Help is on the way for tens of thousands of veterans who need someone to help care for them because of serious injuries they suffered in the line of duty.
A popular Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) program that pays family members or friends to serve as caregivers to severely injured veterans currently applies only to those who joined the military on or after Sept. 11, 2001. Under the VA Mission Act, which Congress passed in May and President Trump signed Wednesday afternoon, veterans of all eras will be entitled to caregiving assistance. The bill also gives veterans easier access to private doctors.
The measure will benefit veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War who need help with everyday activities, such as bathing, eating and dressing. But the expansion is not expected to be implemented until at least 2019.
Under the current caregiver program, relatives or friends who care for eligible veterans can receive a stipend, training, access to health insurance, counseling and respite care. In 2017, caregivers received between $7,800 and $30,000 a year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The stipends are not considered taxable income.
The new legislation adds legal and financial planning services for both injured veterans and their caregivers.
To be eligible for the program, veterans must need care on a regular basis for at least six months as a result of serious duty-related injuries — either physical (including traumatic brain injury) or psychological trauma and other mental health issues.
Veterans will have to obtain a clinical evaluation to determine how much care per week they are eligible to receive. The maximum stipend is for 40 hours per week, and the amount is determined by the typical hourly wage for home health aides in the geographic area where the veteran lives.
Once the VA has a technology system in place that will support the expansion, the agency plans to phase in the new recipients. First, those who were injured in the line of duty on or before May 7, 1975, would be eligible for the caregiver benefits; next, those injured after May 7, 1975, but before Sept. 11, 2001, would be covered.