En español | Starting in October, caregivers of veterans who served during the Vietnam War and earlier will be eligible for a monthly payment provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Currently, the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) pays only family members and friends who provide care to those who were severely injured on or after Sept. 11, 2001. Under new regulations, caregivers of veterans who were severely injured in the line of duty on or before May 7, 1975, will be eligible for the benefit effective Oct. 1. In October 2022, the program is scheduled to extend to veterans injured between May 7, 1975, and Sept. 10, 2001.
The bipartisan-supported Mission (Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks) Act, which was signed into law in June 2018, prompted the benefit's expansion. When the law took effect in June 2019, caregivers were not able to access it because of problems with VA's information technology (IT) system. Veterans were given more private health care options, another piece of the legislation.
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"AARP is pleased the VA issued this final rule, an important step in expanding the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to covered veterans from all eras of military service and their family caregivers. More caregivers will benefit from the critical support this program provides,” said Rhonda Richards, AARP senior legislative representative.
Final regulation expands benefits
The new version of the program broadens eligibility by expanding what is considered a “serious injury” to include illness and disease. Veterans are required to have a single or combined service-connected disability rating of 70 percent and require personal care for a minimum of six continuous months to qualify. (Here are the detailed eligibility requirements.)
Disability ratings are assigned by the VA based on the severity of an illness and how much it decreases a veteran's overall health and ability to function.
Currently, caregiver payments are calculated using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Come October, the monthly payment will be set by a federal rate assigned to where a veteran lives. For example, a primary family caregiver of a veteran in Dallas who is unable to perform daily living activities or requires continuous supervision would receive approximately $2,800 a month. If the veteran is able to perform daily living activities, the caregiver would receive about $1,750 a month.
"The expanded regulation addresses the complexity and expense of keeping veterans at home with their families who provide personalized care,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said. “This will allow our most vulnerable veterans to stay with their loved ones for as long as possible."
Extra money could keep more vets at home
For many families, accessing this caregiving benefit was a long time coming. And some advocates are not satisfied with its eligibility requirements and the time until veterans of all eras are eligible.
Additional Services Offered to Caregivers
Other new benefits offered through the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) will include financial planning and legal services for the primary caregiver.
Caregivers also are eligible for the program's previous offerings, including:
• Access to health care benefits through the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA)
• Caregiver education and training
• Financial assistance, lodging and travel expenses for a caregiver when traveling with the veteran to receive care
• Mental health services and counseling
• A monthly stipend
• Up to 30 days of respite care a year
If a veteran is ineligible for the PCAFC, the VA's Program of General Caregiver Support Services provides resources, education and support to veterans’ caregivers. It is available for veterans of any era, regardless of illness or injury, who are enrolled for care in the Veterans Health Administration.
Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) “applauds the expansion of this long-overdue caregiver benefit, which will enhance the quality of life for Vietnam veterans and their families,” said VVA National President John Rowan. “However, we are deeply dismayed that VA is requiring an eligibility rating of 70 percent or more service-connected disability as this will allow the VA to deny this benefit to the families of Vietnam veterans who have waited eight long years for this benefit."
"With the COVID-19 pandemic casting a cloud over nursing homes and congregate living facilities, the trust in institutional elder care has been rocked to the core,” Rowan said. “Now the challenge for VA is to rethink the importance of strategic planning and oversight to ensure that all veterans will be able to choose a care setting that best meets their preferences and needs."
Across the U.S., about 5.5 million family caregivers are assisting veterans; 80 percent of those veterans served before 9/11, according to a Rand Corp. estimate.
"Research has shown that family caregivers can help disabled veterans delay or avoid the need for high-cost institutional care, and, in certain situations, can actually help transition them out of those facilities,” said Joy Ilem, national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans (DAV). “Allowing severely disabled veterans to remain in their homes longer is economically smart and will more efficiently use VA and taxpayer funds, and often results in better health outcomes."
Ilem said that before the VA's IT problems, Congress originally intended for the second phase of veterans to be granted eligibility in 2021, not 2022. “Their caregivers should not have to wait another year for these benefits due to VA's continued delays in certifying the IT system."
"Their caregivers are getting older, and it's becoming more difficult for them to perform their caregiving duties,” Ilem added. “The need is only becoming greater for them as time marches on, and we know that our members who rely on caregivers have been anxiously awaiting the expansion of this program and will no doubt be among the first to submit applications when they finally become eligible."
How to apply to the PCAFC
Once Wilkie certifies to Congress that the VA's new caregiver information technology system is fully implemented, the first phase of veterans may begin their applications in October.
The caregiver and service member need to fill out a joint application, which asks for contact information and the VA medical center where the veteran receives or plans to receive care. Forms and supporting documents may be provided in person to any VA medical center's caregiver support coordinator or be mailed to:
Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers
Health Eligibility Center
2957 Clairmont Road NE, Suite 200
Atlanta, GA 30329-1647