Delays in the Expansion of Veteran Caregiver SupportTuesday, March 17, 2020
For months now, one of the major focuses of lawmakers has been the expansion of veteran caregiver benefits. Currently, only those families of troops injured after 9/11 are eligible for stipends which can sometimes add up to several thousand dollars a month. Last week, another step was taken towards expanding these benefits to those who served before 2001, but no date has been finalized for these changes to take place.
Numerous veterans’ organizations have testified that the expansion of coverage and benefits to these caregivers is a top priority. Unfortunately, they have been met with several delays. Allegedly, big reasons for the delays are technology and infrastructure. It is uncertain at this point, whether the influx of new applicants can be handled by what is currently in place. The new rules note that “the timeline for development of an information technology system can be unpredictable.”
This expansion would undoubtedly be a tremendous endeavor for the VA. Approximately 20,000 veterans from wars after 9/11 are participating in the caregiver program. Thousands of dollars in compensations go to parents, spouses, and other partners of injured service members each month. Without these caregivers, many of these veterans would likely have to seek expensive institutions.
It is estimated that the new rule would increase the number of eligible families by 41,000, more than tripling the current number of participants. Those who separated from the military between 1975 and 2001 would be eligible 2 years after the pre-1975 group of veterans, meaning their eligibility would be delayed until the fall of 2022.
The stipend amounts provided to caregivers are inconsistent across the board. Presently, there is a three-tiered system that aims to distinguish between the different amounts of assistance the given veteran needs. The new rule would simplify this system, switching it from three tiers to two. Officials note that this change would help to better distinguish between those needing significant help from a caregiver, and those who need constant supervision.
For the 20,000 currently enrolled, their eligibility would be re-evaluated to determine which of the two tiers they qualify for. This could be slightly concerning for certain individuals in the program as they could potentially be removed from their current level of support. Under the new system, local wages for commercial home health aides would also be taken into account to better allocate funds. Again, this could result in individuals seeing a decrease in the stipends they have grown accustomed to.
Current participants and the thousands of potentially eligible veterans are left waiting as the delays continue to mount. Nevertheless, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie notes the “the new caregiver rules as an important step forward for the department in the effort to provide the best care for all veterans.”