What is VA’s Caregiver Program?
VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers was implemented in 2011 to provide benefits to caregivers of post-9/11 disabled veterans. Caregivers are often spouses or family members who end up leaving their jobs to care for a veteran full-time due to the extent or nature of that veteran’s disability. Common disabilities that can require full-time care include, but are not limited to, traumatic brain injuries (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other disabilities such as loss of limbs. The Caregivers Program provides the caregivers of post-9/11 veterans with monthly compensation, medical training, healthcare benefits, and respite. VA also acknowledges that caregivers play a critical role in the health and well-being of veterans.
However, VA’s Caregivers Program has been subject to controversy over the years after reports showed that some VA medical centers are dropping caregivers from their roles at alarming rates. In April of 2017, VA suspended revocations of benefits initiated by VA medical centers for the Caregivers program, pending a full review of the program. Three months later, the Caregivers Program resumed revocations under a new policy directive outlining the following:
- The program responsibilities of all levels of VA staff (ranging from Caregiver Support Coordinators to accountants and IT personnel to VA Medical Center Directors);
- Veterans and caregiver eligibility requirements;
- Benefits available to caregivers through the program; and
- Standardized procedures for revocations of the program
Under this new directive, caregivers were also afforded the right to appeal adverse decisions regarding eligibility and compensation determinations made by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).
Historically, VA’s Caregivers Program has only applied to post-9/11 veterans.
Eligibility for Caregivers Program Expanded Under VA’s Mission Act
The VA Mission Act, signed by the President on June 6, 2018, is a $52 billion bill that overhauls veterans’ access to private healthcare and caregiver benefits nationwide. Specifically, the VA Mission Act is aimed towards expanding private healthcare access for veterans who experience long wait times at their VA provider or are too far away from their VA healthcare provider to conveniently receive care at those facilities. The VA Mission Act also intends to expand VA’s Caregivers Program by providing benefits to caregivers of pre-9/11 veterans in addition to post-9/11 veterans, and provide oversight for underperforming VA medical facilities. This expansion of benefits to include eligible veterans from all eras of service will be implemented over the course of several years, mainly in two phases:
- Phase 1: caregiver benefits will first become available to veterans who were injured on or before May 7, 1975
- Phase 2: further expansion of caregiver benefits to include veterans injured between 1975 and 2001 will occur two years later
Importantly, eligibility and compensation determinations will continue to be made by VHA and caregivers still reserve the right to appeal adverse decisions.