VA details new rules for program that compensates family caregivers
WASHINGTON — Advocates for wounded troops are hailing major changes to the Veterans Affairs caregivers program announced last week, and military families can formally apply for the benefits starting Monday.
Officials from the department on Tuesday unveiled new rules for the program, established by Congress last year to assist military spouses or parents who have given up their full-time jobs to care for their returning wounded veterans.
VA officials had drawn intense criticism earlier this year when they first unveiled rules for the caregivers benefits, which did not include coverage for veterans suffering from mild traumatic brain injury. After veterans groups and lawmakers demanded changes, the department came back with the revised rules.
Payouts won’t start until July, but the stipend will be retroactive to the date of application. So, VA officials are urging caregivers to get their applications in as early as possible.
Here’s what families of wounded troops need to know:
Who will be covered?
The department expects more than 3,500 caregivers to be covered under the new program. Any veteran who sustained a serious injury in the line of duty since September 2001, including “traumatic brain injury, psychological trauma or other mental disorder,” is eligible to apply.
To qualify for the stipend, the veteran must “be in need of personal care services because of an inability to perform one or more activities of daily living, or need supervision.” As part of the application process, a department expert will conduct a home visit to determine how independent the wounded veteran can function.
VA officials note that veterans also must be enrolled in VA health services or under a separate department caregivers plan, like the Aid and Attendance program.
When and how much can I get paid?
VA officials won’t say yet, but the rules as written tie the stipend to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s average wage rate for home health aides. That’s about $14 an hour, and could mean a maximum payout around $500.
Those payouts will depend on the department evaluations of how many hours a week caregivers tend to the veterans, and how independently they live.
Program administrators will have three tiers of payouts, but no other details have been released.
Since the stipend payout is retroactive, families should file an application as soon as possible. Starting today, forms will be posted at www.caregiver.va.gov.
Is the stipend all there is?
No. Family members caring for a wounded veteran will be able to enroll in the VA’s Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA), giving them medical care coverage they likely lost upon leaving their full-time jobs.
The program also includes training for the caregivers, to ensure they know techniques and resources to best help loved ones in their recovery. Those classes should start in June.
Caregivers will also be eligible for other short-term assistance programs, allowing them to get temporary in-home care for the wounded veterans for times when they cannot be at home.
VA officials have also promised to set up support groups, face-to-face and through remote access, to provide “emotional and peer support, and information.”
What about veterans from other wars?
The new caregivers program is only open to veterans from the current Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but the department is hoping that attention to this new offering increases use of existing caregivers benefits for veterans of other eras.
For example, the VA’s Aid and Attendance program includes an “improved pension” benefit for veterans who require “the regular attendance of another person to assist in eating, bathing, dressing, undressing, medication dosing, or taking care of the needs of nature.”
That extra money is designed to help those individuals seek improved in-home care, or more options at assisted living facilities.