringent, the PFCAC provides stipends to caregivers that meet these requirements (in addition to the resources given to general caregivers).
The COPE Act authorizes the VA to provide grants to organizations whose mission is focused on the mental healthcare of participants in the PFCAC. Additionally, it requires that the VA must provide outreach to registered caregivers, as well as provide specific directives for meeting the need of underserved populations. Finally, the COPE Act requires the VA and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to provide Congress with research on the program and its outcomes.
The full text of the bill can be found here.