Some pre-9/11 veterans and their caregivers could qualify for VA stipends starting in October

Abbie Bennett
August 04, 2020 - 11:36 am
PCAFC

. (Photo by Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/MCT/Sipa USA)

The Department of Veterans Affairs is set to expand caregiver benefits to more veterans and their caregivers this fall -- making potentially thousands more eligible.

The effort comes more than a year after it was originally planned. 

Congress already signed off on legislation expanding VA's caregiver program to older veterans who served before Sept. 11, 2001. But holdups and delays from VA prevented those veterans from receiving their payments. 

Continued massive failures of VA IT systems have for years plagued veterans' benefits, including the GI Bill, electronic health record system and the caregiver benefits expansion. Last year, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were full of scathing criticism for the department's delays as more and more veterans of older generations die without ever seeing the new benefits. 

About 20,000 veterans who left military service after 9/11, qualify for the monthly stipend intended to offset the costs of having a certified caregiver. Those caregivers are often family members. 

The expansion could provide the monthly payments to another 41,000 veterans. The payments typically amount to thousands of dollars per month for those caring for severely injured or disabled veterans. That care would be costlier if VA had to provide it or contract for it, and it often keeps veterans in their homes instead of private care facilities.

The expanded Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers is expected to cost about $3 billion over the next five years, VA officials previously told Congress.

The benefits expansion will happen in two phases, VA announced. That means some veterans and their caregivers will have to wait. Last week, VA released its new regulations for the expanded program, outlining a timeline.

Veterans injured in military service before May 7, 1975 are eligible for the monthly caregiver stipend as early as Oct.1. Veterans injured after that date in 1975, but before Sept. 11, 2001, will likely have to wait at least two more years to enter the expanded program, because of policies previously set by Congress.

Eligible veterans include those that have a single or combined service-connected disability rating from VA of 70% or higher, regardless of whether it resulted from injury or illness caused by service, according to VA. 

The amount of the monthly payments are determined by the federal policies based on where veterans live, and on the severity of their needs, including the extent of care they require which could be part- or full-time. 

“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 in a statement. “This will allow our most vulnerable veterans to stay with their loved ones for as long as possible."

In its announcement, VA noted it is still "working to fully implement the new (IT) system" required by the Mission Act from 2018, which authorized the caregiver expansion and expected it to be in place by October. 

Caregivers with questions about the expansion can go to the VA caregiver support website or call the caregiver support line at 855-260-3274. 

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Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

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