Initially, on September 25, 2019, Veterans Affairs (VA) officials announced that families of veterans who served prior to 2001 wouldn’t be added to the Veterans Affairs caregivers program until summer 2020 at the earliest. Under the VA MISSION Act passed last year, veterans who sustained a serious military-related injury before May 7, 1975, were supposed to be eligible for enrollment in the Fall of 2019. However, VA officials struggled to set up new technology and processes to handle an expected influx of new applicants to the program.
This week, VA officials took a much-needed step towards expanding caregivers benefits to veterans who served prior to 2001, but still have not finalized a date for when those families will see the payouts.
In testimony before the House Appropriations Committee on March 4, 2020, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie acknowledged the new caregiver rules as an important step forward for the VA in the effort to provide the best care for all veterans. “This proposed regulation would improve the assistance we provide to help ensure our most vulnerable Veterans can stay in their homes with their loved ones for as long as possible.”
The final rule language was published on the Federal Register on March 6, 2020. The public will have 60 days to offer comment on the changes.
The Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers
The Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) offers enhanced support for caregivers of eligible veterans seriously injured in the line of duty on or after 9/11.
Veterans eligible for this program must
- have sustained or aggravated a serious injury — including traumatic brain injury, psychological trauma or other mental disorder — in the line of duty, on or after 9/11; and
- be in need of personal care services 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.
Enhanced services for eligible participants may include a financial stipend, access to health care insurance, mental health services and counseling, caregiver training, and respite care.
Participating veterans may appoint one primary caregiver and up to two secondary caregivers who serve as back-up. The support available to caregivers will depend on their designation — primary or secondary — and the needs of the veteran.
In recent weeks, numerous veterans organizations have listed in congressional testimony that the inclusion of older spouses and caregivers in the benefits program is a top legislative priority for this year, and bemoaned the delays in the effort so far.
“We must provide our pre-9/11 caregivers the benefits and support they deserve,” said Steve Schwab, CEO of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. “We plan to hold the VA accountable as they target this new deadline. Pre-9/11 caregivers have been waiting long enough for the benefits they need.”
In preliminary language published in the Federal Register on March 6, 2020, the Department of Veterans Affair said it is moving ahead with the mandate to expand the PCAFC and ensure the program regulations reflect changes required by the VA MISSION Act. The VA assured that these proposed changes would allow PCAFC to better address the needs of veterans of all eras and standardize the program to focus on eligible veterans with moderate and severe needs.
But the new rules do not specify a specific start point when the new rules will take effect, noting that “the timeline for development of an information technology system can be unpredictable.”
Families Continue to Wait
About 20,000 veterans were participating in the VA program at the start of the Summer of 2019. Officials have estimated the expansion could grant monthly stipends to more than 41,000 new veteran families in coming years.
Currently, only families of troops injured after 9/11 are eligible for program stipends, which can total several thousand dollars a month.
Veterans who separated from the military between 1975 and 2001 will be added to the program 2-years after the pre-1975 group. This pushes back eligibility these families from fall 2021 to fall 2022 at the earliest
New Stipend Process
The proposed changes would also overhaul the current stipend process, switching from the current three-tiered system, provided for in 38 C.F.R. § 71.40(c)(4)(iv)(A)-(C), to two levels of caregiver stipends. Officials said the change would simplify the process and better distinguish between veterans who need significant help from a caregiver and those who need constant supervision.
Individuals currently enrolled in the program would be re-evaluated to determine which of the new tiers they qualify for. Most likely, this would inadvertently result in the removal of current program recipients.
Calculations for the stipend totals would also be changed, linking them more closely to local wages for commercial home health aides that are tracked by federal officials.
PCAFC Application Process
For veterans who are currently eligible, to start the PCAFC application process, caregivers and veterans must complete VA Form 1010CG, Application for the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers. Click here to learn if you qualify and how to apply.